Indígenas Waiwai em 1971 (Foto: Yves Billon / ISA)

Calha Norte: territorial management in the Guyana Plateau

Reportage and translation by Nathália Clark

The region known as Calha Norte Oriental is located on the north of the Solimões and Amazon rivers, between the State of Amapá and the North of Pará. Bordering with Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana, this region is also known as Planalto das Guianas (Guyana Plateau), where is one of the largest mosaic of protected areas in the world. One of the most preserved areas of the Amazon, it is also one of the least known from the point of view of the cultural and linguistic diversity of indigenous peoples who live there.

In recent decades, these peoples have won, by the Brazilian State, the recognition and regularization of lands traditionally occupied by them. Still, mining exploitation and hydroelectric projects, as well as actions of religious proselytism, continue to threaten their territories and their socio-cultural organization, besides putting at risk the physical integrity of the groups that are in voluntary isolation.

“Despite still not being an area much harassed by national development projects, we know it’s in the Government’s plans for economic expansion. In the Decade of 1970 were initiated two projects which, if carried out, would have been a disaster: the deployment works of BR-210, better known as Perimetral Norte, and studies for the construction of the hydroelectric plant of Cachoeira Porteira, in the Trombetas river”, says Ruben Caixeta, anthropologist who works in the region for more than two decades.

Designed during the military regime as part of the National Integration plan to meet the States of Amazonas, Pará, Amapa and Roraima, the route of BR-210 passed trought various territories of indigenous peoples that were not contacted at the time, including a large amount of the southwest portion of what today composes the Yanomami Indigenous Land. The hydroelectric power plant, in its turn, would affect directly the various indigenous peoples and a population of nearly 2000 Maroons living in local communities such as Cachoeira Porteira.

In 2014, the construction of dams returned to concern the people of the Trombetas River basin. In February, the Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (Energy Research Company) (EPE), an agency of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, has started a new hydroelectric inventory covering the main course of the Trombetas River and the lower course of the Mapuera and Cachorro rivers, in excerpts then located in the protected areas Floresta Estadual Trombetas and Floresta Estadual Faro, in the municipality of Oriximiná (PA). With the recent recognition of the indigenous land Kaxuyana-Tunayana, these excerpts are now within the area bounded to it.

Aerial image of Waterfall-Gate, in the Trombetas River basin (photo: Iepe).

Aerial image of Waterfall-Gate, in the Trombetas River basin (photo: Luísa Girardi/Iepé).

In addition to these projects, also exists in the region a great mining interest. Mineral exploitation activity occurs on two fronts. A legalized one, performed on national and international scale, largely represented by Mineração Rio do Norte, Brazil’s largest producer of bauxite, which operates in the Trombetas River. The other one is held on a smaller scale, occuring through the action of illegal miners who invade indigenous lands in search of ore. “From time to time, in their wanderings through the territory, the indigenous discover local camps, the reactivation of ancient lanes an other things that atest their presence. As the forest is very large and the areas are very distant, we don’t even know what’s really happening there, “says Caixeta.

The presence of Funai

It is in this context that operates the Frente de Proteção Etnoambiental Cuminapanema (FPEC), related to the general coordination of isolated and recently contacted indigenous peoples of the Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indigebous Foundation) (CGIIRC/Funai). Created in 1990, right after the contact with the Zo’é indigenous, on the Cuminapanema River region, Northwest of the State of Pará, the Front had its work very focused in this people until the year of 2011. Before that, the last action to localize isolated indigenous that Funai held was the expedition of the “sertanista” Sebastião Amâncio, in 1982. Thus, over almost three decades was created an information gap about the isolated peoples in the Calha Norte.

Indigenous people Zo ' é (photo: CGIIRC/Funai).

Zo’é indigenous people (photo: CGIIRC/Funai).

It was from the publication of the Ordinance No. 1816/PRES of Funai, in December 2011, which were officially included in the area of jurisdiction of FPEC five references of isolated peoples. More recent work of finding and qualifying information on the presence of groups in voluntary isolation, however, point to the possibility that this number is even higher: around 10 references.

