Opinion: 9 ways to support the culture and rights of Indigenous Peoples

25 May 2021

Demanding responsible investments from banks, consuming sustainably, and even the simple act of looking for references on indigenous history are just some of the ways with which everyone can support Indigenous cultures.

1. Understand that not all Indigenous peoples are the same 

“Indians like manioc, wear headdresses, and walk around naked. But today there are a lot of people who call themselves Indian and are no longer: they have TV, big cars, wear branded clothes.” You've probably heard something like this whenever the indigenous issue is in evidence. This stereotype is one of the most ingrained in Brazilian culture and places indigenous people as a thing - yes, a thing - of the past and that, therefore, must “evolve” and integrate with a European and Christian standard of civility. Some indigenous people choose to stay in their communities, some want to go to university, others want to enter politics. Just like in non-indigenous society, there is a diversity of views, dreams and experiences that must be respected. Don't try to make an indigenous people look less indigenous because they don't fit outdated stereotypes.

2. Indigenous peoples are not only in the Amazon

One of the biggest misconceptions is to think that there are only indigenous people living in the middle of the forest, especially in the Amazon rainforest. What those who reproduce this stereotype do not know is that about 36.2% of the indigenous population lives in cities. Data from the last IBGE census (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) 2010, also shows that only three of the 10 states with the largest number of indigenous people are located outside the North region. In addition, the capital of São Paulo is the 4th city with the largest number of indigenous inhabitants. 

3. Know indigenous rights

The Federal Constitution of 1988 confirmed many of indigenous rights, thanks to their demands, including for the historical speech of Ailton Krenak in the Constituent Assembly . The Magna Carta seals the indigenous peoples' original rights to their lands, as these peoples had occupied it since long before the arrival of the Portuguese colonizers. Unlike previous laws that valued the end of indigenous cultures, through an “assimilation”, since 1988 they have been guaranteed the right to difference, and to express their culture as they choose. Since the Constitution, several other rights have been recognized, such as education and health, which must be differentiated to reinforce the self-determination of these peoples.

4. There is not 'too much' land for Indigenous peoples

People who seek to delegitimize the constitutional right of indigenous peoples to their lands often say that the demarcated Indigenous Lands are "too much land for few people". The first big mistake in this argument is to understand the land only as a source of income and value, a different mentality from that practiced by indigenous peoples. In addition, as a study by APIB (Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil) points out, Indigenous Peoples make up 5% of the world population, but their lands hold 80% of the world's biodiversity. In other words, the Indigenous Lands and the active work of the people who live in them are the last barrier against deforestation and environmental degradation, which negatively affect the entire planet.

5. Meet the Indigenous peoples of Brazil

There are more than 300 indigenous ethnic groups, and each has a culture very different from the other. For example, the Ashaninka have garments very similar to traditional Peruvian fabrics, while the Guarani's most important food is corn, not cassava. The Instituto Socioambiental created the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil portal , where you can find the names and details of more than 256 indigenous ethnic groups. This is a good start to understand more the diversity that exists within the category.

6. Listen to what they say

Fortunately today, it is possible to find several indigenous people in the national public debate, such as Ailton Krenak, Davi Kopenawa, Raoni Metuktire (chief Raoni) and Sônia Guajajara. However, the Indigenous voice is still very marginalized and underrepresented, so it is necessary that we seek it out more. In a quick search you will find numerous results useful. To get to know the culture of some peoples in a playful way, the Video in the Villages project is good. Keeping up with social media is also a great way to always stay in touch with the agenda.

7. Consume with awareness

Currently, irresponsible agricultural production, mining, power generation and real estate speculation are among the greatest threats to indigenous peoples across Brazil. Check out how the brands you usually buy deal with indigenous rights and if in doubt, ask. The right to information is guaranteed to consumers and that is why you can always question your supermarket, your butcher and your building materials store about where the product you are consuming comes from. If you are not satisfied with the brand's conduct, look for alternatives.

8. Pressure your bank

A very important link in the economy that contributes to the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples is the financial sector. For example, the so-called "new gold rush" underway in the Amazon falls under the (ir) responsibility of financial institutions . The Fair Finance Guide showed that none of the largest Brazilian banks mentions free, prior and informed consultation of indigenous peoples in their financing and investment policies. This is a minimum requirement for economic enterprises to respect indigenous lands and experiences. In this way, even without wanting to, your money may end up contributing to violations against the indigenous population. So it is possible to send a message to your bank, demanding policies of respect and inclusion of indigenous peoples. 

9. Support Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples have been systematically silenced, murdered and marginalized throughout Brazilian history. Following these tips that we have listed helps to change this scenario, so that these populations can continue to sustain their cultures and have the opportunities, space and voice they deserve. Consider supporting the work of organizations working to defend indigenous peoples and disseminate information against stereotypes. Many ethnic groups have their own associations, while several others include several ethnic groups and non-indigenous people committed to the agenda. The fight for rights must be lead by the indigenous peoples themselves, but sharing their attitudes and their engagement can also support progress.

This article was originally published by Idec, lead partner of Fair Finance Brazil.