Political action and inaction: is Brazilian conservation under threat?


Luis Gustavo Arruda

Conservation Fellow

Luis Gustavo is a Brazilian PhD student in the Biosciences Institute at Universidade de Sao Paulo (IB-USP), focused on environmental education policies, particularly concerning the protected natural areas. He is one of the organizers of the E-book “Sustainabilities, public administration and school gardens: perspectives on the socioenvironmental crisis” (2020), member of the Technical Committee on Food Security of the Associação Paulista de Gestores Ambientais (APGAM), coordinator of the Commission on Activities’ Evaluation at the Brazilian Planetary Health Club and a Planetary Health Ambassador by the Studies Group in Planetary Health, based in the Advanced Studies Institute at Universidade de Sao Paulo (IEA-USP). He is also the Communication and Content Coordinator at the Extensão Natural online portal (https://linktr.ee/extensao.natural), focused in disseminating scientific knowledge on environmental education policies.

Learn more about Luis Gustavo Arruda

June 23, 2021

Political action and inaction: is Brazilian conservation under threat?


Written by Luís Gustavo Arruda (@extensao.natural), with the collaboration of Brian Griffiths and Thiago Hermenegildo.

Indigenous peoples’ resistance for their rights is as ancient as the problems that cause contemporary social and environmental crises. Their resistance should also be ours, not only because they’re recognized as important conservationists, but because of their nature-based worldview.

In the frontline for resistance, Indigenous people meet in Brasilia (DF). The Acampamento Terra Livre (ATL, the Free Earth Camp) gathered more than four thousand Indigenous people in 2019, April, 24th to 26th. Photo and caption by Midia Ninja, on Flickr.

The Acampamento Terra Livre (ATL) is an Indigenous peoples’ meeting that has been going on since 2004, with a focus on different struggles of native Brazilians and their rights. In 2019, its 15th edition, it was marked by police brutality and Indigenous bravery. They are fearless, not only by facing the state police at the Praça dos Três Poderes in Brasília (a square that hosts Brazil’s federal executive, legislative and judicial powers, based in the Federal District), but for continuing to stand up for their rights.

Previous editions of the ATL were also marked by a violent response from the Brazilian government, particularly in the denial of legal rights to Indigenous ancestral lands. This is, in fact, the first demand in the Manifest, written in the 15th Camp in 2019, and highlights the complementarity between social justice, state policies and environmental conservation.

The 14th ATL occurred at the Praça dos Ipês, next to the National Theatre, in Brasilia. In April 2017 (24 to 28th) more than four thousand Indigenous people, encompassing roughly two hundred ethnicities from all regions of the country, were present in a huge demonstration of the strength of Indigenous organizations. Debates, ritualistic acts and protests took part among this week’s activities of unification between Indigenous communities. Photo and caption by Midia Ninja, on Flickr.

Land use has been a complex subject in Brazil since the beginning of the colonization process. For over five centuries, disputes between private and state actors led to the persecution and marginalization of Indigenous peoples and their worldviews. Recent incipient efforts aimed at balancing economic development and environmental conservation (as the National Policy on Environment, 1981, or the Nation System for Conservation Units, 1999) have had a fundamental role; but these initiatives exclude the traditional knowledge held by Indigenous cultures, forged over millennia, for carrying the answers to a balanced ecosystem. Indigenous worldviews, related to ancestry and traditional knowledge, embody experiential learning  and, for us, equate to “conservationist behaviors”. 

What we perceive as conservation, Indigenous peoples identify as transversal practices. In fact, the report Los pueblos Indígenas y tribales y la gobernanza de los bosques (The Indigenous and tribal peoples and the forestry management; FAO-ONU, 2021) presents in its conclusions: 

Indigenous and tribal territories in Latin America pose an important step for the local and global climate stability, housing a representative part of the world’s biological and cultural diversity, but its inhabitants lack decent income and access to services.” p 107

Structural problems pose a serious risk concerning not only environmental conservation, but our own human health. Indigenous worldviews are beyond maintaining forests; they are about achieving a healthy balance between human and environmental needs — basically, what they have been doing for millennia before irresponsible profit-drivers began conflicts. Their vision for care and sustainability is passed along generations, showing itself in many more ways than our Western conceptions on “conservation efforts” could imagine. 

In the frontline for resistance, Indigenous people meet in Brasilia (DF). The Acampamento Terra Livre (ATL, the Free Earth Camp) gathered more than four thousand Indigenous people, in April 2019 (24 to 26th). Photo and caption by Midia Ninja, on Flickr.

There are many ways to support Indigenous struggles for their rights at policy interfaces: by sharing and supporting Indigenous organizations’ calls and demands (for examples, you can check out the Casa Ninja Amazônia, Conselho Indígena de Roraima, Mídia-Índia Oficial, Amazônia Real, Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil), envisioning places for Indigenous people to join us with equity and show their voices, in our workspaces as example, or demanding that administrators create parliamentary coalitions that aid social participation in environmental policymaking. You can choose one or more, but we must act now.


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