This dossier features seven of the forty papers presented at the colloquium 25 anos de História dos Índios no Brasil: balanços e perspectivas da história indígena. The event was held between December 11 and 13, 2017 in the Guita and José Mindlin Brasiliana Library at Universidade de São Paulo (USP) and organized by the Centro de Estudos Ameríndios (USP) and the Centro de Pesquisa em Etnologia Indígena of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). For the twenty-fifth anniversary of the landmark edited volume, Historia dos Índios no Brasil, assembled by anthropologist Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, researchers and Indigenous people came together to reflect on the state of the field of Indigenous history in Brazil.
Historia dos Índios no Brasil was the result of a collective project initiated shortly after the ratification of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, the “Citizens’ Constitution,” three years after the end of Brazil’s two-decade long military dictatorship. The new constitution included an innovative chapter, “Dos Índios,” which recognized the different social organizations and cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples and guaranteed their originary rights to traditionally occupied lands. The project that preceded the volume began with the founding of the Núcleo de História Indígena e do Indigenismo (NHII/USP, Nucleus for Indian History and the History of Indigenism) at the Universidade de São Paulo in 1985. The project sought to support Indigenous peoples on several fronts, worked to recover Indigenous history and memory in the service of securing rights, and advocated for action in other fields as well: for example, through reflections on the need for differentiated health and education. Da Cunha’s edited volume emerged within this framework to emphasize the importance of anthropological research and the use of historical documents in defending the rights of Indigenous peoples. Presenting the state of the field from the perspective of Americanist ethnologists, historians, archaeologists, linguists, and physical anthropologists, it highlighted both the diversity of processes that guided the future projects of Indigenous peoples as well as the intricate and diverse relations that these populations established with the Brazilian State. The book’s publication in 1992 marked the birth of the emerging field of studies of Indigenous history in Brazil.
A generation later, the objective of the 2017 colloquium was to map the research routes covered by the current state of knowledge and to identify new themes and pressing issues in the current political scene in Brazil: concrete threats from agribusiness, large extractive companies, and the construction of hydroelectric power plants are putting the rights Indigenous peoples acquired over the last 30 years at acute risk. In this context, we asked contributors to the conference to address the following questions: where did we start, where are we, and where are we going?
Selecting from one hundred proposals submitted in response to a widely publicized call for contributions, the organizers arranged the meeting into ten thematized panels and a closing session. It included presentations by academics from Brazil and abroad, as well as by representatives of Indigenous movements and nations. Held in a public university and free of charge for both exhibitors and the public, the event lasted three days, had an audience of more than a hundred people per day, and was broadcast on the Internet. Three aspects of this meeting deserve special mention.
First, the colloquium revealed the diversity of themes that have emerged or consolidated in the field of Indigenous history since 1992. Innovative studies in archeology generated revisions to key theoretical concepts after finding evidence in Amazonia of urban clusters without cities, plant domestication without agriculture, and a wider variety of social organizations than previously supposed. Additionally, scholars have discovered new historical sources, making it possible to review developments during the military dictatorship. Presenters explored the emergence of new identities or identities previously hidden, which arose in the context of re-democratization after 1985 alongside new paradigms for relations between the state and isolated peoples. Researchers emphasized the variety of forms of agency demonstrated by Indigenous actors, as well as their perspectives on and participation in historical processes. In short, the conference showed how Indigenous scholarship is evolving into a diverse and dynamic field by blending the methodologies and theoretical approaches of several disciplines: archeology, anthropology, ethnology, history, museology, and linguistics.
Second, many presentations featured the role of Indigenous peoples and nations as protagonists of knowledge-making. These stressed the importance of Indigenous actors and communities who are now taking part in projects of historical archaeology (with results used in government land demarcation), appropriating audiovisual and digital tools as well institutional and academic spaces, publishing literatures, and developing policies to safeguard ethnographic collections concerning their communities. The presence of Indigenous peoples in the production of knowledge, on the one hand, has forced the field of Indigenous history to propose new hypotheses and concepts that can account for the transformations that have occurred in recent years. On the other hand, it reveals the diversity of Indigenous perspectives, apparent in the differences between communities, ethnic groups, or generations.
