Indigenous Dialogues for Territorial Protection

Maranhão, Brazil | November 8-13, 2022

The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society (NAFWS) participated in an Indigenous Knowledge Exchange & Capacity Building Project in Maranhão, Brazil from November 8-13, 2022. The gathering, entitled “Indigenous Dialogues for Territorial Protection,” took place at the Penxwyi Hempejxà Teaching and Research Center in Carolina, Maranhão, Brazil and focused on sharing knowledge and experience of the challenges and strategies of land management and resource protection of Indigenous peoples from the United States and Brazil.

The event was sponsored and coordinated by the U.S. Department of Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service and International Technical Assistance Program), U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, NAFWS, and the Brazilian organizations of Indigenous Work Center – CTI, Wyty Catë Association of the Timbira of Maranhão and Tocantins Communities, Coordination of Organizations and Articulations of the Indigenous Peoples of Maranhão – COAPIMA, Articulation Maranhão Indigenous Women – AMIMA, and Institute of Society Population and Nature – ISPN.

First Bi-National Indigenous Exchange

The Indigenous Dialogues for Territorial Protection event was the first gathering of this type in Brazil. Sixty-five representatives from 14 different Indigenous communities from the states of Maranhão and Tocantins attended the event and the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society organized six Tribal fish and wildlife experts from across the U.S. to attend.

NAFWS participants included representatives from the Huslia Tribe (AK), Quapaw Nation (OK), Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (MI), Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation (CA) and the Pueblo of Laguna (NM). Among Brazil’s representatives were the Timbira peoples (Krahô, Apinayé, Krikati, Gavião Pyhcop Catiji, Apanjekrá – Canela, Memortumré – Kanela) and Guajajara-Tenetehara.

NAFWS Representatives from left to right – Jessica Koski, Caleb Hickman, Robert Romero, Buddy Shapp, Rosa Laucci and Orville Huntington.

Indigenous Dialogues

Throughout the week, each community presented on their individual natural resource protection strategies. Presenters included Timbira tribal leaders, environmental agents, fire brigade members, Guardians of the Forest and Warriors of the Forest, and academia, researchers, and advocates of Indigenous rights all of whom spoke with an intense passion of their missions to protect and sustain their people’s cultures and ways of life. Each community represented discussed issues surrounding the impacts of exploitation of their Indigenous territories through illegal logging and mining operations, agri-business, livestock trespass, and wildlife poaching.

Throughout the sessions at the training center, all participants engaged in open dialogue during and after presentations, as everyone was genuinely interested in learning more about the information that was shared through a presentation or during an informal discussion amongst attendees.

The following are presentation highlights:

Opening remarks at the Penxwyi Hempejxà Teaching and Research Center.

Groundwater Concerns

Water loss due to climate change and surrounding agri-businesses is a primary concern for many as there are direct impacts to community resources for drinking water. Extensive farming practices on adjoining lands requires heavy water consumption for irrigation, and the application of herbicides and pesticides may be contaminating existing water resources through runoff or leaching. Efforts to document current headwater conditions and compare them with historical levels have been initiated by environmental agents using input from village elders who orally and physically described previous levels.

Indigenous Dialogues for Territorial Protection presenters describing land designations and field work with presentation support from CTI.

Fighting and Utilizing Fire

Fire brigade staff not only fight wildland fires that are ignited by illegal deforestation activities, but also use fire as a management tool for the health of their existing forests. Brigades have also implemented forest regeneration programs by raising seedlings in greenhouses for replanting projects all with the involvement of community youth.

Fire Brigade members presenting fire management practices including reforestation.

Warriors and Guardians of the Forest

Women Warriors of the Forest have established themselves to support their male counterparts, the Guardians of the Forest, to combat illegal deforestation in some of the last contiguous rainforests in Maranhão. The Women Warriors operate in many territories and have developed an environmental education program to teach primarily to youth of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and instill the importance of Tribal cultures. All guardians routinely patrol respective territories, share intelligence of illegal activities, and tactfully address violators in high-risk, life or death situations. With limited resources, they collect evidence of crimes and provide it to the Federal Police of Brazil for prosecution; however, the majority of the cases are never litigated.  For the Guajajara people of the Caru Territory, they alone have had seven men killed or assassinated by non-Indigenous invaders during encounters to protect their homelands and its resources.

