Globe, Latin America, Movement, Politics

Indigenous strength in Brazilian democracy

The indigenous movement ends 2020 strengthened in the biggest country in Latin America, where of the 210 million Brazilian men and women, around 900,000 are indigenous. A progressive occupation of spaces that were previously exclusively for white society is starting: democracy, universities and rights.


Photo © Lautaro Actis

Lautaro Actis and Gabriele Viega García*


The Brazilian municipal elections will be remembered as an extraordinary electoral process, taking place while Brazil was the country with the third highest number of Covid-19 cases.

People took to the streets seeking to reaffirm the democracy that is at risk in this country.

This commitment was reflected in a higher turnout from among the country’s aboriginal peoples, the Afro-Brazilian movement and the LGBTQ+ community, among other minorities. According to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), the largest organisation representing the country’s original population, of the 2,212 candidatures of people who declared themselves to be indigenous, 236 were elected.

That is, 10.7% of the indigenous candidates were successful. And those elected represent 71 of the 305 different ethnic groups that currently exist in the country.

As regards the indigenous candidacies, there was a 27% increase compared to the 2016 elections.

Nova Vida village. Photo © Lautaro Actis

Moreover, while the regions with the greatest proportion of indigenous population (the North and North-East regions) maintain the highest percentages of elected indigenous candidates (41% and 30% respectively), those that have a lesser indigenous presence in the population and culture (the South and South-East) offer a lower percentage of indigenous candidates elected in relation to the total (11% and 8% respectively).

Dinaman Tuxá is the executive co-ordinator of APIB and explains that despite having different political points of view and being affiliated to different parties, all the candidates have a common agenda: resume the demarcation of the indigenous territories. According to Tuxá, this greater interest in institutional politics on the part of the indigenous peoples is the result of a broadening of the debate about the need for representation of the indigenous peoples and the defence of their rights from within the democratic system.

For his part Bismani Huni Kuin, the young leader of the Huni Kuin people, in the state of Acre in the Amazon, has his own view of the matter.

Bismani Huni Kuin, young indigenous leader from the state of Acre. Photo © Lautaro Actis

He points out that it is the “first time in history that there are so many parentes (the term indigenous people use to refer to each other) who want to have the opportunity to demonstrate what we always talk about: the importance of the group, the preservation of the environment, rivers and support of the parentes as well, because parentes can better understand other parentes and know what they need”.

And he adds, “We could unite and fight to have a place in these spaces because it helps us gain access to our rights, to know the law, to be in the middle of politics, because we will only combat racism and prejudice being in the middle, making them better understand our vision as indigenous peoples”.

What is certain is that soon ten of the 5,568 cities in Brazil will be run by indigenous mayors. An increase in comparison to the 2016 elections when only six indigenous candidates to mayoralties were elected. In addition, four indigenous mayors succeeded in being re-elected.

One of those is Isaac Piyãko, of the Ashaninka ethnic group, who won 54% of the vote in the city of Marechal Thaumaturgo in the state of Acre, in the North region of the country.

There is also Chief Marquinhos of the Xucuru ethnic group who won 51.6% of the valid votes in the municipality of Pesqueira, in the state of Pernambuco.

As well as the ten mayors-elect, the indigenous movement had success with 215 councillors and eleven deputy mayors in a total of 127 cities.

The story of the indigenous movement’s participation in Brazilian public life began in 1968 with the election of Manoel dos Santos, of the Karipuna people, as a councillor in the city of Oiapoque, in the state of Amapá, in the North region of the country. The story continued with the election of Chief Angelo Kretã in 1976 as a councillor in the city of Mangueirinha, in the state of Paraná.

Photo © Lautaro Actis

However, the movement had to wait until 1982 to have a representative in the National Congress when Mario Juruna, of the Xavante people (Mato Grosso state), became the first indigenous person to be elected as a federal deputy.

Six years later (1988) the new Federal Constitution was approved, in which the rights of the indigenous and traditional peoples of Brazil were recognised.

In the twenty-first century, female indigenous presence in the National Congress began recently in 2018 with the election of Joenia Wapichana, of the Wapixana people, as federal deputy for the state of Roraima, also in the North region of the country. That same year, in parallel, the indigenous leader Sônia Guajajara was the first indigenous woman to run as a candidate for the presidency of the Republic.

Piratá Wauja, the young leader of the Wauja people, Xingu Indigenous Territory (TIX), in the state of Mato Grosso, explains that there are indigenous people “who voted for white men because they still don’t know what the work of the town hall involves.

Piyulaga Village, central village of the Wauja people, in the Xingu Indigenous Territory, Mato Grosso. Photo © Lautaro Actis

And because they think that a good councillor is one who hands out fizzy drinks, chicken, coffee and petrol to anyone and everyone.

But many parentes managed to get elected and that’s an achievement for Brazil’s indigenous peoples, and it could bring improvements to the indigenous peoples”.

*Lautaro Actis and Gabriele Viega García are contributors to the Instituto Homem Brasileiro (IHB) – the Brazilian Men’s Institute – in Matto Grosso, Brazil.

(Translated by Philip Walker – Email: Photos: Lautaro Actis

Share it / Compartir:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *