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Brasilia – Federal District, August 9 to August 14, 2019

Respect our existence or expect resistance

We, 2,500 women representing 130 different indigenous peoples from every region of Brazil gathered in Brasilia (Federal District), from August 9 to 14, 2019. We conceived this mass meeting collectively to be punctuated by the First Indigenous Women’s Forum and March. As Indigenous Women, our message to the world is that we are waging a constant struggle in defense of “Territory: our body, our spirit”. So that our voices may echo around the world, we reaffirm the commitments we made over the past days.

As women, leaders and warriors, bearers and protectors of life, we will stand and struggle against the issues and violations that afflict our bodies, our spirits, our territories. By spreading our seeds, our rituals, our language, we seek to guarantee our existence.

The Indigenous Women’s March was conceived as part of a conversation that began in 2015 to support the development and empowerment of indigenous women. Throughout these years we engaged in dialogue with women across movements and realized that our movement stands out in ways we would like to be better understood. The gestures of our combat dance contemplate the need for a return to mutual support between the feminine and the masculine, without, however, essentializing men or women. Machismo is yet another epidemic brought to us by European settlers. Thus, what non-indigenous women consider to be violence may not be what we consider to be violence. This does not mean that we will close our eyes to the violence that we recognize in our villages, but rather, that we need to consider how it developed in our communities in order to counteract, problematize and bring critical reflections about our everyday practices and contemporary forms of political organization. We need to engage in dialog and strengthen the power of indigenous women, reclaiming our matriarchal values and our historical memory so that we can advance social rights in our territories.

We are totally opposed to the narratives, proposals, and actions of the current government, which has made its intention to exterminate indigenous peoples explicit. This government has made the genocidal exploitation of our territories by capital its aim. This manner of governing is akin to pulling a tree from the ground and exposing its roots until everything dries out. We are grounded in the earth, because that is where we seek our ancestors, and the earth provides our nutrition and life. That is why for us, territory is not a good that can be sold, traded or exploited. Our territory is our life, our body and our spirit.

The fight for our territorial rights is the fight of our lives. Life and territory are one, for the earth gives us our food, our traditional medicine, our health and our dignity. To lose our territory is to lose our mother. Whoever has territory, has a mother, has a lap to rest their head on. And those who can rest their head on their mother’s lap have a cure for what ills them.

When we care for our lands, which is a natural part of our culture, we are guaranteeing the good of the whole planet, because we care for the forests, the air, the waters and soils. Most of the world’s biodiversity finds shelter on indigenous lands. That is our contribution to sustaining life on earth.

Freedom of expression in our own languages is also fundamental to us. Many of our languages are still living. They resisted the colonial violence that forced us to use a foreign language and to erase our own ways of expressing our existence. We women play a significant role in passing on the power of our ancestral knowledge by passing on our language.

We want our unique way of seeing, perceiving, being and living on our lands to be respected. Know that for us the loss of territory brings a loss of feeling, a deep sadness that harms our spirit. The feeling of our territory being violated is like that of a mother losing her child. It shows disrespect for life itself. It shows disrespect for our culture and is a disgrace to our ancestors who were responsible for creating it all. It shows disrespect to those who have died for the land. It brings the loss of the sacred and the meaning of life.

Everything that this current government stands for and has accomplished is a direct assault on our protection and care for Mother Earth, annihilating the rights that we won over centuries of struggle. The government’s non-recognition of indigenous lands, its encouragement of mining and leasing on our territories, its attempts to make environmental regulation more flexible, its moves to finance the purchase of weapons in the countryside, its dismantling of indigenous and environmental policies all demonstrate this.

Our duty as indigenous women and leaders is to strengthen and give value to our traditional knowledge, to ensure our wisdom, ancestry and culture survive, to know and defend our rights and to honor the memory of those who came before us. Our duty is to know how to wage our struggle, to give potency to our spiritual practices and to banish all that threatens our existence.

To fulfill our duty, and with the strength of the web of life and the connections that we have weaved at this meeting, we tell the world that we will fight tirelessly:

  1. To ensure the recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands, for the attacks on our mother earth are attacks on our own body and our life; 
  2. To ensure our right to the full possession of our territories. We will defend our land and demand that the Brazilian state prohibit mining on our territory, which is poisoning us with mercury and other toxic substances. The Brazilian state must stop attempting to lease our lands to agribusiness and it must punish illegal invasions of our territory driven by greed. These interests want to rob us of our natural resources and use them only for profit. They have no concern for maintaining life on the planet; 
  3. To guarantee the unrestricted right to differentiated, culturally-sensitive health care for our peoples. These services must be maintained as part of the Subsystem for Indigenous Health Care of the federal Unified Health System under the qualification of the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (SESAI). We fight and we will continue fighting for the public services offered by the federal United Health System (SUS) and for the maintenance and continuous qualification of the National Health Care Policy for our peoples, whether in our territories or in urban contexts.

