In an interview with Mongabay, one of many nation’s main Indigenous affairs specialists tells how he helped change nationwide coverage towards the remoted peoples of Brazil, with whom he now avoids contact in any respect prices.Sydney Possuelo, now 83 years previous, started his profession as an explorer throughout the expeditions of the Villas-Bôas brothers, creators of Xingu Indigenous Park.He went on to affix Funai, the federal company for Indigenous affairs, working there for 42 years, together with as its president within the Nineteen Nineties.In this interview, he talks about the primary achievements for Indigenous peoples lately, the way forward for remoted peoples in Brazil, and why he doesn’t agree with the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples.
Sydney Possuelo was simply a youngster when he turned shut with two males he seen as nationwide heroes: the Villas-Bôas brothers, elementary figures within the creation of Xingu Indigenous Park, the primary registered Indigenous territory in Brazil, based in 1961. He accompanied them on expeditions into the Brazilian Amazon, additionally beneath the affect of the legacy of Cândido Rondon, a navy basic and sertanista, or specialist within the sertão, what was then thought of the undeveloped inside areas of Brazil. Rondon on the time additionally headed what was then often known as the Indian Protection Service (SPI) and was an early supporter of creating the Xingu reserve, which might come into being a couple of years after his dying.
Later that decade, in 1967, the National Indian Foundation (Funai, now the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples) was created, through which Possuelo served as a sertanista, one of many official positions then accessible within the federal company. In the Nineteen Nineties, he turned president of Funai, and through his tenure helped demarcate greater than 100 Indigenous territories all through Brazil.
In his 42 years at Funai, Possuelo created the Department of Isolated Indians, a division devoted to defending uncontacted peoples — a subject on which he would develop into the nation’s foremost skilled.
“The concept was: Let’s go discover these remoted Indigenous peoples and make contact. I had the chance to fulfill seven teams who got here out of the jungle for the primary time,” he says within the documentary Sydney Possuelo, uma Vida Amazônica (Sydney Possuelo, an Amazonian Life). With the passage of time, nevertheless, and after a particular — and tragic — expertise with the Arara folks in Pará state, Possuelo realized that looking for out contact with individuals who had chosen to reside in isolation was not the easiest way to guard them.
In this unique interview with Mongabay, Possuelo shares this story and talks about the primary achievements made for Indigenous peoples lately, the longer term for voluntarily remoted peoples in Brazil, and why he doesn’t agree with the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples.
Sydney Possuelo with Toti, the cacique or chief of the Arara folks, within the Eighties. Image courtesy of Sydney Possuelo.
Mongabay: Establishing a timeline, what have been the primary achievements for remoted peoples in Brazil?
Sydney Possuelo: The first second begins with Rondon in 1910, when the Brazilian state created an entity to take care of Indigenous peoples, the Indian Protection Service (SPI). During this era, there was an important incident, which characterizes the marshal’s posture and that of the SPI itself: It was when he was on horseback close to the village of Nhambiquaras and took an arrow in his bandolier. The officers have been astonished by this they usually wished to react, however the navy chief gave the order for this to not occur. Rondon stated that they have been the invaders and that, beneath these circumstances, would “die if obligatory, by no means kill,” a phrase that turned well-known and which I subsequently adopted because the motto of our operations within the jungle.
Later on, one other second of nice significance, not solely in regard to remoted peoples, however to Indigenous folks usually, was the Villas-Bôas brothers’ achievement in founding Xingu Indigenous Park. There, a number of tribes got here collectively within the middle of Brazil with none ensuing deaths. Different ethnicities adjusted, finally creating a company through which every spoke their very own language, and it was similar to having an Organization of Indigenous Nations.
And a 3rd second, sorry to say myself, however I don’t see some other method of doing this, was once we modified the coverage of creating contact to one in all not making contact.
Mongabay: How did this coverage change come about?
