From staff and wire reports
BRACUI, Brazil -- Indians from across Brazil are to gather on Tuesday to
the country's celebration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the first
"Five hundred years ago began our massacre, suffering and extermination,"
the Council of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Brazil. The group is
organizing a gathering of about 200 tribes to coincide with the commemoration
of the arrival on April 22, 1500, of Pedro Cabral.
The organization says it is gathering to assess and evaluate the past 500
set goals for the future and to make it clear to authorities that they see no reason
"The white man has taken everything from us," said Cacique Vera Mirim,
of the Guarani tribe, one of Brazil's largest with 30,000 Guarani across six states.
"We are suffering, and no one remembers what they've done since Pedro Cabral
arrived and killed our ancestors," Mirim said.
Native population has fallen dramatically
Brazil's native population has fallen from 5 million when the first Europeans
arrived to 325,000. Many Indians died in clashes with Europeans and others
from the diseases introduced by Europeans.
The Yanomami people formerly lived undisturbed in the Amazon region, but
land sits on one of the richest gold deposits in South America and has not been
the same since the prospectors arrived.
"The Indians continue to have problems ... the problem of surviving," said
anthropologist Jose Carlos Levinho. "Creating an environment in which the
Indians can thrive ... that's the challenge for the government."
Brazil's 1988 constitution guarantees Indians the right to land traditionally
their ancestors, and more than half the native territory has been returned.
But fires, set by ranchers to clear land for cattle, continue to encroach
'We're making progress'
Jose Carlos Dias, a former minister of justice, said, "We're making progress.
And we hope to demarcate more indigenous areas. This is a priority for the
The Guarani land is in one of the protected areas. That is one reason they
fared better than some of Brazil's indigenous groups, but there are other factors.
The Guarani refuse to intermarry with non-natives, and they are united
religious beliefs passed along to children through song.
More than half the members of the tribe are children, and many of the men
to find work. Mirim says that without increased opportunity the future of the
tribe is grim.
"Look at these children we're trying to feed. And tell me, who is supposed
support them now? No one remembers us," he said.
Celebrations around the country
The Brazilian government, together with Portuguese authorities, has planned
range of events in Santa Cruz de Cabralia, 500 miles (800 kilometers) northeast
of Rio de Janeiro, where the first explorers arrived, and around the country.
The schedule includes concerts and the inauguration of a "Discovery Museum."
The issue of how to best celebrate the arrival of the Portuguese has been
source of conflict for several months between the government and indigenous
Last week, hundreds of protesting Indians marched in the capital and destroyed
monument that had been built for the anniversary.
Tensions had flared earlier over a plan to celebrate Mass on a beach near
Vermelha village in Bahia state, the site of the first Mass in Brazil. Indians
demanded that a monument to their struggles be erected alongside a large cross
which had been built for the event.
Correspondent Debra Daugherty, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed