[This article is crossposted at FirstPeoplesNewDirections.org.]
In Native and National in Brazil: Indigeneity after Independence Tracy Devine Guzmán examines the contested process of constructing Indianness from Brazil’s independence to the present. Engaging issues ranging from citizenship and national security to the revolutionary potential of art and sustainable development, Devine Guzmán argues that the tensions between popular renderings of Indianness and lived Indigenous experiences are critical to the unfolding of Brazilian nationalism, on the one hand, and the growth of a Brazilian Indigenous movement, on the other. In the following excerpt from the epilogue, she discusses contemporary Indigenous assertions of sovereignty and self-representation, especially in the context of opposition to the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.
Notwithstanding such positive initiatives, the broader configuration of political, social, economic, and cultural power in which they take place reveals a steep road ahead. As a result of the intensified and institutionalized disempowerment of indigenous peoples and interests during the first decade of the twenty-first century, which culminates in state sponsorship of Belo Monte, it seems unlikely that a substantial number of nonindigenous politicians or citizens will in the near future embrace or even begin to consider the ideas and projects of indigenous intellectuals and communities seriously enough to assess their practical and theoretical implications for the future of national development policy, educational reform, environmental protection, governance, or international relations.
Native Brazilians’ efforts to counter the privatization of the indigenist bureaucracy and the deleterious effects of contemporary indigenist policy through intensified demands for land demarcation, ethnodevelopment, intercultural education, and other empowering social programs, as well as through heightened cultural activism and political participation at all levels of government indicate, indeed, that the struggle for indigenous self-representation has in some ways just begun. Nonetheless, the viral proliferation of indigenous political commentary and cultural production via the Internet in the form of journalism, fiction, film, video, blogging, and election campaigning (for example) continues to revolutionize the relationship between Native peoples and visual representation, on the one hand, and Native peoples and the written word, on the other. [ . . . ]
Rethinking how the representation of indigenous needs and interests works in local, national, and international politics, and reconfiguring the problematic relationship between indigeneity and dominant sovereignty, means more than Native peoples’ being inserted, or even inserting themselves, into existing political structures and institutions—however crucial and challenging that feat continues to be. At the very least, it must also mean rethinking sovereignty in collaboration with indigenous peoples and not for them, while taking into account their interests, values, renderings of the past, and policy proposals with regard to development, education, social welfare, environmental protection, land tenure, governance, and freedom. As Marcos Terena suggested more than two decades ago, reforming politics and rethinking the political to the collective benefit of Native peoples means building and strengthening interindigenous connections and collaboration across national borders, as well as nationally, while at the same time restructuring the colonialist configurations of power that have shaped relations between Native and non-Native peoples since the Conquest. Seeking to explain his own political trajectory in the context of the Brazilian indigenous movement, he conceded: “After seeing so many of our brothers decimated over the course of four centuries, we discovered that we could not walk alone. It [was] necessary to discover allies for our cause and for the survival of our . . . peoples among the [then] 140 million [nonindigenous] members of Brazilian society.”[ref]Terena, “Vôo do índio.”[/ref]
The population numbers have changed dramatically over the past two decades, but the urgency of forming such alliances across the dividing lines between indigenous and nonindigenous peoples, and among individuals and groups working within the parameters of other socially and historically formed notions of ethnicity, “race,” class, and geography (for example), most certainly has not. Shared and increasing interest among indigenous and nonindigenous Brazilians in preventing the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam—because of the social and economic ills it will engender, the environmental destruction it will wreak, and the human rights it will violate—is surely the most significant example of our day. National and transnational opposition to the initiative articulates these issues as ultimately inseparable from one another, thus resonating with the traditional indigenous belief in the inexorable interconnectedness of all human experience, and an increasingly widespread questioning of dominant notions of progress.[ref]And yet the problem of popular perception and media representation remains. The day following the 20 August 2011 manifestation against Belo Monte in São Paulo, the print version of the Folha de São Paulo included not a word about the protest. Instead, it highlighted a new Globo TV reality show called Expedição Xingu, in which eight (nonindigenous) university students would “leave the comforts of the city” and head to the forest, suffering various hardships of the 1950s and otherwise following in the footsteps of the Villas-Bôas brothers. Their adventure “even included participating in indigenous celebrations and fighting with them [sic].” See Castro Torres, “jovens refazem expedição.”[/ref] “The hurt of one is the hurt of all,” Phil Lane Jr. has long argued, “and the honor of one is the honor of all. . . . Unless justice animates all that we do in human and community work, what we are doing is not development.”[ref]Lane, “Indigenous Guiding Principles.”[/ref]
Reflecting on his many years of political activism and the culmination of that experience in his candidacy for public office, Marcos Terena expressed optimism about Native participation in the selection of Brazil’s national self-government despite the growing improbability of success for his own bid: “An indigenous candidacy is an odd human feat, but one that manifests democracy—democracy that inspires us to throw off the discrimination that has until now placed us at the margins of the decisions that affect us, and that every four years gives us hope for a voice in a representative body like the National Congress.”[ref]Terena, “Uma candidatura indígena.”[/ref] That dozens of Native candidates chosen by mainstream political parties to defend mainstream political platforms sought in nationwide elections to represent indigenous interests in concert with the interests of their nonindigenous constituencies destabilizes the colonialist foundations of twentieth-century indigenism. The fact that they continue to work toward this goal in the wake of defeat, and the fact that at least part of the coalition against Belo Monte has come to articulate its opposition in resonance with Native conceptions of sovereignty, give us cautious hope that despite—and perhaps also, because of—the great challenges that together we face, a new political order may be on the horizon.
From Native and National in Brazil: Indigeneity after Independence, by Tracy Devine Guzmán. Copyright © 2013 by the University of North Carolina Press.
Tracy Devine Guzmán is associate professor of Latin American studies, Portuguese, and Spanish at the University of Miami.
“Lucid, intelligent, and thoroughly researched, this book tracks 150 years of public policy and official imaginings around Indigenous peoples in Brazil and the continuing contestatory work of Indigenous leaders and thinkers. Native and National in Brazil offers students of global indigeneity indispensable access to the Brazilian scenario, whose unfolding will shape the future of Indigenous peoples worldwide.”
—Mary Louise Pratt, New York University