Hundreds of indigenous people danced and chanted outside Brazil’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to urge the justices not to rule in favor of a cut-off date of 1988 for their land claims, a proposal backed by the farming sector.
A defeat in court for the indigenous people could set a precedent for the dramatic rollback of native rights which far-right President Jair Bolsonaro advocates. He says too few of them live on too much land, blocking agricultural expansion.
“The Bolsonaro government wants to do away with us. If it was up to him there would be no indigenous people left in Brazil,” said Xukuru chieftain Ricardo from northeast Brazil. He wore a long headdress of blue macaw feathers and held a maraca.
The demonstrators displayed banners that said “Marco Temporal NO,” rejecting the time frame adopted in 2016. By late afternoon, the court had still not begun debating the issue.
The ruling will affect 230 pending land claims, many of which offer a bulwark against deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Most have been awaiting recognition for decades.
Powerful farming interests would have firmer legal ground to challenge indigenous land claims and Congress would have the green light to write a restrictive definition of indigenous lands into federal law.
The case rose to the Supreme Court in an appeal by the Xokleng people of southern Santa Catarina state against what they argued is an overly narrow interpretation of indigenous rights by recognizing only lands occupied by native communities at the time Brazil’s constitution was ratified in 1988.
The Xokleng were cleared off their traditional hunting grounds over a century ago to make room for European settlers, mostly Germans fleeing economic and political turmoil. If they win the case, 830 farmers face eviction from smallholdings their families have lived on for decades.