October 29, 1999
Reservation debate divides Amazon tribes

                  UIRAMUTA, Brazil (AP) -- In an era when so many ethnic groups are fighting
                  for a homeland, a group of Amazon Indians says they don't want theirs.

                  Four Indian tribes in a 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.

                  Mining the land's wealth

                   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.

                  'They are invaders'

                  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

                  "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

                  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."

                    Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.