We do not accept the privatization of our peoples’ health care services or their devolution to municipal or state governments.

We fight and we will continue to fight for the management of SESAI to be performed by professionals who have the technical and policy qualifications to understand the specificities involved in providing health care to indigenous peoples. It is not enough to have an indigenous person at the head of the agency. We need to ensure the sensitive management of all the issues that are important to us under this topic, including respect for our traditional health care practices, our traditional medicines, our midwives and ways of performing natural birth, and the knowledge of our spiritual leaders. According to our indigenous sciences, health comes not only from prescribing active ingredients, healing is the result of subjective, emotional, cultural and fundamentally spiritual interactions.

  1. To demand the Supreme Federal Court (STF) not to allow or legitimize any retrograde or restrictive reinterpretation of our original right to our traditional lands. We hope that, in its decision on Final Appeal 1.017.365, related to the case of the Ibirama Laklanõ Indigenous Territory of the Xokleng people, which is considered to be a precedent-setting case, the STF will reaffirm the interpretation of the Brazilian Constitution in accordance with the “Indigenato” thesis, affirming our original right to our lands. The STF must definitively exclude any possibile of acceptance of the “Indigenous Occupation” thesis that only recognizes our right to the lands occupied by indigenous peoples when Brazil’s most recent constitution was approved;
  2. To demand that the judiciary, which, in keeping with the principle of equality before the law, asserts our specific rights laid out in the Constitution and, accordingly, defends our right to access the justice system. Ensuring a fair and democratic society means guaranteeing the rights of all peoples, as is also provided for in the Constitution. We demand that the international treaties signed by Brazil be respected, which include among others: Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the UN Conventions on Cultural Diversity, Biological Diversity and on Climate Change, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  3. To promote the increased representation of indigenous women in political spaces, inside and outside our villages and in all environments that are important for securing and implementing our rights. Recognizing our narratives is not enough, we must recognize our narrators. Our bodies and our spirits must be present in decision-making spaces;
  4. To combat discrimination against indigenous people in decision-making spaces, especially women, who are victims not only of racism but also of machismo; 
  5. To defend the right of all human beings to a healthy, pesticide-free diet nourished by the spirit of mother earth; 
  6. To ensure the right to a differentiated, culturally-relevant education of quality for our children and young people that respects our languages and values our traditions. We demand that the 25 proposals of the Second National Conference on Indigenous School Education, including proposed Ethnoeducational Territories be implemented. We demand that institutions such as the General Committee on Indigenous Education within the Ministry of Education be reformed to ensure our participation in forming education policy. These institutions must meet our other demands, which include improving the infrastructure of indigenous schools, training and hiring indigenous teachers, and developing culturally-relevant instructional materials;
  7. To guarantee public policy on indigenous matters that effectively contributes to the promotion, inspiration and guarantee of our rights. These policies must design plans, implementation and monitoring in a participatory manner, in dialogue with our organizations, and take actions that reflect the diversity and the priorities of the Indigenous Movement; 
  8. To reaffirm the need for specific legislation to combat violence against indigenous women, culturally oriented to the reality of our peoples. Public policies need to be based on the specifics, diversity and the social context of each of our peoples, respecting our conception of family, education, age, work, and poverty.
  9. To continue empowering indigenous women by informing, training and raising awareness about our rights, ensuring full access for indigenous women to formal education (at the primary, secondary and university levels) in order to promote and give value to the indigenous knowledge of our women; 
  10. Strengthen the indigenous movement by bringing together our wisdom across genders and generations; 
  11. To combat, without compromise, racist and anti-indigenous sentiment. We demand an end to violence, criminalization and discrimination against our peoples and our leaders, including by public agents, ensuring the punishment of those responsible and reparation for damages caused. The government must commit to protecting our lives.

Finally, we reaffirm our commitment to strengthen alliances with women from all sectors of society in Brazil and around the world, from the countryside to the city, from the forest to the sea. All of our rights and all of our livelihoods are under attack.

We have a responsibility to sow, transmit, transcend and share our knowledge just as our ancestors and all those who preceded us did. They helped to strengthen us together and on an equal footing with men, who we bore as sons. They gave us the strength to fight, make decisions and care for our land.

We are responsible for fertilizing and maintaining our sacred soil. We will always be warriors in defense of our peoples’ existence and of Mother Earth.

Brasilia (Federal District), August 14, 2019.