Today, the actions of the FPEC cover a wide area from the Jatapu River, in the Amazonas State, to the headwaters of the Oiapoque and Amapari rivers, in Amapá, including the borders with Guyana, French Guyana and Suriname. Its area of operation includes indigenous lands Zo’é, Paru D’este, Parque do Tumucumaque, Nhamundá-Mapuera, Trombetas Mapuera, Waiãpi and Kaxuyana-Tunayana – this one recently delimited by Funai.

In addition to the indigenous lands, the FPEC also covers the areas of federal and state conservation units, such as Estação Ecológica (Esec) Grão Pará, State forest (Flota) Paru, the biological reserve (Rebio) Maicuru and the National Park (Parna) Tumucumaque, since in them there are informations about the presence of isolated indigenous.

Map of the region with the Indian lands of CTI's focus.

Map of the region with the Indian lands of CTI’s focus.

Colonial history

The first studies produced on the peoples of the region have revealed a distribution of family groups in small villages scattered through the Woods. However, subsequent ethnographies showed that, despite this dispersal, existed there a complex network of relations that dates back to the pre-Columbian period and which works until today. In the Decade of 1950, with the arrival of Catholic and Protestant missions from other parts of Brazil, Suriname and Guyana, there was a reconfiguration of the territoriality of these peoples.

At that time, they were encouraged to get together in large settlements such as Canashen Mission, in French Guiana, where were concentrated the majority of the people who today form the Waiwai, and the Tiriyó Mission, on the Brazilian side, initiated with the invitation of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), in 1960. Some groups, subgroups or even families, however, refused the offset for such settlements. “In my interpretation, it is in this period that begins to emerge in this region the contrast between the indigenous ‘aldeados’, or in contact with the State and with the missions, and the ‘isolated’ indigenous”, opines Fábio Ribeiro, Coordinator of the FPEC since 2011.

According to Fábio, the proselytizing action with the indigenous is still very strong. “We see the religious fundamentalism as a huge threat to the territory of the isolates. Ultil these days the missionaries have a policy of encouraging the Hixkaryana, Waiwai, Kaxuyana, Wayana and Tiriyó peoples to chase isolated peoples and the newly contacted Zo’é, always with the argument that they have to be evangelized because they are suffering in the forest. And the indigenous reproduce this, asking us why Funai stoped to make contact with these peoples, an speech still very focused on the policy adopted in the time of the ‘attraction fronts'”, comments.

Ruben Caixeta reports that, under the influence of the missions, the indigenous Waiwai made several expeditions to find the isolated groups, and became known in the region as a people “designed” for this role. “They treat it as it is from the ethos Waiwai to find and pacify the isolates. Funai also featured their expertise for various actions. But it is very difficult to unlink this ‘vocation’ of the Waiwai from the missionary goal. We must transform the logic of the indigenous contact expeditions, still very linked to the religious issue”, says him.

According to the anthropologist, these exchanges and visits between villages exist long before the presence of the missionaries. “At the beginning of the 20th century, it was through these expeditions that these groups began to rekindle relations that they had lost on the colonization period. The indigenous have their role in relation to the isolates. So, we need to understand that logic, dialogue and work together with them”, explains Caixeta.

Shodewika people's Party ritual, Waiwai, 1955 (photo: Jeus Yde/ISA).

Shodewika people’s Party ritual, Waiwai, 1955 (photo: Jeus Yde/ISA).

In 1981, the Waiwai from the Mapuera village, on the Trombetas-Mapuera indigenous land, found the indigenous Karapawyana inhabiting the headwaters of Igarapé Yukutu and the Kikwo River. Part of the group ran away from contact and is still isolated today, another part remained under the influence of the Waiwai. Of these, two died soon after the contact and four others died a few years later, in the light of epidemics of influenza and malaria.

“Our Elders say that, in the Waiwai contact with the Karapawyana, one of the shamans has been defeated by the flu brought from the city and that they could not cure. They often make contact, but they are not prepared for it, which is very dangerous”, argues João Batista Waiwai, indigenous leader and head of the Coordenação Técnica Local (CTL/Funai) of Oriximiná (PA).

