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Brazil may set a benchmark for global Indigenous land claim cases

By Raymond Dai and Daniel Lin Sept. 29, 2021

Ellie Kim Art

Although it began with a small Indigenous Brazilian tribe called the Xokleng, an Indigenous land claim case recently brought to the Supreme Court of Brazil could prove to be a critical event in the global Indigenous rights movement. The Xokleng, along with countless other Indigenous groups in Brazil, have been facing injustice ever since European settlers first arrived in the 1500s, including being expelled from their homelands to make way for farming. Brazil’s Constitution honors its Indigenous people as the first owners of the territory and guarantees their rights to certain lands, but controversy has erupted over the application of this clause.

According to the Brazilian government, this section of the Constitution only grants the Xokleng ownership of the land that they occupied on the date the Constitution was approved, Oct. 5, 1988. However, on Aug. 25 this year, the Xokleng accused the government of intentionally including a nonexistent cutoff date on this law and filed a claim on their ancestral lands in southern Brazil.

If their claim is ruled valid, the Xokleng will regain rights to the land that they inhabited prior to 1988 as well.

The situation inspired the “Struggle for Life” movement, along with several other protests led by various Brazilian Indigenous groups. Almost as soon as the Xokleng filed their land claim, some 6,000 supporters rallied outside Brazil’s Supreme Court to encourage the court to hear the case.

Although the ruling was initially scheduled for Aug. 26, the Supreme Court has repeatedly delayed it. As of Sept. 15, the court postponed the trial indefinitely after a justice asked for more time, possibly signifying the lack of importance the government has placed on Indigenous rights.

In modern-day Brazil, Indigenous people suffer from a lack of federal aid as more outsiders trespass on their lands and attempt to exploit the forests’ resources. These challenges may be exacerbated should the Brazilian Supreme Court rule in favor of a lower court’s ruling, which rejected the Xoklengs’ claim.

A verdict in the Xoklengs’ favor would set a legal precedent, reopening land claim cases filed by other Indigenous Brazilians and increasing these groups’ chances of reattaining their land. Meanwhile, if the Brazilian government chooses to uphold the lower court’s ruling, Indigenous groups in Brazil and in other countries, along with the Xokleng, will have less hope in retrieving their ancestral lands.

Meanwhile, if the Brazilian government chooses to uphold the lower court’s ruling, Indigenous groups in Brazil and in other countries, along with the Xokleng, will have less hope in retrieving their ancestral lands. Repercussions of the verdict could reach beyond Brazil.

“The Xokleng tribe’s land claims must be honored, as the land is rightfully theirs. ‘Economic development’ is no excuse for the elimination of Indigenous groups’ property and traditional homeland. Many countries are unjustly founded on the land of Indigenous people, with little reparations,” Junior Daniel Xie said.

The Supreme Court case would also reach a collision course with Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who has advocated and acted to restrict Indigenous rights. Reuters reports that Bolsonaro compared Indigenous peoples to “prehistoric creatures” and claimed that the Indigenous territories were too large given their population size. He has already transferred power over Indigenous reservations from the Indigenous rights agency Funai to the agriculture ministry. Currently, Bolsonaro is pushing legislation to legalize development in the Amazon rainforest, which would further encroach upon the ancestral land of Indigenous groups.

“The U.S. has also repeatedly taken advantage of Indigenous people and their land to establish many integral aspects of the country. Even if the Xokleng are victorious in their legal battle, it is unlikely that anything will change for Native Americans,” Freshman Aarush Zarabi said.

As events continue to unfold with uncertainty in Brazil, the Xokleng and the wider international community await this fate-determining decision.


About the Contributors

Raymond Dai

Opinions Editor

Raymond Dai is a junior at Leland High School and the Opinions page editor for the Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys playing badminton, sleeping, and mountain biking.

Daniel Lin

Staff Writer

Daniel Lin is a sophomore at Leland High School and a Staff Writer for The Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys learning about new things and playing video games.

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