Indigenous Brazilians Fight Against Bill-191

Indigenous communities in Brazil have begun staging protests to object to the proposed Bill 191 which would allow mining operations on Indigenous Brazilian lands. The bill, introduced by politicians and mining groups, would allow mining including oil and gas projects, as well as hydroelectric dams, on and around indigenous lands, which was previously outlawed. The bill has previously been dismissed by Brazilian Congress but has since been reintroduced by those pushing for an increase in mining within states that are primarily home to Indigenous peoples.

Mining constitutes a large majority of the economic resources within Brazil and many areas of rich natural resources have remained unexplored due to the previous protection of indigenous lands under the Brazilian constitution. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, prices of gold have risen dramatically, resulting in an increase in illegal gold mining on Indigenous territory in the Amazon rainforest and other Brazilian lands. As Bill-191 has been dismissed by Brazilian congress and Indigenous lands remain under protection, those who illegally mine have been removed.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been vocal in the dialogue surrounding Bill-191: he has expressed support for those lobbying for Bill-191 while also establishing his position surrounding indigenous land sovereignty. He has extensively maintained that mining of natural resources on Indigenous lands would provide Indigenous groups with significant economic welfare that is otherwise unavailable. Further, in his statement about the Bill-191 proposal he claimed that it is a “dream to release Indigenous reserves for mining.” This is indicative of the common ideology surrounding Indigenous land sovereignty. Additionally, he has previously stated that “Indians are increasingly becoming human beings just like us.” This is truly indicative of his ideology surrounding Indigenous peoples and their presence within Brazilian society. While the President has enforced numerous policies that protect areas of the Amazon, he has also removed funding for environmental protection and forced Indigenous groups to provide their land for commercial and farming purposes.

The impact of Bill-191 has already been felt within Indigenous communities, as many mining operations have already begun submitting applications to begin work on prohibited land. Many groups of Indigenous activists are concerned that the presence of these applications within the governmental system is a sign that the permissions will soon be granted. In previous years, the Brazilian government was required to immediately dismiss any applications from mining groups intending to utilize Indigenous lands. Now, the Brazilian mining authority is engaging 3000 applications despite their very presence being prohibited by the constitution.

Indigenous peoples have long been subjected to biased and inadequate treatment by colonial governments, including those within Brazil. Since the re-emergence of Bill-191, groups have gathered in city centres and around parliament buildings to call for Indigenous land sovereignty. Many groups have penned an open letter to the Brazilian government and maintain that the introduction of enforced mining within protected areas would “only bring more destruction to our people and our forest.” In this, Bill-191 would further exasperate the long-standing challenges inflicted by the Brazilian government on Indigenous communities.