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Brazilian indigenous women's struggles and resistance

por | set 5, 2023 | Artigos, Notícias | 0 Comentários

Indigenous women from grantees for Building Movements 2022

by Chirley Pankará*

International Indigenous Women's Day is celebrated on September 5 to commemorate those who have died defending the social and collective rights of indigenous peoples. This date commemorates the great warrior Bartolina Sisa Quechuá, who was brutally executed in 1782 in defense of her territory, together with her husband Túpaj Katari, in Upper Peru.

We, Indigenous Women, still suffer from the oppressions of colonization, such as the denial of basic rights, both for those who live in indigenous communities and for those who for some reason live in urban contexts[1]. It is up to the state to guarantee rights to indigenous peoples regardless of where they are. Often, being in the city is due to the narrowing of villages, real estate speculation, land grabbing, etc.

Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics 2023 - IBGE, pointed to the growing indigenous population, almost double the 2010 Census data[2]. This shows a growing affirmation of indigenous peoples. With this data, we can see that many indigenous people, including those living in urban contexts, answered the questionnaire administered by the census takers, despite having experienced cases of negligence in relation to their ethnic belonging. This was the case with someone close to me, whom the IBGE 2022/2023 census enumerator put down as brown instead of indigenous, on the grounds that he couldn't find the interviewee's ethnicity. I told her to come back and answer as an indigenous person, as not answering could lead to reduced access to public policies. Immediately, the relative returned and managed to be registered as an indigenous member of her people. Situations like this make clear the attempt at ethnocide, which is the erasure of ethnicity that has prevailed for over 500 years.

Another case worth highlighting was during the Covid-19 period. Many indigenous people living in urban areas were unable to get vaccinated as indigenous people. I was asked questions like: where you live in the city, is there a village of your people? How many people are there? And I ended up not getting the priority vaccine, even though I lived through an intense period in the fight to save lives, running from place to place in search of social policies to assist indigenous peoples during isolation; even so, I was only able to get vaccinated when my age group arrived.

Bringing these struggles of indigenous peoples is to demarcate spaces of struggle and resistance, to honor the memory of our ancestors who gave their lives[3] so that we could be here today resisting, as was the case with Bartolina Sisa and so many other women from our Abya yala territory who had their lives taken away in struggles for territory and for urgent and necessary social policies for the protection of our girls and women[4].

It is important to mention that between September 11 and 13, the III National March of Indigenous Women will take place in Brasilia[5]. This is the largest gathering of indigenous women from different biomes in Brazil, fighting for guaranteed rights, with their songs, their dances, contributing to each other in the defense of territories, health, education, culture, biodiversity, socioeconomics and so many others.

Finally, we salute and remember all our wise women, collectively, promoting social justice and honoring the memory of our ancestors. That's why September 5 is a day to celebrate struggles and resistance together. It has never been easy for us, and it won't be either, but together we are stronger and we strengthen ourselves as the seeds that we are.

*ChirleyPankará is an indigenous woman, an activist engaged in the human rights struggles of indigenous peoples, general coordinator for the Promotion of Cultural Policies at the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples and a member of the Deliberative Council of ELAS+ Giving for change . She was the first indigenous co-deputy to serve in the São Paulo Legislative Assembly, elected in 2018. She is a PhD student in Social Anthropology at the University of São Paulo and thinks about public policies through the lens of indigenous women.


[1] Indigenous women in Latin America have informality rates 25% higher than non-indigenous women, according to the ILO.

[2] Data from the 2022 Demographic Census show that Brazil has 1.7 million indigenous people, which represents 0.83% of the country's total population. In the 2010 survey, the IBGE counted 896,917 indigenous people.

[3] Between 2000 and 2020, there was a 167% increase in the number of femicides of indigenous women, according to the Igarapé Institute. In Mato Grosso do Sul alone, the state with the largest indigenous population in the country, cases of violence against indigenous women grew by 495% over a six-year period. There is also evidence of underreporting: obstacles such as the distance between communities and police stations, language (17.5% of Brazil's indigenous people don't speak Portuguese) and discrimination often prevent women from filing complaints.

[4] One in three indigenous women have suffered sexual violence in their lifetime, according to UN figures. In the Yanomami indigenous lands, where a humanitarian crisis has been caused by illegal mining, at least thirty teenage girls have become pregnant by miners who sexually abused them in exchange for food. In addition, indigenous women and girls are one of the most vulnerable groups to human trafficking, hooked mainly for prostitution: in the triple border region between Colombia, Peru and Brazil in Amazonas, 80% of trafficked women are sexually exploited.

[5] The expectation is to mobilize around 5,000 feminists and indigenous women leaders in this year's edition.