A band of Munduruku Indians occupied a Brazilian government building in Itaitiba city, Para state, Friday, demanding that the government address the problem of loggers and gold miners incurring on their traditional land. The tribe held the building’s staff hostage peacefully, but threatened “a conflict of unimaginable proportions” if the government did not take action and the invaders persisted, which, they said, the government would be responsible for.

“We want [politicians in] Brasília to quickly demarcate our land,” said the chief Juarez Saw Munduruku, “because we look after this land much better than the Brazilian government bodies do.”

As the chief said this, around 40 Munduruku Indians cried “Sawe!”–an exclamation of appreciation, solidarity, celebration or battle cry in Munduruku tradition, as reported Agencia Publica, who accompanied the tribe to the building.

Munduruku indians occupy Brazil government building

The occupation of the Funai (Brazilian government body responsible for indigenous affairs) building was an escalation of ongoing tensions regarding the tribe’s traditional land.

Previous to the occupation, The Munduruku had published a letter about the imminent conflict between the gold miners and the tribe. The later stated that if the demarcation process was not accomplished, Funai would be “provoking a conflict of unimaginable proportions between the Munduruku and the invaders.”

The Munduruku are demanding the demarcation of Sawre Muybu, land that has been occupied by the tribe for centuries and which is marked for demarcation by Funai technicians. However, the process has been stopped in Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil.

Munduruku indians occupy Brazil government building (5)

The previous (interim) president of Funai left office in September without fulfilling a promise she had made to the Munduruku to publish a report that the Munduruku are stressing in their demands.

According to a report, the territory has been ready for demarcation for more than a year, but the report has not been published by the federal government.

Demarcation would legally prevent the construction of a hydroelectric plant that will flood three villages, because the constitution of Brazil prohibits the removal of indigenous tribes.

Munduruku indians occupy Brazil government building

Because demarcation has not been undertaken by the government, the Munduruku decided to demarcate their territory on their own. Four miles have already been opened in the forest. The occupation of the Funai building was precipitated by the discover that more than 300 miners were exploring the boundaries of Munduruku territory–a location considered sacred to the tribe. The miners said that they would not leave until after the land was demarcated.

The tribe made statements that they would occupy the building and hold its staff hostage so long as there was no effective answer from Brasilia. Brazil’s justice minister was reportedly to be contacted by Funai’s president in Brasilia, according to Agencia Publica, who was with the Munduruku inside the building.

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However, after around seven hours without any indication that the government would give an answer, the tribe left to return to self-demarcation.

The Munduruku expressed concern, however, that the action would generate a retaliation from the miners and loggers present along the borders of their territory.

“If we get into a conflict with the invaders, the government will have to take responsibility,” said a representative of the women of the Munduruku, Maria Leusa Cosme Kaba.

By Sid Douglas

Photos: Marcio Isensee e Sá