Woman Warrior and Guardian of the Forest discussing daily challenges and the need to maintain their resiliency to combat exploitation

Sharing a Similar History

Marine Biologist Rosa Laucci of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation felt both inspired and devastated during the experience. She stated, “I was personally inspired by all the strong, amazing, fearless women that spoke so passionately about what they do, who they are, and how they are protecting their territories,” but it’s “devastating to realize that the indigenous communities of Brazil are dying trying to protect their land and are experiencing what Native American’s went through, with western expansion and land grabs, 200 years ago – knowing that is happening in today’s world is heartbreaking and infuriating.”

Each of the representatives of the NAFWS also provided individual presentations during the exchange that provided some historical information about Native Americans, conflict and relationships with the Federal government, Treaty rights and sovereignty. The establishment, structure, and mission of the NAFWS was described along with program priorities. The remaining presentations focused on sharing information relative to Tribal land management that involved numerous challenges/conflict and strategies with a successful outcome.

Environmental Manager Buddy Shapp of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma stated, “The trip was a learning, moving, and rewarding experience. It was eye opening to hear from the various Indigenous peoples from across the States of Maranhão and Tocantins. In many ways, the Indigenous people of Brazil are being treated by the Brazilian government, the way Native Americans were being treated 100-150 years ago.”  Shapp further added, “Hopefully the six of us from the U. S. were able to impart a small amount of information to help the Indigenous Brazilians and the organizations that support them, such as CTI and ISPN, in their plight.”

NAFWS representatives previously mentioned with USFWS Investigator Ygor Buslik (second from right)

“The gathering in Brazil was extremely meaningful to me, and the words and sharing of cultures by all was something I rarely experience. At the gathering I felt there was a deep spirituality and lifting each other to a place of hope and a better future for the Tribes in Brazil. Each of and every one of us brought something special to the gathering and there are no words to express it. Such a critical time for those Indigenous Tribes in the south, and we were so grateful to provide aid to them and add them to our family of Indigenous Tribes as one across the Americas. Our work is not done, and we have started on a sacred sharing that will and should continue,” said NAFWS Alaska Regional Director Orville Huntington.

Visit to Capitão do Campo

NAFWS representatives, along with our Federal and Brazilian colleagues, visited Capitão do Campo in Terra Indigena Krahôlandia, a remote Indigenous community in the state of Tocantins. We received a warm welcome and shared open dialogue with village leaders who spoke of their desires to sustain their traditional culture despite modern day influences. We experienced and were invited to participate in traditional games and dances, which enhanced our overwhelming respect for their community.

Trip to Capitão do Campo and a village leader.

Returning Home in Solidarity

At the conclusion of the gathering, representatives from the organizing organizations reflected on the triumphs of the event and began preliminary discussion on the possibilities of hosting a similar exchange with all the participants in the future. NAFWS representatives collectively identified items to present to the Board of Directors that may potentially benefit the Indigenous communities of Brazil, including, a Letter of Support that can be used for current litigation relative to land designation and/or recognition, possible consideration of “Sister City” program with a U.S. Tribe, exchange for Fire and Crime Scene Investigation Training to address the exploitation issues and potential support for specialized equipment.

The future of Capitão do Campo.

“This exchange between Native Americans and the Indigenous people of Brazil was a very incredible, yet humbling experience. All of our NAFWS representatives gained an abundance of knowledge of the challenges and capacity deficiencies faced by Indigenous Brazilians – much like our ancestors experienced in the not so distant past,” said NAFWS Conservation Law Enforcement Officer Consultant Robert Romero.  “I am grateful to have had an opportunity to represent the Native American Fish & Wildlife Society at such a sensational event, and I look forward to future collaboration with our South American partners.”

Robert Romero
Native American Fish & Wildlife Society
Conservation Law Enforcement Officer Consultant

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In Recognition of Their Support

The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society would like to thank those organizations that provided us with support over the years. With them we grew an effective national communications network for the exchange of information and management techniques related to self-determined tribal fish and wildlife management.

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