Indigenous peoples and their territories are key to combat the climate crisis, says leader Eloy Terena

08 abril 2022

According to Apib's legal advisor, it is necessary to stop "death projects", such as the "Anything goes in Indigenous Lands" and "Land Grabbing" bills"
According to Apib's legal advisor, it is necessary to stop "death projects", such as the "Anything goes in Indigenous Lands" and "Land Grabbing" bills, which threaten not only indigenous territories and lives but also the planet's survival 

By Clarissa Tavares, from WWF-Brazil

Coming from the Taunay-Ipegue Indigenous Land, in Aquidauana, state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Luiz Henrique Eloy Amado belongs to the Terena people and is currently one of the most active voices in the indigenous movement. As the legal coordinator of Apib (Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil), he was at the forefront of a historic feat. In August 2020, Eloy Terena was responsible for the first victory of a self-declared indigenous lawyer in a lawsuit in the Federal Supreme Court (STF), when ADPF (Allegation of Breach of Constitutional Precept) 709 was judged, on the need for the Federal Government to protect the indigenous peoples during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March of this year, he returned to the plenary of the STF for a new oral argument, on account of ADPF 760, which highlights the lack of measures for the conservation of the Amazon and the preservation of the fundamental rights of traditional communities, during the trial of the so-called "Green Package”.

Eloy Terena, who is also in charge of legal advice at Coiab (Coordination of Indigenous Organisations of the Brazilian Amazon), is 34 years old, holds a law degree from the Dom Bosco Catholic University, a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and postdoc at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, in Paris, France.

Present at the Free Land Camp (ATL, in Portuguese), which takes place in Brasília from April 4 to 14, he is one of the powerful voices trying to stop what he calls “death projects”. Alongside thousands of indigenous people who are mobilized in the federal capital, Eloy Terena helps to show the native peoples' capacity for struggle and resistance.


Read Eloy Terena's interview with WWF-Brazil:

WWF-Brazil: In 2022, ATL turns 18 years. What is the relevance of this great indigenous mobilisation at this moment in the country?

Eloy Terena: After two years of being held only virtually,due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ATL is once again being held in person, in Brasilia, in this edition. Although we have lost many of our people, we continue with the forces of ancestry, getting back on our feet to return to face-to-face actions with the theme “Retaking Brazil: Demarcating Territories and Bringing the Village to Politics”.

This is an election year and, to begin our journey of struggles, we declare that it will be the last of the genocidal government. Our “Indigenous April” is being marked by symbolic actions, with the aim of showing our capacity in the struggle for the demarcation and to bring the indigenous villages to the centre of Brazilian politics. The agendas we face are urgent, as they threaten our lives and traditions. In this sense, the demarcation of our territories remains as the main platform to ensure the defence of life and combat the destruction agenda.

There is an endless attempt to apply death projects against our territories and lives. The government's anti-indigenous agenda is constantly in motion. We face Bill 191/2020, one of the central proposals of the current federal government that intends to open indigenous lands for large-scale mining, hydroelectric plants and large infrastructure projects.

There is also Bill 490/2007, which insists on the end of demarcations, on the review of indigenous lands, and eventually seeks to legalise crimes in our territories. In addition to other projects on the priority agenda of the National Congress, such as Bill 6,299/2002 (pesticides), Bill 2633/2020 and Bill 510/2021 (land grabbing) and Bill  3729/2004 (environmental licensing).

We also warn about the judgment of the "time limit trick", which will be resumed at the Federal Supreme Court in the first half of 2022. It is one of the most important judgments in history, which will define the course of the demarcation of indigenous lands. 

WWF-Brazil: What could be the impacts of the "Anything Goes in Indigenous Lands Bill" (191/2020) and Land Grabbing Bills (510/2021 and 2,633/2020), if they are approved by Congress? How has the indigenous movement mobilised to prevent these setbacks?

