Indigenous people clashed with police in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia on Tuesday (25 April), during a protest against farmer's intrusion on territory. Wearing traditional headdresses and their bodies covered in paint, the indigenous people, along with supporters were blocked by police from climbing a ramp that led into the Congresso Nacional building, which was when the clashes erupted. Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas, while tribe members shot spears and arrows in return.
Speaking to Reuters, Sonia Guajajara, a coordinator for the march, said that some 4,000 indigenous people and supporters took part in the protest."We carried 200 coffins symbolising the genocide and deaths of indigenous peoples at the hands of the authorities allied to agribusiness," she said.
The march was focused around a legislation that would give the last word on deciding land boundaries for indigenous reservations to Congress, where a powerful farm lobby holds sway. Currently, Brazil's president Michel Temer retains the power to set such boundaries. Guajajara also told Reuters the violent police response was nothing compared to that suffered by indigenous people in territories where deadly clashes continue over disputed land.
Dozens of indigenous people are killed each year in Brazil – in fights with farmers and ranchers over land, often in the relatively lawless Amazon region, where hired gunmen have been used to push the indigenous off resource-rich reserves.
A police spokesman told the Associated Press that protesters got too close to a large fountain of water on the esplanade in front of congress in Brasilia. "The Indians did not comply with the agreement they made with police" about the boundaries of the protest, a police statement said. "They were threatening to invade Congress."
Demonstrators denied that, saying police were just looking for an excuse to remove them. They said that police had agreed the protesters could come close to the fountain and that the march was peaceful.
"Unfortunately, the brute force of the police caused this," Kleber Karipuna, a protester who came to Brasilia from the northern state of Amapa, who spoke to AP. "It's natural that three thousand Indians are going to respond" with spears and arrows. Protesters said at least four people were arrested in the clash. Police did not provide details.