October 1, 2012
I thought today I would reserve some blog space for a discussion about the local natives. Often, while walking around town, I have come upon a small group of native Indians from the Xikrin or Kayapo tribes, and our interpreters and drivers have pointed them out also. The group I have seen has about twenty members, about 18 of which are women and children. Short, dark as coffee beans with large upper bodies, proud faces and short legs, several women carry babies wrapped in blankets tied around their shoulders and hips. They come into town in the back of a large flat deck, all sitting in the back. I have only seen two men, one with his face tattooed, and the other one quite disabled and walking with a cane. I suspect they have seen their share of changes in their lives. The ground I am sitting on as I type this was undeveloped jungle only seven years ago. The town I am staying in is no older. It sprung up to support the smelter and is still badly in need of infrastructure. Few streets are paved, raw sewage runs green and grey down the sides of the dirt roads, and the ditches are filled with litter. Dead animals lay stinking on the road and are not removed by the state; they gradually disappeared as they are ground to a pulp by passing vehicles and picked at by scavengers. The surrounding jungle has been selectively logged leaving scattered stands of palm trees. All the undergrowth has been hacked back to allow for cattle grazing and every day, piles of dried tropical waste is burned in fires with heavy smoke spiralling heavenward.
But getting back to the natives, theirs is a plight common to all conquered lands and peoples. The conquerors push forward leaving the conquered in their dust. I was talking about this very subject with a friend from Uraguay and he said, “We don’t have a native problem, but we killed them all off.” As convenient as that may have been, it didn’t quite work here though there have been massacres here in this area for hundreds of years. As recent as April 17, 1996, military police opened fire on a road block set up by natives at Eldorado de Caraja, just east of here.
The Indians, frustrated by constant encroachment by foreigners ever since the Portuguese first arrived here over 400 years ago, blockaded a road in the hopes of getting attention for their plight. They got the attention they wanted but 19 of them died and many more were wounded (New York Times April 21, 1996) when they were shot. Just 20 years earlier, just on the other side of the Araguaia River, 70 “Camponeses” started a protest and began a walk to the capital though they didn’t get far. The Brazilian army scattered them, hunted them down, killed them one by one, beheading several of them (for the purposes of identification because it was too difficult to remove corpses through the dense jungle).
I don’t know what the answer to all this is. I do think, and I’m talking about natives in all countries including Canada, that they would have more to gain from being integrated into general society, rather than being segregated. Even if we throw money, alcohol, and flat screen tvs at them, they lose the self respect that comes from contributing to society, from earning one’s way. I say they should be given a reasonable amount of time, and the resources (health care, education, opportunity) to integrate into society, get a job and start paying taxes. By all means, maintain their culture just like the Polish, or Italians, or Doukhobours do. It might take a full generation or two to get them back on track but it’s taken ten generations to screw them up so bad in the first place. That’s just my two-bits on the subject.