Decolonisation and the Munduruku Protocol: It’s time to listen and to respect

Munduruku assembly. Source: Amazon Watch
Munduruku assembly. Source: Amazon Watch

International conventions, in particular the International Labor Organisation Convention 169 (ILO169), establish that local communities should be consulted when a planned project will affect their territory. Consultation with indigenous peoples, as written in Article 6, should be undertaken through appropriate procedures, in good faith, and through the representative institutions of these peoples. This statement is followed by the article 7 that protects their right to “decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control over their economic, social and cultural development”.

This is quite easy to understand: “we” are planning a project and therefore “we” must consult “those” impacted by the project before proceeding. This is especially relevant when the project could destroy the means of subsistence and have a direct impact on the territory and resources that “the community” – the “other” – needs to survive. And let’s take it seriously: an effective consultation, following ILO169, is one in which those concerned have an opportunity to influence the decision-making process.

This basic standard through which modern business should be conducted did not come about by chance, or because investors are kind. It resulted from social struggle. It is premised upon the violence and brutality that occurred in the past. Genocide. Ethnocide. Destruction. Extermination. Various forms of violence were inflicted against vulnerable populations. This happened all over the world: in China, in India, in Asia, in Africa, in the US, in Canada, in Europe, and in Latin America.

Decolonisation, as states Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang (thanks my friend Silvia Rodriguez Maeso who introduced me to this paper), “is not a metaphor”, but, as they argue, offers a different perspective to human and civil rights based approaches to justice:  “Decolonisation is accountable to Indigenous sovereignty and futurity.”

Looking to the past to review how we arrived at this point, we could start with the process of colonisation. There was a huge debate within the Spanish Crown concerning what to do with the indigenous people who occupied the continent they believed to have “discovered”. We could say that this was the first time a sort of capitalistic “consultation process” took place.

The debate between Bartolomé de Las Casas and Ginés de Sepúlveda, known as the “Valladolid Debate”, posed the central question on the Just War against Indians, the use of violence, the legitimacy of the war and the conquest of their lands by the Spanish Crown. While Las casas defended Indians from the war, Sepúlveda sought to justify brutality towards indigenous peoples through the Requerimiento. Indians were seen, in Sepulveda’s vision, as criminals against natural law, and violence was necessary to be used against them, to conquer their souls and territory. But, following a sort of authoritarian “consultation process”, the Requerimiento, this meant that before slashing and conquering and enslaving, the Spanish military would read a requisition to the Indians, who understood nothing. Sylvia Wynter explains, it was “a hybridly theologico-juridical document, written in Latin, supposed to be read out to indigenous group by a notary”. This was done to make sure the Indians were “aware” of the situation:

The document proclaimed to the indigenes that Christ, who was king over the world, had granted this sovereignty to the pope, who had in turn granted the lands of their “barbarous nations” to the king of Spain, who had sent the expedition members as his emissaries. The expeditionaries had been sent to give the indigenes the choice of accepting the King of Spain’s sovereignty over their lands, together with their acceptance of Christ’s Word and, with it, of conversion to Christianity. If they accepted the king’s sovereignty together with conversion, they would be unharmed. Should they refuse (thereby making themselves Christ-Refusers and Enemies-of-Christ), they would be attacked, captured, justly enslaved—their lands justly expropriated.” (excerpt from: Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom by Sylvia Wynter)

According to Rolena Adorno, the Requerimento was a sort of “war ultimatum” that the Spanish colonisers, “on behalf of the King and the Queen, subjugators of barbarous peoples,” had to read to the Indians. The document demanded that they recognise and subjugate themselves to the Spanish Crown’s sovereignty and the Church and Pope’s authority. If there was no opposition, they could remain free in their lands — although the lands would belong to the king. Otherwise, they would be killed and enslaved. This was a sort of legitimisation of the colonial violence. No matter the real will of the Indians, just to legitimise the colonial project. Decolonise this process, and so, take very seriously the opinion of the groups affected, as writes Tuck and Yang, should not be seen as a metaphor.

I raise this example because it was during this time that modern racism was created with the slavery, along with colonialism and the expansion of capitalism. As such, the expansion of capitalism may employ these two forms of domination to justify and legitimise its needs: (neo)colonialism and racism. Therefore, international agreements like ILO169 are supposedly enshrined with a post-colonial mentality. They are meant to provide legal protection over this dark past.

During Brazil’s Military Dictatorship (1964-1985), Indians were the victims of the economic miracle. According to a report published by Brazil’s National Truth Commission last December, at least 8,000 Indians were killed during this period. Many of these killings were due to indigenous resistance to infrastructure projects such as roads and dams. That is one of the reasons why the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 enshrines the right to protected indigenous territories, and why the country signed ILO169. One of the worst examples surrounds the construction of the Balbina hydroelectric dam, which flooded at least three of the Waimiri Atroari’s villages. It is estimated that 2,000 Waimiri were killed during this period, during which they also had their territory segmented by a road and occupied by a mining company.

