The Brazilian House of Representatives became the scene of a powerful showdown on Tuesday, when 700 Indigenous leaders occupied the building in an effort to stop a measure that would threaten the security of every Indigenous territory in the country.
The Chamber of Deputies was planning to nominate members of the Special Committee on "PEC 215", a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would give Congress exclusive authority to decide the boundaries of all indigenous lands and conservation areas in Brazil, including any lands previously demarcated and ratified by the Executive Branch of the government. Indigenous peoples found the proposed amendment to be a major threat to the security of their rights, leading them to come out in full force to stop it.
In an attempt to stop the occupation, the security forces of the House used tasers on at least one person, injuring the Executive Secretary of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), Cleber Buzatto. The editor of CIMI’s publication Porantim, Renato Santana, who photographed the demonstration, was also beaten by several police officers, had his glasses destroyed and was dragged into the Legislature’s café. According to CIMI, Buzatto and Santana both filed a complaint in the police station of the Legislative Chamber. Several Indigenous delegates also reported being physically assaulted by the security forces.
Despite the assaults, the Indigenous leaders continued to stand their ground for nearly an hour, until finally, the President of the House of Representatives, Henrique Alves, proposed an immediate meeting between the 700 leaders and the parliamentarians prompting a peaceful end to the occupation.
A proposal soon followed in which the parliament would take no action whatever in relation to PEC 215 for a period of 45 days; however, that was wholly rejected by the indigenous leaders. Cacique Marcos Xukuru of Pernambuco commented, “They were in a position of giving a concrete decision for us. The answer given is simply a ploy for us to return to our states and in 40 days make the nominations to compose the Special Committee.”
As the day rolled on, 45 days turned into six months and a table for negotiations was added to discuss all existing legislative proposals and executive orders that threaten indigenous rights. Under the new proposal, says CIMI, “this negotiation group will be divided equally, that is, its formation will have the same number of parliamentarians (of different titles, including those linked to the ‘ruralista’ caucus of agribusiness) and of indigenous leaders.”
Following the action, on the morning of April 17, the group of indigenous delegates held a special assembly to assess the occupation and the actions that took place the day before.
All in all, the day was considered to be quite successful, even if the indigenous leaders had initially hoped to extinguish the committee altogether.
Saulo Feitosa, Adjunct Secretary of CIMI, commented, “The evaluation was quite positive. And the proposal made by Parliamentarians last night was considered an important step toward ensuring indigenous rights [...] “We now need to know what the practical conditions are going to be, for example, on parity, the number of participants in this negotiation and those who [are] going to fund the return of indigenous leaders to Brasilia so that the conversation actually takes place.”