Future of traditional lands divides Amazon tribes
UIRAMUTA, Brazil -- (AP) -- In an era when so many ethnic groups
are fighting for
a homeland, a group of Amazon Indians is saying they don't want theirs.
Four Indian tribes in this remote corner of the northern Amazon
have been fighting
for 30 years for recognition of their claim to the land. But just when it seemed
their battle for a reservation was won, some members of the tribe began speaking
out against it.
The debate over the proposed 1.6-million-acre Raposa-Serra do
has split tribes and even families over their relations with white civilization and the
path they should follow into the next century. But the disagreement, finally,
comes down to money.
On one side are the pro-reservation Indians, who disdain settlers
and say the land
is rightfully theirs. On the other side are those who say the area is loaded with
natural resources, including diamonds. They fear a reservation would make it
harder to unearth the land's wealth.
``Having the area declared a reservation means the white people
would have to go,
and that you couldn't take out the lumber or even dream of mining,'' says Ze
Novaes Pereira da Silva, the son of Macuxi chief Jose Macaranduba. ``That's like
giving me a house but saying I can't use the bathroom or the silverware.''
It's easy to tell which side Ze Novaes is on. In blue jeans, baseball
checkered shirt and big shiny watch, all bought with his salary as the mayor's
chief of staff, he could almost pass for a prosperous white settler.
But across the river that separates the town of Uiramuta from
the Indian village,
his older brother Orlando takes a bleaker view of white culture. For him, the
settlers who arrived in the 1950s searching for diamonds and gold brought nothing
but alcoholism and misery.
Orlando sits shirtless in front of his grass-roofed hut and looks
disdainfully at the
50-odd houses that comprise Uiramuta.
``That was our prayer house over there,'' says Orlando, who inherited
the post of
chief from his 102-year-old alcoholic father. ``They say I gave them permission to
build. Negative. They are invaders.''
The four tribes -- the Ingarico, Macuxi, Taurepang and Wapixana
-- have about
12,000 members. The land those like Orlando claim as their own lies along
Brazil's border with Guyana, 2,250 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
Last December, it seemed the pro-reservation contingent had won.
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso could sign a decree creating the
reservation, local politicians obtained a court order blocking it.
Surprisingly, some of the loudest critics of the reservation were
argued they didn't want as much land as the federal government said they were
Those Indian groups have urged demarcating the reservation in
a way that would
keep the road open and allow the settlers to stay.
Claiming to speak for the majority, the Indians say they lived
the settlers until foreign Catholic missionaries arrived in the early 1970s.
``No one even cared about demarcation until the Italians (priests)
started all the trouble,'' said chief Damiao Marques. ``Italy and Germany want the
area for the diamonds and gold.''
Marques says he is afraid that if the area is designated as native
territory, it will
somehow cease being part of Brazil and become vulnerable to foreign interlopers.
And local politicians argue that with 42 percent of Roraima state
Indian reservations the mineral wealth is needlessly locked up, discouraging
``Who's going to invest in an indigenous area?'' asks Wilson Jordao
Bezerra, Uiramuta's 28-year-old mayor, the son of a white prospector and a
But Jerome Pereira da Silva of the Roraima Indigenous Council,
which leads the
pro-reservation forces, says such arguments are nonsense. He says the Indian
groups that oppose demarcation are a small minority, with many -- like Ze Novaes
-- on the government payroll in some way.
And Orlando, Ze Novaes' pro-reservation brother, says indigenous
necessarily stop development. It will just leave it up to the Indians to decide.
``Between Indians we can discuss and resolve things. Between Indians
whites that's very complicated,'' he says. ``The white man is always looking to
expand his house. We can still do business, just with the white people over there
and us over here.''