Indigenous candidates grow their participation in national elections

2019. Indio

The electoral justice has registered an increase in the number of indigenous candidacies in national elections. In 2018, there was a 56.47% rise in the amount of candidates who declared themselves as indigenous or indigenous descendant when requesting for registering their candidacy. 133 of them ran for office that year, whereas only 85 ran in the 2014 General Elections.

The number of indigenous elected also rose from one State deputy in 2014 to one Federal deputy and one Vice-president of the Republic in 2018. General Hamilton Mourão (PTRB) integrated the presidencial slate elected to command the country and the lawyer Joênia Wapichana (REDE) obtained a seat at the House of Representatives by the State of Roraima.

“We are today around one million persons who are part of more than 305 different peoples, which speak more than 180 languages. And, despite being criminally reduced in terms of numbers, we represent an enormous social and cultural diversity which comprises our traditional and ancestral knowledge. Our traditional knowledge ensures the full protection of the indigenous territories that correspond to 13% of the national territory, Joenia declared when being sworn into office at the House of Representatives.

The first indigenous to sit in the Brazilian Parliament was the Xavante Chieftain  Mário Juruna, elected in 1982 by PDT in Rio de Janeiro, after receiving 31 thousand votes. His victory represented a great progress for indigenous people in the political scenario as a parliamentary commission was created to discuss indigenous issues in the country. “I believe that it was the first time Brazil realized it was violating the rights of indigenous people and it was necessary to do something”, Samantha Ro’otsitsina, daughter of the elected chieftain, commented.

Anthropologist Stephen Baines, chief of Anthropology Department of the University of Brasília (UnB), explains that the so-called “indigenous movement” only began in the 70’s. Although, it was only in the 80’s that the movement gained strength and was consolidated in the country, when several peoples started to identify themselves as such in Brazilian states where it was told there weren’t any living indigenous.

“The landmark is the Federal Constitution of 1988. Before that, the indigenous people were tutored by the State, via the Fundação Nacional do Índio – Funai (National Indigenous Foundation in English). From 1988 forwards, they have been granted all the rights to citizenship, including the right to vote”, Baines highlighted.


Logistics and Electoral enrollment

In order to guarantee the indigenous peoples’ right to choose their representative by means of voting, the Electoral Justice spares no efforts in each Election. Technicians endure travelling many hours to reach the communities, by land or river, and deliver all the necessary structure to set up a polling station and a data transmission spot via satellite. Many times, this work can only be done with the support of the Armed Forces. In addition, the Regional Electoral Courts (TREs) promote continuous actions within these communities.

As other Brazilian citizens, the indigenous shall vote if they are more than 18 years old and if they were taught literacy in Portuguese. However, the Superior Electoral Court ensured a volunatray electoral enrollment for indigenous who, according to the Indigenous Statute (Estatuto do índio in Portuguese), are considered isolated or undergoing integration. In the other hand, those who intend to run for office must enroll.

Despite the successful results the indigenous representation obtained in recent Brazilians elections, Baines alerts to the fact that more progress is yet needed. According to him, indigenous make only 0,47% of the national population, which corresponds to one of the lowest rates of indigenous populations in Latin American countries.  ‘It shows that in Brazil the process of making the indigenous look invisible worked really well along the Colonial period and still does, in many cases, through racism, by decrees and persecutions”, he notices.

For him, the necessary cultural change has to start by education in school, with the purpose of showing the students that the indigenous are part of the Brazilian society. “They have their own cultures, which as valid as the national culture”, he concluded.