For Fábio Ribeiro, the main challenge is to consider all these questions, still very latent. “How to think the territorial management of lands in which the indigenous have a tradition of being articulated in a very old network, where at the same time there is proselytizing activities quite strong for over half a century, and in a context where the State policy toward the isolated peoples is based on the non-contact? In a possible approach, which posture should we take? Can we just say that they cannot meet?”, reflects.

Another great dilemma in the region’s work is the shared management of border areas. According to Issue #07 of the Boletim Povos Indígenas e Meio Ambiente, from the Instituto de Pesquisa e Formação Indígena (Iepé), various peoples of the region, as the Waiwai, Waiãpi, Tiriyó, Wayana and Palikur had their traditional territories divided with the consolidation of national borders, becoming citizens of two or more countries.

However, the attitudes and policies of each country are distinct with regard to these peoples, and the dialogue between the different agencies is still very incipient. The Surinamese legislation, for example, to this day does not recognize the collective right of indigenous peoples to the land. In addition, the country has laws that allow the exploitation of natural resources in areas inhabited by traditional communities, exposing even more these populations to the impacts brought by prospectors, miners and timber that act in their territories. In French Guyana, the indigenous are considered French citizens like any other, without differentiation.

According to the Coordinator of the FPEC, there are several informs to Funai, mainly from the Waiãpi and from the anthropologist Dominique Gallois, about the presence of isolates in the headwaters of the Oiapoque and Amapari rivers, and informations that they cross the borders with Suriname and French Guyana.

“That issue is really very complicated. The isolated today live as our ancestors used to live. They own the territory, they are used to walk and live in the forest. They don’t know if they’re crossing over the border or not. In their understanding, everything that is forest is theirs. Who put the national borders was the “white men”, emphasizes João Waiwai.

Traditional occupation recognized

For years the indigenous peoples of the region claim the land property regularization of the indigenous land Kaxuyana-Tunayana, contiguous to the lands Nhamundá-Mapuera and Trombetas-Mapuera. With the support of civil society organizations that have historical performance in the region, as the Iepé and the Comissão Pró-Índio de São Paulo (CPI-SP), the Kaxuyana, Tunayana and Kahyana Indigenous Association (AIKATUK) launched in 2012, a campaign to raise awareness and mobilize the society in support of indigenous peoples and the Maroons of the Trombetas River basin, in the Calha Norte region.

With publication in the Diário Oficial da União (DOU), on 20 October 2015, the land just have its identification and delimitation studies recognised by the President of Funai. With 2.1 million hectares, it is located in the municipalities of Nhamundá (AM), Oriximiná (PA) and Faro (PA), and is traditionally inhabited by indigenous peoples Kaxuyana, Tunayana, Kahyana, Katuena, Tikiyana, Xereu, Mawayana-Hixkaryana and Xereu-Katuena, in addition to three different indigenous groups living in isolation.

According to the summary of the detailed report for identification and demarcation of indigenous land Kaxuyana-Tunayana, most likely these isolates are remnants of those larger groups that, in the decade of 1960, were displaced by the missionaries.

The delimitation was an important step for regional territorial planning. Over the years, the non-recognition of the area enabled the creation, in 2006, by the Government of Pará, two State Forests in part overlaid to the land of traditional indigenous occupation: the State forest (Flota) Trobmetas (with a total area of 3.1 million hectares) and the Flota Faro (600 1000 acres). Beyond them, there is still the quilombola community of Cachoeira Porteira, an area of approximately 200 1000 hectares, of which 85 1000 are superimposed to the area.

To resolve this conflict, were held meetings between the indigenous and the quilombolas, together with Funai, the Special Secretariat for the promotion of Racial Equality (SEPIR), the Palmares Cultural Foundation and the Federal prosecutors. As a result, it was made a formal agreement of territorial limits in order to allow the continuation of the land property regularization processes of both territories. The agreement also provides shared uses of some small areas – primarily farm and hunting sites of indigenous peoples in the territory and other areas used by the Maroons in the interior of the indigenous land.