Finally, the most striking aspect of the meeting was Indigenous participation. Indigenous scholars and community members voiced diverse and polyphonic opinions, reflecting in the heat of the event the historical processes they have passed through in the last twenty-five years, as well as the current political moment and impasses that challenge the Indigenous movement in Brazil. Those who had the opportunity to attend the meeting saw the outcome of a work and research agenda established three decades ago, as well as the strategies of a new generation of Indigenous activists. We witnessed dialogues between two generations, about their identity, struggle and place in the nation.
Among the Indigenous voices participating in the event, two leaders of their respective generations, were invited—Ailton Krenak, famous for his speech at the National Constituent Assembly in 1987, which supported new Constitutional frameworks for Indigenous rights, and Jozileia Kaingang, the Pedagogical Coordinator for the Indigenous Intercultural Certification Program of the Universidad Federal de Santa Catarina. She was still a child when Ailton presented his speech in the Constituent Assembly (Krenak 2015); today, she brings together feminism and Indigenous identity, both a symbol of and a major proponent for the ever-stronger presence of these peoples and nations in the University.
The meeting also had the participation of three Indigenous academics: Laiana Pereira dos Santos, Márcia Nunes Maciel Mura, and Sâmela Ramos da Silva. All are post-graduates in public universities who came from distant regions to São Paulo, by their own means, to present their experiences as Indigenous researchers in academia. We also had the distinguished presence of a representative of the Guarani Mbya people: Carlos Papa, from the Rio Silveira village in Bertioga (São Paulo coast), who honored us with a poetic and profound discourse on concepts from Guarani thought and the difficulties of their translation—and therefore dialogue—with white people. Moreover, we benefitted from the participation of Timei Asurini, who, despite being included in the program, opened the occasion up to an unexpected and forceful manifestation of the Movimento Levante Indígena na USP (Indigenous “Rise Up” Movement at USP). This group of Indigenous youths interrupted the programming to demand a greater insertion of Indigenous peoples in the University. They formed a makeshift panel and commandeered the microphone at the close of the first session to offer a series of thought provoking talks on the relationship between Indigenous communities and academic researchers, questioning “the absence of Indigenous protagonism on each of the panels”—i.e., they claimed space in the academy to act on the subject matter and also leaders of their own histories. The organizers welcomed their demands for participation throughout the event. The intervention of the Indigenous “Rise Up” Movement was covered by Radio Yandé, which published a post and transmitted video on its website.
The closing panel summed up the meeting appropriately: included in this dossier of works in bilingual format.
The closing panel summed up the meeting appropriately: in addition to Manuela Carneiro da Cunha herself, it featured the testimony of two generations of Indigenous leaders. Joziléia Kaingang shared the message of the young Indigenous movement and demonstrated the remarkable presence of this new generation in Brazilian public universities—her words are included in this dossier of works in bilingual format. She shared the message of the young Indigenous movement. In contrast, Ailton Krenak issued an invitation to Indigenous youth who are enthusiastic to attend universities to reflect on what it would mean to leave their lands. After all, we must remember that his generation won the right for Indigenous land demarcation through much struggle and activism thirty years ago.
Although the ground covered in the colloquium was vast, neither the Indigenous voices present nor the topics covered exhaust the current political situation in Brazil, which has taken new and ominous turns in late 2018. Nevertheless, the meeting did indeed fulfill its objective of revealing the pressing issues and new challenges facing the field of Indigenous history. The field must continue to expand and allow more space for the complex and plural perspectives of Brazil’s Indigenous peoples and nations. It must also promote affirmative policies of inclusion for Indigenous peoples in public universities and assure their permanence. This openness will require profound ethnographic, historical, theoretical and political reflection on the meanings and implications of these new demands in the face of the challenges facing Brazilian democracy today. As such, the colloquium tells the story of a field whose role in Indigenous populations has come full circle, and continues to grow and evolve.
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Krenak, Ailton. 2015. “Discurso na Assembleia Nacional Constituinte (1987).” In Encontros: Ailton Krenak, edited by Sergio Cohn, 32-35. Rio de Janeiro: Azougue.