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Connecting Indigenous Peoples Across Language and Oceans

August 2015

The challenges faced by indigenous peoples often transcend geographical location, so it’s not surprising that indigenous groups in India and Brazil share similar stories of oppression and strife. They struggle for their land and territory rights, ultimately linked to broader rights as indigenous peoples, and for the chance to exercise collective decision-making and self-rule in their own territories.

In honor of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (August 9), we want to share some moments from a Grassroots International-supported learning exchange between Yakshi (a Grassroots ally and grantee based in India) and the Xukuru Ororuba indigenous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon late last year.  The exchange was coordinated by Grassroots International partner the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Pernambuco, Brazil and on the first evening, the group learned a great deal about the MST’s organizing structure, something that is of particular interest to Yakshi representatives and inspires their work.

In India, Yakshi works with a large diverse group of indigenous communities in Andhra Pradesh known as Adivasis (original inhabitants), speaking over 100 different languages and varying in culture and ethnicity.

Regardless of these differences, the groups share similar ways of life and unfortunately also suffer from the same loss and destruction of their homes due to the advancement of mining companies and the building of massive dams, not to mention the state criminalizing their existence and treating them as though they were intruders.

The Xukuru people are just one of many indigenous groups in Brazil to suffer a similar situation. Over the last few years in particular, the number of violent crimes due to land conflict have been on the rise, resulting in the violation of human rights. Adding to this, Brazil’s government has also criminalized the struggle for land that has lead to even more oppression and consequently threatens rural and indigenous populations whose livelihoods depend on the natural resources found in these areas.

Fortunately, the work of groups like the MST, Yakshi and so many of Grassroots International’s partners, has not been in vain. In India, the Forest Rights Act was passed acknowledging the historical injustices perpetrated against the Adivasis and recognizing their rights to an ancient forest heritage.

While in Brazil, after more than a century of enduring persecution and aggression, the Xukuru territory is now home to thousands of indigenous families, with schools, health centers, family farming, and a form of government that supports social participation.

The group met with Marquinhos Xukuru, the current cacique (head of the traditional Xukuru government’s political and administrative organization) who shared that the Xukuru indigenous peoples are considered a model for indigenous peoples throughout northeastern Brazil. They successfully reasserted their indigenous identity and reclaimed their ancestral lands in part by maintaining family relationships, the toré (a Xukuru religious ritual), conversations with elders, and the Cacicado (a governmental system led by a chief).

The importance of these learning exchanges is that they allow those with similar struggles the opportunity to explore common concerns and exchange best practices in order to continue moving forward in their efforts. This collective purpose is a strong tie that brings indigenous peoples together for a common cause no matter what continent they live on or what languages they speak.

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