Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
European colonization policies and subsequent land laws originating from Britain,
Portugal, Spain, and other empires were framed in the belief that the colony was being
acquired by occupation or settlement of a terra nullius, a land-without-owners. The
colonizers sometimes acknowledged the presence of Indigenous Peoples, but justified
their land acquisition policies by saying the “natives” were too “primitive” to be actual
owners and sovereigns. In addition, the so-called natives had no readily identifiable
hierarchy, centralized government or political order, which the colonizers could or
would recognize and negotiate with (Carneiro da Cunha 1992). Today the situation
is not that different: governments and corporations violate on a daily basis the fact
that Indigenous Peoples hold rights over the biodiversity and mineral resources of
their territories. These rights are spelled out very clearly in the 2007 United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP), discussed below and
mentioned throughout this topic. How do we go from here to there, from a Declaration
with no binding force, to a Convention or Treaty that UN Member States have to
ratify, respect and enforce, is the question we are now working on. 2
The Color Red: Naming the Newfound Land “Brasil”
The lustrous blood-red heartwood of the Pau-Brasil ( Caesalpinia echinata) gave the
country its name ( pau: wood, brasil: a pile or bunch of coals). 3 The wood's hard and
durable timber has been in demand for construction over the centuries, much like the
redwood pine tree ( Sequoia sempervirens) in North America. Its thick red sap sought
as a potent dye and its shiny crimson seeds for beaded work, Pau-Brasil is classified
today as Endangered: only 5 percent of the coastal forest Mata Atlântica, where it
was once abundant on the Brazilian coast, is still intact.
Deforestation makes Brazil, spelled in English, the color red today. Monitoring
satellite systems are color-based: blue is for water, green for lush vegetation,
red for crops planted on deforested land, and white or grey for deserts or urban
areas. Satellite images of Indigenous lands in Brazil usually look like green
islands amidst a desert of deforested lands. As a matter of fact, climate change
could turn parts of the Amazon rainforest into dry-parched savannah, without
its incredible biodiversity. This is the case of the Sangradouro Indigenous Land
in Mato Grosso, central Brazil. Adão Top'tiro, a Xavante leader in Sangradouro
agrees: “the waradzu [non-Indigenous people] are killing the land.” And, he adds,
“the people, too.” The blood of the Xavante and other Indigenous relatives has
seeped into the earth making the land, and all the flowers, fruits, seeds, sprouts
and roots ipré uptabidi - very red (see Chapter 6). Top'tiro is referring to the
genocide, that is, the intentional killing of an estimated 5 to 6 million Indigenous
persons since the Portuguese invaded what is now known as Brazil starting in
year 1500. The 900,000 Indigenous persons in Brazil today belong to more than
230 different nations living in 688 Terras Indígenas and in shantytowns in urban
areas. 4 With the organization of the Indigenous Movement in the 1970s and
80s, demanding adequate health care, quality education and the demarcation of
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