Sydney Possuelo: It occurred after the Arara expedition. It had been 9 years since a contact entrance tried to method this folks, who’re situated close to Altamira, in Pará state. In December 1979, Funai staff within the area have been severely injured with arrows and I used to be summoned to grasp and resolve the state of affairs. I spent every week flying over the world and made some proposals for adjustments, which included, to start with, the withdrawal of invaders from the area, having include the creation of the Trans-Amazonian Highway. I additionally requested medical workers and a helicopter. Throughout our historical past, viruses are what have killed essentially the most Indians, so I wanted to supply [health] infrastructure within the occasion that they have been to be contaminated.
After 9 months, some Arara approached us. They truly wished to go to town. So they did. When they bought again, a few of them returned to the maloca [ancestral longhouse] within the woods and others stayed with us. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than a small group began coughing, a symptom of flu, so we gave them antibiotics immediately. But what about those that had gone into the forest? They weren’t protected. So I organized some search events and, to our unhappy shock, they discovered quite a lot of lifeless Indians. They noticed a lifeless lady and her daughter, about 5, 6 years previous, on prime of her, making an attempt to nurse.
That was a horrible response for me. With all of the paraphernalia I had introduced there, we nonetheless weren’t profitable. I used to be decided to suggest one thing completely different. So I spoke to the president of Funai on the time about making a coverage that would come with the identification of the place these remoted peoples are, the demarcation of the land with out making contact, and the safety of the folks and their areas by way of aerial or land units. The Department of Isolated Indians was created, together with six groups known as ethno-environmental safety fronts to guard these folks and their territories. The measures contradicted some Funai sertanistas. At a gathering, one in all them stated that it might take away the glory of their work, that of discovering and revealing peoples to the world. My response to him was: “The glory of a sertanista needs to be in defending a folks he won’t ever see.”
The sertanista Afonso Alves da Cruz, middle, a member of an expedition to make contact with the Arara folks in 1979, wounded by arrows. Image courtesy of Sydney Possuelo.
Mongabay: You have been a type of accountable for the demarcation of the Yanomami territory. In January, there was the tragic information of mass deaths there throughout the Bolsonaro administration (from 2019-2022). And we noticed the newly elected president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, go to the area with the minister of Indigenous peoples, Sonia Guajajara. After the primary few months of this new administration, and contemplating the legacy of the earlier administration, what actions do you think about to be a precedence presently with regard to Indigenous peoples?
Sydney Possuelo: I feel it’s obligatory to contemplate that the Lula administration faces nice difficulties in organizing itself as a result of all the things is in ruins: the financial system, the Indigenous situation, the problem of the setting. Other than that, there may be the National Congress, a section of which, for essentially the most half, doesn’t help it.
In my view, wanting attentively and with the respect I’ve for him and for the Workers’ Party, which is making an attempt to do its finest, these circumstances which I discussed hinder more practical motion. We’re within the fifth month of the administration and I’ve the impression that he hasn’t began governing utterly. Some issues have been executed, like what you talked about, the go to to the Yanomami. In truth, I feel he ought to return there now, as a result of there are severe issues there. But all the things takes a variety of time. I perceive. I perceive that that is how it’s, due to the challenges I introduced up earlier than. I’m not accusing him of something.
Sydney Possuelo with Zo’é Indigenous folks in northern Pará state. Image courtesy of Sydney Possuelo.
Mongabay: What do you consider the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples?
Sydney Possuelo: Look, truthfully, if I used to be in energy, I wouldn’t have created it the best way he did. I feel, to start with, all efforts needs to be focused on Funai. It already exists. It already has expertise. It must be replenished in sources, in specialists, as a result of all of this has been dismantled in the previous few years [under Bolsonaro].
Every ministry you create is an additional expense and that cash may very well be put into Funai to do what must be executed, which is to take away the invaders from the Yanomami lands and demarcate different Indigenous territories.
