In the midst of a right-wing political rise in Brazil, two indigeneous women made history after being elected to congress in the first round of the country’s parliamentary and presidential race earlier this month.
Sônia Guajajara, who became the first indigenous woman to occupy a space in the lower house, and Célia Xakriabá, professor and activist of the Xakriabá tribe, were chosen as federal deputies to represent the indigenous peoples in Brazil.
“Indigenous women are making history and demarcating politics. Our commitment to the forest means a lot to Brazil and the world,” said Guajajara, who was chosen as one of the Most Influential People of 2022 by Times’ magazine. On her Twitter account, she stated that the fight for indigenous rights in the legislature has begun and will be essential for the next four years.
Now, their challenge is to swim against the flow of a far-right movement that has created strong roots in the National Congress over the last years and is still rising.
Allies of the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro showed a strong consistency in this election and proved that the influence of the conservative leader is bigger than what the opinion polls had predicted. His right-wing Liberal Party (PL) won the majority of seats available in the National Congress and Senate.
In a position of power, Guajajara and Xakriaba’s voices are important because they have the opportunity to draw a new narrative for native communities that have been enduring a violent scenario over the last years.
“The symbolic presence of these indigenous women in the National Congress is bigger than the number of votes they have received’’, said Philippe Hanna, lecturer in Human Geography and Planning at the University of Groningen.
They might face an extremely polarized congress, however “they will be able to create and influence projects, bringing voice and awareness to the indigenous fight in various ways,” explained Hanna.
Brazilian citizens all over the world cast their ballots in one the most polarized presidential races in the country’s history.
Left-wing candidate Luis Inácio Lula da Silva received the majority of the votes’ share, 48,4%, opening a small advantage for the second-round runoff against the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro who gathered 43,3%.
Indigenous rights under attack
Under the presidency of Bolsonaro, there has been an intensification in the number of attacks and violence against indigenous people in Brazil, according to the latest report published by the Indigenous Missionary Council. With Bolsonaro’s endorsement, loggers, hunters, miners and ranchers have been illegally invading indigenous lands in order to exploit their natural resources.
Since the far-right leader assumed office in 2019, he adopted a rhetoric of war against indigenous lands and people saying that they delay the country’s economic development, described Hanna.
“Bolsonaro is our enemy,” said Lucas Huni Kuin, an indigenous from the Huni Kuin tribe located in the northwestern part of Brazil. For him, the election of these native women are seen as an inspiration for the young generations, and he trusts that they will work hard not only to defend their constitutional rights, but their right to exist during the next 4 years.