“Do not forget us”, plea from the indigenous leaders of the Guarani-Kaiowá to the IEAB

Last week, members of the IEAB were part of an ecumenical mission in favor of the rights of indigenous peoples

The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil – IEAB, was part of the  ”Ecumenical Mission” for the second consecutive year. This is a partnership with the CESE – Coordinator of the Ecumenical Service, CIMI – Indigenous Council, CEBI – Center for Biblical Studies and CONIC – National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil. Over the past year the illegal exploitation of land by loggers, landowners and fazenderos are a symptom of a national problem that Brazil confronts regarding land ownship.The region of Mato Grosso do Sul is one of the most affected. The Guarani-Kaiowa and the Terena people, who are still awaiting the demarcation of the their indigenous land, suffer the consequences of a strong wave of violence as a result of these unresolved land issues. Hundreds of Guarani-Kaiowa and Terena people have been removed from their ancestral homes for  agribusiness in the form of soya plantations and cattle raising.

Background

According to CIMI, over the past 12 years, more than 500 people committed suicide and another 390 were brutally murdered in the onslaught of removing families from areas for agribusiness, which originally belonged to the indigenous people. The different organizations that form the ecumenical mission strongly advocated for an investigation of the abuse suffered by the Guarani-Kaiowa and Terena people. On June 14, near the village of the Guarani-Kaiowá in the municipality of Caarapo, an indigenous community health worker Achilles Clodiodi Rodrigues de Souza, twenty-three years old, was shot dead, and another 5 Guarani were taken with severe gunshot wounds to the local hospital in Dourados/MS. As reported by the residents of the area,  men in trucks, tractors and motorcycles were shooting for all sides.

After the incident, a large group of indigenous people dispersed and occupied land in order to protect themselves. This has generated conflict with the owners of those lands. Clodiodi was buried at the site of the attack and his grave has become a symbol of the struggle of the Guarani-Kaiowa and Terena peoples to regain their land.

Days 14 and 15 July, return of the mission: “N’handeru had said that there will be resistance!”

The IEAB took part along with other members of the ecumenical mission in a public act in front of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. The ecumenical group expressed its total support to the indigenous cause, pleaded for the immediate end to killings and conflicts and to work towards the resolution of the conflicts.

In attendance were Bishop Flavio Irala, Bishop of the Diocese of Sao Paulo and President of CONIC, Dom Naudal Alves Gomes, Bishop of the Diocese of Curitiba and chairman of the National Committee of Public Incidence of IEAB, the missionaries that are members of  Mission Desk of The IEAB, Monica Vega and Heidi Schmidt, Vagner Mendes, staff member of the Secretary General of the IEAB, Rev. Hugo Sanchez, Rector of the Mission of the inclusion in Campo Grande – MS, along with the parishioners Emanuel, Lucy, Cleide and Maria Helena.

A very powerful moment was experienced as the tribes greeted and danced together and welcomed the religious leaders who came to express their support to the native people. They danced together and the ecumenical mission was blessed in accordance with the Guarani-Kaiowa and Terena people’s faith.

Meeting with the Federal Justice Judge

After the public act in support of the rights of indigenous peoples, the members of the mission, together with the indigenous people, were received by the attorney general of the state. The attorney general explained all the legal measures that were taken since the last gathering in Oct 2015. The indigenous leaders took the opportunity to bring their grievances, especially the lack of effective responses to their pleas, with particular emphasis on the long overdue demarcation of their indigenous land. The ecumenical mission committed itself to follow-up in this process. At the end of the meeting the caravan continued its journey toward Dourados, where they arrived in the evening and were hosted by St Andrew’s Catholic Church. St Andrew’s parish offered dinner and a time for conversations with 3 Guarani leaders. As we sat in a circle and listened attentively to the stories and the pleas of the Guarani-Kaiowa, it was very clear that the indigenous people carry within an ancestral pain due to the loss of their land and the way of living at the hands of the landowners. The haunting echo of the few words told to us by the leaders still resonates as the lament of the prophets of the Old Testament, “do not forget us”.

Visit to Caarapo

The village of the Guarani-Kaiowa is located at the Yvu farm, more than 270km from Campo Grande, the state capital of Mato Grosso do Sul. This was the meeting place for the caravan and the indigenous leaders, together with their people. This was another powerful moment in which different cultures and faiths meet together in search for dignity, solidarity, and support. The

ceremony was opened by the Cacique (chief), with words of welcome and appreciation for the concern of the churches towards the indigenous cause. With pauses for prayers, the leaders and visitors shared profound, sacred moments with songs and conversations. After sharing a meal the whole group moved to the graveside of Clodiodi, where in a circle of prayer the silent reverberation of grief was deeply felt, and the blood-stained Brazilian flag waved above us in the wind.

Visit to the Apka’i: the Power of the Ancestors

Chief Damiana is the leader of a small indigenous community on the banks of the river. This community was bulldozed, destroying their homes, killing some men, women and children, and were expelled from their ancestral land. Chief Damiana anguishes as she has not been able to bury the dead in their land, and the ancestral cemetery is now part of a farm. Now she stands vigil from the roadside where she has made her dwelling place with the few belongings left to them.

She stands there as a marker to those not only traveling by car and bus, but to remind us all that at the margins of the road we always find the injured, waiting for a Samaritan who can take them to an inn for rest and recovery.

The IEAB continues to support the struggles of the Guarani-Kaiowa

We know as Church that the struggle continues, that much blood has been spilled, and that greed behind the profits that come from these lands destroys hundreds of peoples and their livelihood and culture each and everyday. As Church we commit ourselves to advocate for them in Brazil as well as abroad. This is the plea of a people who are Brazilian, and bonds us to the struggles of all humanity to preserve our style of life, our lands, and our beliefs.