And today, yet again, Brazil’s dam projects target indigenous lands, threatening to not only to directly affect three Munduruku villages – Dace Watpu, Sawré Maybú and Karu Bamaybú – but to displace them entirely.

The Brazilian Constitution forbids the displacement of any indigenous group from their territory, unless in case of a natural disaster, and within this scenario Congress must approve this displacement and guarantee that the displaced people be allowed to return to their lands as soon as possible (Article 231). Additionally, any local group – whether indigenous or traditional populations like rubber tappers – that will have their territory and life affected by any project, especially by hydroelectric dams, must be consulted before the project is approved (Article 231, paragraph 3).

But how?

Although Brazil is a signatory to ILO169, there is no formal procedure to ensure this consultation process. Should consultation take place through the Old Spanish method of Requerimiento, the Requisition, allowing the “just war” to bring legitimacy to the mega-project as defended by Ginés de Sepúlveda?

Or could we follow a post colonial system, based on respect for the law and for the rights of humans and nature, by sincerely informing and listening to the ones who could be affected?

Brazil is planning dozens of dams in the Amazon basin, such as Belo Monte, on the Xingu River. The newest case is the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam, which could directly affect the Munduruku and riverine communities. The Munduruku have demanded to be consulted, recently publishing a protocol that stipulates how a consultation should take place.

Jairo Saw, a Munduruku teacher, wrote a letter to Brazilian and international civil society last year, in which he states:

White man invaded our land, many of our relatives were slaughtered, murdered, tortured and used in forced labour, serving as slaves. They call us lazy because we don’t destroy as much as them! (…) Now the “civilised” write laws and do not respect them. They use the power to oppress people who they think have less knowledge than them. They do not recognise our rights. The right is only given to wealthy individuals or upper class with more economic power! (…) We are treated as obstacles to development. But we are not against development, what we want is to be respected and have our rights as indigenous people recognised.

The Munduruku Protocol on consultation procedures, published couple of weeks ago and presented to the Brazilian government, is the first protocol of a consultation process proposed by an indigenous nation that I have ever seen. It is very well written, closely following international and national law.

The Munduruku are very clear and precise on what should be done: they must be taken seriously.

Munduruku Consultation Protocol

 Prepared by the Munduruku, gathered at the village of Waro Apompu, Munduruku Indigenous Land, on the 24th and 25th of September 2014, and in the village of Praia do Mangue, on the 29th and 30th of September 2014. This document has been approved in Extraordinary Assembly by the Munduruku people in the village of Sai Cinza, on the 13th and 14th of December 2014.

We, the Munduruku people, want to listen to what the government has to say to us. But we do not want made-up information. In order for the Munduruku people to be able to decide, we need to know what is, in fact, happening. And the government needs to listen to us. Before initiating the consultation, we demand the demarcation of the Indigenous Land of Sawré Muybu. We know that the report is ready. We have the video from FUNAI’s Presidency admitting that the demarcation has not occured due to [plans for] the hydroelectric dam. The government is not acting in accordance to the good faith required for the consultation (Convention no. 169, Article 6). We will never accept to be moved [from our land]. And we know that the Constitution is on our side! We also demand that the government protect relatives [living in voluntary isolation] in our land and guarantee the right to consultation to the other peoples affected by their projects, such as the Apiaká and the Kayabi. And, finally, we demand that the riverside communities, which will be affected by dams on the Tapajós River (such as Montanha e Mangabal, Pimental e São Luiz) have their right to consultation guaranteed, in an adequate manner that is specific to their reality. Like us, the riverside communities also have the right to their own consultation.

Who should be consulted?

The Munduruku from all villages – from the high, medium and low Tapajós – should be consulted, including the ones from villages located in indigenous lands not yet demarcated. We do not want to be considered by the government as divided: there is only one Munduruku people. The wise elders, the pajé [spiritual leaders], those who know how to tell stories, those who know traditional medicines, roots, leaves, those who know about the sacred places, should be consulted.

The chiefs, male and female warriors and the leaderships should also be consulted. It is the chiefs, who articulate between themselves and circulate the information to all villages. These are the ones who gather everyone to discuss what should be done. The male and female warriors help the chief, accompany him and protect our territory. The leaders are the teachers and health agents who work with the entire community.

The women should also be consulted in order to share their experience and information. There are women who are pajés, midwives and artisans. They take care of the fields, provide ideas, prepare the food, make home remedies, and possess a lot of traditional knowledge.

The university students, Munduruku pedagogues, Ibaorebu [Munduruku education project] students, and the young people and children should also be consulted as they are the generation of the future. Many young people have access to the media, read the newspaper, have access to the internet, speak Portuguese, are aware of reality and actively participate in our people’s struggle.

