A photographic and multimedia documentary project by Paulo Siqueira & Nadia Shira Cohen
In October of this past year, the Guarani-Kaiowá Indigenous tribe of Mato Grasso Do Sul in Brazil vowed to fight to their death in a dispute over the land of their ancestors. The community of 50 men, 50 women, and 70 children, wrote a chilling letter to the Brazilian Government, “We have all decided that we will not leave this place, neither alive nor dead.” The letter came after a judge’s decision to uphold a petition from a ranch owner who claimed the tribe was illegally occupying his land and for them to be evicted. The tribe claims the contested land is of their ancestors and that they would prefer to die on that land, rather than be made to leave.
Brazil, South America’s most potent country, is slated to become the 4th largest economy in the world by 2030. As the largest exporter of soy and second largest exporter of cattle in the world, its rich land is at the forefront of major disputes and increasing violence between land-owners and indigenous peoples. The most contested region is in and around the state of Mato Grasso do Sul, an area rich in farmland and with one of the highest concentrations of indigenous people in Brazil, primarily the Guarani tribe.
At the turn of the century the Brazilian government corralled many of the indigenous tribes, which were spread out over the region into smaller more concentrated reservations. The government did so in an effort to give precious farmland to settlers and stimulate the growth of agriculture in the country. Yet in 1988 in an effort to right the wrongs of the past, the government passed a law, pledging to draw out original indigenous territory to give back to the tribes within a period of 5 years, without any mention of compensation to ranch owners. 23 years on and the law still has not been carried out. Essentially the Natives and the settlers were left to dispute the land on their own, which has resulted in violent and oftentimes deadly clashes between the two who both claim the land as their own.