Funai has the Indians’ respect, whereas the ministry is one thing new. I used to be president of the establishment and I keep in mind the various instances that [Indigenous groups] got here right here to Brasília, holding fingers and forming a sequence round Funai’s [office] to guard it from raids by the police, for instance. Indigenous folks have all the time acknowledged our work, regardless of our errors and failures.
State organizations all the time fall in need of folks’s wants. But it’s necessary to say that, if the state desires to, lots can occur. In my first 12 months [as president] at Funai, when [Fernando] Collor was president of Brazil, we doubled the world of Indigenous territories within the nation in a single 12 months. When the federal government desires to behave, it does. When it doesn’t need to, it doesn’t, as was the case throughout this tsunami that we skilled the final 4 years.
Sydney Possuelo throughout the Alípio Bandeira expedition, a journey he led to the Vale do Javari in 2002 when he was head of Funai’s Department of Isolated Indians. Image courtesy of Sydney Possuelo.
Mongabay: When was the final time you went into the sphere? Have you taken any journeys just lately?
Sydney Possuelo: I took two journeys fairly just lately. The first was on the thirtieth anniversary of the demarcation of the Yanomami [territory]. At that point, we had already discovered the state of affairs that’s there now, one in all starvation, illness, invasion. I used to be there for 5 – 6 days in June of final 12 months.
After that, I went to Maranhão state, to the Arariboia space, as a result of that’s the place the Guardians of the Forest are. And I’ve a son, Orlando, who works within the Vale do Javari. Incidentally, he was associates with Bruno Pereira, the Indigenist who was killed final 12 months. He was taking the Guardians of the Forest from the valley there and taking them to Maranhão with the target of getting them trade experiences. Then there was the reciprocation, with folks from Maranhão going to Javari.
This circulation is necessary as a result of it empowers the Indians. They should be more and more current on the frontlines. It’s usually very tough, as a result of they reside in one other actuality, and make sure errors, however we have now to contemplate that there’s a studying course of. And, in comparison with the Indians, we white persons are responsible of way more stupidity than they’re.
Mongabay: Do you’ve gotten any upcoming journeys scheduled?
Sydney Possuelo: There are people who find themselves making a film with me, telling my story. We’ve been filming for 2 years, and now there are some scenes that they need to shoot with the Indigenous folks. One of the chosen areas is the Vale do Javari. The different one is there in Araras, in Pará. So we should always do that within the second half of 2023.
Sydney Possuelo with members of the Akuntsu folks. Image courtesy of Sydney Possuelo.
Mongabay: In the documentary Sydney Possuelo, an Amazonian Life, there’s a saying of yours that goes: “The future of those peoples doesn’t rely on them, however on our choices.” Considering the current, how do you see the way forward for remoted peoples in Brazil?
Sydney Possuelo: I’d repeat this phrase with no concern of being unsuitable. There was an necessary advance with Joenia Wapichana [Funai’s current head], with the minister of Indigenous peoples. But in case you analyze all the things that Funai or this new ministry can do, what’s it going to quantity to? The resolution is as much as the governments. The resolution is ours. So, I feel the Indians proceed to rely on the understanding that we have now or don’t have, on our feeling of what we need to implement relating to the problems that contain Indigenous peoples.
And they should take part more and more extra, to go to universities — these vacancies that open up and are crucial, to take part in Congress, to be representatives, senators, to attempt to do one thing — and hoping that those that take these positions will stay Indigenous of their hearts, and never develop into white on the within. We might have right here, as in different nations, everlasting seats within the Senate for Indigenous peoples. They aren’t elected by the inhabitants. The Indigenous group itself would put them there and they might change each two years. It could be necessary to have these seats. That method, Indigenous folks wouldn’t solely be in Funai, within the ministry, however contained in the National Congress, too. The state wants to grasp this and supply these circumstances.
Banner picture of Sydney Possuelo with Awa-Guajá Indigenous folks in Maranhão state, courtesy of Sydney Possuelo.
This story was reported by Mongabay’s Brazil crew and first revealed right here on our Brazil website on May 19, 2023.