Thousands of members of an indigenous Brazilian tribe are clashing with riot police, responding to tear gas with bows and arrows.
The tribe is demonstrating in Brasilia for greater rights, and have been carrying coffins representing the indigenous dead in the take over of their ancestral lands. Some allegedly tried to break into the Congress building during the riots.
The protest took place in what’s dubbed Indigenous Week, a series of activities in the capital highlighting the tribes’ many problems as they attempt to coexist with an ever expanding agricultural industry and try to enforce their land rights.
Many attended the protest dressed in traditional garb, including feathers and body paint.
‘The coffins represent all the indigenous people from 305 ethic groups who have died over the years,’ said Marize de Oliveira, 58 a historian of the Guarani people.
‘The agricultural and evangelical lobby want to destroy our rights and turn Brazil into the world’s breadbasket, ending biodiversity.’
Protesters said at least four people were arrested in the clash. Police did not provide details.
‘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,’ said Kleber Karipuna, a protester who came to Brasilia from the northern state of Amapa.
‘It’s natural that three thousand Indians are going to respond with spears and arrows.’
Sonia Guajajara, a coordinator for the march, said some 4,000 indigenous people and supporters took part in the protest. She said the violent police response was nothing compared to that suffered by indigenous people in territories where deadly clashes continue over disputed land.
It focused on 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 retains the power to set such boundaries.
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