The Portuguese colonization of Brazil was motivated by the search for wealth and power, leading to the destruction of indigenous territories and the enslavement of their inhabitants. This process of exploitation and domination continues to this day, with proposed legislation and the Time Frame thesis seeking to legalize the destruction and genocide of indigenous peoples.

Let’s start by recalling what history tells us about the process by which Brazil’s land was occupied by colonizers. It’s well-known that the Portuguese came here on an expedition whose focus was exploration and the search for riches, spices, metals and other things, which represented, at that time, power and dominance.

It’s important to reflect on the fact that the depletion of natural resources in Europe was certainly a motive, too, since capitalism has shown us how this demand for areas to be exploited and/or destroyed comes about. As soon as one territory is devoured, the need arises to seek other spaces to exploit, destroy, to consume the lands and forests, as Davi Kopenawa, the Yanomami leader, rightly describes in his book “The Falling Sky,” when referring to the miners who devastate the indigenous territories in the Amazon.

Let’s also remember that when colonizers arrived in these lands, today called Brazil, they found people here who had inhabited these territories for millennia, who had domesticated landscapes, plants and developed science and technology based on nature, having had their cultures and beliefs nourished by water, forests and land. Humans and forests were co-evolving in a harmonious relationship, as evidenced by archaeological, anthropological, historical and ecological studies, among others. This confirms what we, the indigenous peoples, already know: Forests like the Amazon, which for many is just a “green winter,” are the fruit of this interaction between humans and nature. And it isn’t hard to understand this, for humanity has demonstrated that whenever something does not fit with its cosmovision, it is easily devoured. Therefore, the maintenance of forests and land is the meaning of the life, culture and struggle of indigenous peoples.

It was thanks to the native peoples, their cosmovision and their knowledge that the colonizers were able to survive here. I highlight the indigenous thinker Ailton Krenak, who brings us the following reflection: “The invaders arrived here very sick and hungry, practically dead,” and it was our people who fed them, took care of them and brought them back to life. As “thanks,” our territories were invaded, our cultures destroyed and our bodies enslaved.

It was thanks to the native peoples, their cosmovision and their knowledge that the colonizers were able to survive here.

Raquel Tupinambá

The history of colonization and the genocide of indigenous peoples in Brazil was marked by an intense process of persecution and violence that aimed and still aims to eliminate the natives from their territories in order to free up spaces for exploitation. These practices have been going on for the past 523 years, since contact with the first groups that were here. It’s important to note that the contact between those who were here and those who arrived didn’t happen all at once, but it took place over centuries, as we are different peoples inhabiting different regions.

Integrationist policies, such as Christianization, the prohibition of languages and customs and submission to regimes of forced labor, among others, were constituted with the objective of eliminating our relationship with mother earth and transforming us into a work force, subjects of the Portuguese crown. In this sense, we can affirm that the colonizers’ war against indigenous peoples was and continues to be for the land and the exploitation of so-called natural resources, while seeking to transform these populations into a work force, a proletariat, as described by Karl Marx in “Primitive Accumulation.” Just as Ailton Krenak says in the first episode of “Wars of Brazil,” “the intention [was] to assault this land and enslave these people,” referring to Europeans who arrived here from the 16th century on. Brazil was born from an invasion and this invasion never ended. The war is also a contest of worldviews.

Brazil was born from an invasion and this invasion never ended. The war is also a contest of worldviews.

Raquel Tupinambá

To dominate and exploit indigenous territories, it’s necessary to eliminate or transform them into something that is no longer indigenous, modifying the worldview and imposing one’s own. From the perspective of subordination, the transformation into something different is used as a mechanism of colonization, requiring discourses of opposition or inferiorization. Inferiorization is also configured as a mechanism of vulnerability, with the purpose of making something or someone dependent. The State and money, for example, are presented as “saviors” that will bring dignity, transforming them into “citizens.” This starts from a system that is based on capitalism, which, at the same time that it includes, also excludes and/or marginalizes, in this case, the “poor,” those who have nothing but their manpower, and will soon become a “cheap labor supply.”

It is in this context that the unconstitutional thesis of the so-called Time Frame, which is now being considered by the Federal Supreme Court (STF), is inserted.  According to this thesis, indigenous peoples have the right to occupy only the lands they occupied or those which were already in dispute on October 5, 1988, the date of ratification of the current Constitution. In the same discussion, we have the bill PL 490/2007, approved in the Chamber of Representatives, but which has now been updated to PL 2903/2023 by representative Homero Pereira of Mato Grosso, and is now pending in the Senate. This bill seeks to remove the rights that were guaranteed after a great deal of struggle in the 1988 Constitution, referring to the recognition, demarcation, use and management of indigenous lands.

These bills are unconstitutional and absurd, as is the thesis behind the Time Frame that the Brazilian State, the ruralist caucuses that dominate the National Congress and the Senate seek to create in order to legalize the destruction and genocide of indigenous peoples and traditional populations today. These proposals bring nothing new in terms of what has taken place over the 523 years of colonization. If we have rights guaranteed in the nation’s Constitution and in international agreements, it is because they were conquered with much struggle and sacrifice by our ancestors. But then, why should non-indigenous people also be concerned?

Indigenous and traditional territories are spaces where forests are still conserved and we all know the important role they play in maintaining the quality of the air and water. As such, they are essential for the existence of human life on the planet. The regulation that allows for the destruction of these indigenous and traditional territories, promoted by the Brazilian State (through the Time Frame, PL 490 and PL 2903), represents not only the genocide of indigenous peoples, but also an attack on environmental preservation and vital resources for us all.

This ongoing process of destruction of the forests, waters, populations and biodiversity is being reflected, for example, in the climate crisis, famine, poverty and pandemics that are ushering the planet and humanity toward collapse. Studies have shown that our generation is the last one capable of making any changes to halt this destruction. Our lives are at stake and humanity needs to understand this while there is still time. The indigenous culture and cosmovision may be the solution, so we have called attention to the ancestral future. The continuity of human life depends on the choices humanity will make.

Opinion articles are the responsibility of their author.

About the writer

Raquel Tupinambá é mulher indígena, agricultora e militante pelos direitos indígenas. É uma liderança de seu povo e coordenadora do Conselho Indígena Tupinambá do baixo Tapajós Amazônia (CITUPI). Além disso, é doutoranda em Antropologia Social.

E-mail: [email protected]