Eloy Terena: To the extent that it aims to enable industrial and artisanal mining, hydroelectric generation, oil and gas exploration and large-scale agriculture on indigenous lands, removing the veto power of these communities over decisions that impact their lands, Bill 191/2020 ("anything goes"), if approved, will turn what the 1988 Constitution considered as an exception into a rule – leading to increased deforestation, invasions of indigenous lands and violence against these peoples.

This proposition violates national and international legislation, which guarantees fundamental rights such as the original right of traditional occupation of lands and territories, the right of exclusive possession and usufruct and the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent on any administrative measures and legislations that affects indigenous peoples.

Bills 510/2021 and 2633/2020 (land grabbing) try to legitimise land grabbing by increasing the size of areas subject to regularisation, covering medium-sized rural properties in land tenure regularisation, without any technical arguments for such expansion.

Although the government and the agribusiness group in the Congress argue that the projects will be beneficial to small producers, this claim does not hold up, since the current legislation already protects the rights of these family farmers. Both bills do not bring benefits to combat land grabbing and deforestation, both increase the risk of regularising areas in conflict and encourage the continuation of invasion of public lands.

Indigenous organisations across the country have been mobilising against these projects for a long time, and we have even requested support and manifestations from national and international bodies and entities. Recently, Apib also prepared a Technical Note against Bill 191/2020.

WWF-Brazil: What is your assessment of the current political moment for indigenous peoples and for the socio-environmental cause?

Eloy Terena:
There is a recent episode that illustrates very well the current political situation for indigenous peoples in Brazil. In mid-March of this year, the Minister of Justice and Public Security (Anderson Torres) awarded a medal of “indigenist merit” to himself, to President Jair Bolsonaro and other ministers of the federal government.

It was an excessively cynical act, produced by a truculent and genocidal government. What would be the merit of the government in this agenda? Destroy the environment, use pesticides as a chemical weapon, encourage mining and destruction in indigenous lands?

Since his election campaign days, Bolsonaro has made a commitment not to demarcate an inch of indigenous land, a promise he has been strictly fulfilling.

In addition to the omission in the defence of indigenous and environmental rights, we still observe the destruction of the rights of native peoples. It is a genocidal government that should be recognized for its tragedies, instead of lavishing medals on our behalf.

WWF-Brazil: What lessons do we need to learn from indigenous peoples when we talk about conserving natural resources and stopping the climate crisis?

Eloy Terena:
The Amazon... the forests in general are our home. Although it is not the home of all Brazilians, without the Amazon there is no life on earth as we know it today, and this impacts all Brazilians, without exception.

We have frequently highlighted, domestically and in the international community, that indigenous peoples and their territories are key agents to the solution of the climate crisis. Our existence is part of the solution for the maintenance of life. An example of this is that we had the best deforestation reduction rate between 2004 and 2012, reaching 83%, and this was the period in which 100 indigenous lands were demarcated.

Indigenous lands and conservation units are assets of the Federal Union that function as territorial barriers against deforestation. It is these climate security areas that, when effectively protected, significantly ensure that Brazil meets the goals it has assumed before the international community.

WWF-Brazil: What message would you like to leave for society?

Eloy Terena:
The future is already here. But for how long? Indigenous peoples warn daily that money is not eaten. It is necessary that the Amazon rainforest is standing so that we are also together with it. If it burns, Sao Paulo burns with the drought, and the day can even turn into night, as we witnessed a short time ago.

Read here the open letter against Bill 191/2020, of which WWF-Brazil is one of the signatories!
"The issues we face are urgent, as they threaten our lives and traditions", says Eloy Terena
© Edgar Kanaykõ / WWF-Brasil
"The Amazon... the forests in general are our home. Although it is not the home of all Brazilians, without the Amazon there is no life on earth as we know it today, and this impacts all Brazilians, without exception", highlights Eloy Terena
© Edgar Kanaykõ / WWF-Brasil