Our organizations (Conselho Indígena Munduruku Pusuru Kat Alto Tapajós – Cimpukat, Da’uk, Ipereg Ayu, Kerepo, Pahyhyp, Pusuru e Wixaxima) also should participate, but they cannot be the only ones consulted. The Munduruku council members also do not answer for our people. The decisions of the Munduruku people are collective.

Today we inhabit around 130 villages, in the high, medium and low Tapajós. Nevertheless, we remember that, because of the social organization of our people, new villages can arise.

How should the consultation process be?

The government cannot consult us after the decision [to build dams] has already been taken. Consultation should come before everything else. All the meetings should happen in our territory – in the village we choose – and not in the city, not even in Jacareacanga or Itaituba. The meetings cannot take place on dates that coincide with the community activities (for example, during the growing season, during the clearing and planting; during the nut harvest; during the flowering season; during our festivities; during the Indigenous Peoples Day).

When the federal government conducts the consultation in our village, they should not arrive at the landing strip, spend a day and return. They must come and have patience with us. They must live with us, eat the same food that we eat. They must listen to our conversation. The government does not need to be afraid of us. If it wants to propose something, which is going to affect our lives, it should come to our house. We will not accept to dialogue with advisors, we want to be consulted by those with decisionmaking power.

The meetings should be in the Munduruku language and we will choose who will be the translators. In these meetings, our knowledge should be taken into consideration, at the same level of the pariwat (non-Indian) knowledge. This is because we are the ones who know about the rivers, the forest, the fish and the land. We will be the ones coordinating the meetings and not the government. In the meetings, the partners of our people should participate: the Federal Public Ministry, the organizations chosen by us and our special guests, including trusted specialists, who will be appointed by us. The government should pay the costs of our partners’ and our presence in all the meetings.

In order for the consultation to be completely free, we will not accept armed pariwat in the meetings (the Military Police, Federal police, the Federal Highway Police, the army, the National Public Security Force, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency or any other security force, public or private). We use the bow and arrow because it is part of our identity and not with the intention to wage war.

For our own safety, our people should record the meetings. Partners and governmental agents are allowed to film and take photographs as long as they deliver integral copies (unedited) following the end of the meeting. Our sacred places cannot be filmed and photographed. We will not accept the unauthorized divulgation and use of our image.

The meetings mentioned up until now are divided as follows:

— Meeting to agree on the consultation plan: the government should meet with the Munduruku people to reach an agreement about the consultation plan. The consultation plan should respect this document, which states how we are organized and how we take our decisions.

— Information meeting: the government should meet with our people, from village to village, to inform about their plans and answer our questions. Besides us, our people’s partners should participate in this meeting.

— Internal meetings: after this meeting, we will need time to discuss among ourselves the governmental proposal. We will need time to explain the proposal to the relatives who could not participate in the informative meetings. We also want to meet with the riverside communities (for example, from Montanha e Mangabal) to discuss. We can invite our partners to our internal meetings. However, the government cannot be present. If more doubts or new information comes up, the government should conduct more informative meetings, with our partners and us. Following that, we can conduct other meetings with our partners to clarify doubts and discuss, without the government – as many meetings as necessary for the Munduruku people to be completely informed.

— Negotiation meeting: when we have all the sufficient information and we have discussed it with our people, when we have an answer to give to the government, the government should meet with our people in our territory. In this meeting, our partners should also participate. The government should listen and answer our proposal, even though it may differ from the governmental proposal. And we remind that we do not accept that the government uses the rights we already hold – and that they disrespect – to blackmail us.

How do we, the Munduruku people, take our decisions?

When a project is affecting all of us, the decision is collective. The government cannot simply consult a part of the Munduruku people (for example, it cannot consult only the Munduruku from the middle Tapajós [basin] or only the ones from the upper Tapajós). The government whispers in our ears, seeking to divide our people. None of the Munduruku associations can decide alone, none of the associations answer for our people. Our people’s decisions are taken through a General Assembly, called by our chiefs. The chiefs meet and define the date and place for the General Assembly and invite the Munduruku to participate.

In the assemblies, our decisions are made after discussions: we discuss and we reach a consensus. If it is necessary, we discuss more. We do not vote. If there is no consensus, it is the majority who decides.

What is the Munduruku people expecting from the consultation?

We hope the government respects our decision. We have veto power. Sawe!

* The drafting of this document was assisted by the “Free, prior and informed consultation: a right of Amazonian indigenous peoples and traditional communities” project and by the Federal Public Ministry.

* Translation of the Munduruku Consultation Protocol from Portuguese to English by Diana Oliveira

* This post was also published in http://amazonwatch.org/. Here I present a slightly reviewed version, thanks to my friend Silvia Rodriguez Maeso, from the Center of Social Studies

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