The election of two indigenous women to Brazil's National Congress
By: Amanda Vargas
Sonia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá are on a mission to strengthen Indigenous women's representation in the Brazilian National Congress. They were both elected as federal deputies in the political elections that took place on October 2nd. The election of Lula da Silva as president on October 30th is for both the hope that democracy will be maintained and that environmental and indigenous peoples' issues will be honoured. In this first of two articles, an interview with Sonia Guajajara.
She is originally from the Araribóia in Maranhão. However, she ran for federal deputy in São Paulo as it has a huge responsibility to preserve the Brazilian biomes, especially the Amazon. Her candidacy was strategically aligned with the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil - APIB, which saw in her the opportunity to have a representative of the native peoples in a prominent place in national politics. This is the first time that São Paulo has elected an indigenous woman.
How do you feel now that you have been elected as a Federal Deputy?
I am extremely happy and proud to see that São Paulo has answered the call to village politics. My constituents elected me to honour the mission of bringing the strength and ancestry of indigenous peoples to Congress. I will make every vote count. And I will spare no effort to guarantee the demarcation of indigenous lands, the protection of the Atlantic Forest, the Amazon and all Brazilian biomes, defending agro-ecology to fight hunger, and guarantee food without poison on every Brazilian's plate. Finally, I feel very happy and proud to know that I am part of the group of women who occupy a seat in the National Congress fighting for the mother of all struggles: the fight for Mother Earth!
My candidacy has always had the objective of fulfilling this role that history has assigned to us - being not in search of fulfilling a personal project, but work as a historical agent committed to a collective project. It is part of it to increase the number of indigenous people in the National Congress. Our aim is to bring our voices, demands and contributions to the construction of a more democratic future, plural and truly engaged with the real needs of the Brazilian people.
Why is the political representativeness of indigenous peoples more relevant than ever?
I respect the different ways of life, but I understand that the current economic model, made by non-indigenous people, is completely predatory. This is why it is important to respect indigenous rights, which are intrinsically linked to the environment. This the only way we can guarantee the future. Native people are 5% of the population, but they take care of 80% of the biomes on the planet. This is UN data, underestimated even by specialists. We have a climate emergency! It is about fighting today, getting involved today, because indigenous representation in political parties is necessary for us to have a voice at the decision-making table.
Which environmental regeneration projects do you intend to approve in the Congress?
We have many ideas, but first we need to confront the National Congress, which is highly conservative and developmentalist. We know that the vast majority of senators and congress members elected will continue to guide the legalization of destruction through access and exploitation of indigenous territories. What is required now are not ideas, but the articulation contrary to this stance. It is strongly needed to create a space that promotes a new political and environmental awareness - either in Congress or in society. The election results show us that Brazilian society is not yet prepared for a change. Therefore, it is necessary that this change also starts outside the Parliament, so that society becomes more aware and responsible for life and for the future. There is no point in dreaming that we will change this situation in the short term. We are planting a seed, so that in the future, we can harvest a new human consciousness about what is urgent and what is really destructive for the planet and for human beings. We, indigenous people, were elected to confront and contradict the current Congress, which is completely backwards.
What is your message to people who voted for Bolsonaro?
It is urgent to put an end to this very dark period in the history of our democracy. The struggle of the indigenous peoples goes beyond the electoral process. Our struggle is permanent. That is why we strongly supported the vote for Lula to guarantee our right to remain mobilised without the state naming us enemies. Lula is the path against hatred, retrocession and authoritarianism. Each vote Lula got is a vote for democracy!
What dialogues would you like to establish with Europe for your cause?
I do not have a cause. I fight for the indigenous peoples' cause, the cause of the environment, the cause of life. We already have a link with the European Parliament, which has been traced since my participation inside the indigenous movement. Now, we are going to continue from another spot, that is to say, what I used to do as part of the civil society, I will now do as a parliamentarian. All the work we did within the indigenous movement was to get projects approved in Congress. Now, I am one of the deciding votes.
This is a critical moment with an urgent struggle that we are living in Brazil. The support of the international community is important for the indigenous cause and environmental issues, which we have many obstacles to resolve.