The Miami Herald
October 29, 1999

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 Sol reservation
 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 cap,
 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. But before
 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 Indians. Many
 argued they didn't want as much land as the federal government said they were
 entitled to.

 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 peacefully alongside
 the settlers until foreign Catholic missionaries arrived in the early 1970s.

 ``No one even cared about demarcation until the Italians (priests) arrived and
 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 occupied by
 Indian reservations the mineral wealth is needlessly locked up, discouraging
 further development.

 ``Who's going to invest in an indigenous area?'' asks Wilson Jordao Mota
 Bezerra, Uiramuta's 28-year-old mayor, the son of a white prospector and a
 Macuxi Indian.

 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 ownership won't
 necessarily stop development. It will just leave it up to the Indians to decide.

 ``Between Indians we can discuss and resolve things. Between Indians and
 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.''