Spears, arrows and tears gas – Indigenous people clash with Brazilian police over land rights

Some 4,000 aboriginal people and supporters took part in the protest that focused on land boundaries for indigenous reservations.

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.

Brazilian indigenous people take part in a demonstrationUeslei Marcelino/Reuters

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.

A man looks on during a demonstration against the violation of indigenous people's rightsGregg Newton/Reuters
Riot police fire tear gas at Indigenous people as they protest for their rightsEvaristo Sa/AFP
People take part in a demonstration against the violation of indigenous people's rightsGregg Newton/Reuters
A riot policeman points his gun those taking part in a demonstration against the violation of indigenous people's rights,Gregg Newton/Reuters
Indigenous people hold mock coffins during a march for their rightsUeslei Marcelino/Reuters
A demonstrator throws a mock coffinUeslei Marcelino/Reuters

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."

Raoni Metuktire, a leader of the Brazilian indigenous ethnic Kayapo people, leads the crowdUeslei Marcelino/Reuters
An indigenous woman looks on during the demonstrationsUeslei Marcelino/Reuters
An indigenous woman is seen in the crowdUeslei Marcelino/Reuters

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.

Indigenous women take part in the annual march for their rightsEvaristo Sa/AFP
Indigenous people from diverse ethnic groups get into the lake in front of the Congress building with mock coffinsEvaristo Sa/AFP
Indigenous people look on during the demonstrationGregg Newton/Reuters

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