Indigenous territory (Brazil)

Last updated

Current and proposed indigenous territories in Brazil Indigenous brazil.jpg
Current and proposed indigenous territories in Brazil

In Brazil, an indigenous territory or indigenous land (Portuguese : Terra Indígena [ˈtɛhɐ ĩˈdʒiʒẽnɐ] , TI) is an area inhabited and exclusively possessed by indigenous people. Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution recognises the inalienable right of indigenous peoples to lands they "traditionally occupy" [n 1] [1] [2] and automatically confers them permanent possession of these lands. In practice, however, a formal multi-stage process of demarcation is required for a TI to gain full protection, [2] [3] and this has often entailed protracted legal battles. [4] [5] [6] Even after demarcation, TIs are frequently subject to illegal invasions by settlers and mining and logging companies. [2]


There are 724 proposed or approved indigenous territories in Brazil, [7] covering about 13% of the country's land area. [8] Critics of the system say that this is out of proportion with the number of indigenous people in Brazil, about 0.41% [9] of the population; they argue that the amount of land reserved as TIs undermines the country's economic development and national security. [6] [10] [11] [12]


As of 2016, there were 702 indigenous territories in Brazil, covering 1,172,995 km2 – 14% of the country's land area. [13] As of 2020, 120 areas were in the formal process of being identified, covering a total of 1,084,049 hectares; 43 had been formally identified (2,179,316 ha); 74 had been formally declared (7,305,639 ha) and 487 had already been formally approved (106,858,319 ha). This means that in total, 723 areas were either under evaluation or had been legally consolidated as indigenous territories, covering a total area of 117,427,323 hectares. [7] For historical reasons—Portuguese colonisation started from the coast—most of these are concentrated in the country's interior, particularly Amazônia. [8] There are only three federated units without any TIs: the states of Rio Grande do Norte and Piauí, and the Federal District.

Indigenous territories by state (2011)

of TIs
[14] [tn 1]
of TIs
[15] [tn 2]
of state
[tn 2]
Bandeira do Acre.svg Acre 3630,72120.13%
Bandeira de Alagoas.svg Alagoas 101300.47%
Bandeira do Amapa.svg Amapá 641,96529.38%
Bandeira do Amazonas.svg Amazonas 166527,78333.6%
Bandeira da Bahia.svg Bahia 262,3450.42%
Bandeira Estado Ceara Brasil.svg Ceará 111140.08%
Bandeira do Distrito Federal.svg Distrito Federal 000%
Bandeira do Espirito Santo.svg Espírito Santo 3760.16%
Flag of Goias.svg Goiás 54050.12%
Bandeira do Maranhao.svg Maranhão 2019,0575.74%
Bandeira de Mato Grosso.svg Mato Grosso 78188,49020.87%
Bandeira de Mato Grosso do Sul.svg Mato Grosso do Sul 496,7811.9%
Bandeira de Minas Gerais.svg Minas Gerais 96700.11%
Bandeira do Para.svg Pará 58305,72424.5%
Bandeira da Paraiba.svg Paraíba 33380.6%
Bandeira do Parana.svg Paraná 269440.47%
Bandeira de Pernambuco.svg Pernambuco 151,1811.2%
Bandeira do Piaui.svg Piauí 000%
Bandeira Estado RiodeJaneiro Brasil2.svg Rio de Janeiro 5240.05%
Bandeira do Rio Grande do Norte.svg Rio Grande do Norte 000%
Bandeira Estado RioGrandedoSul Brasil.svg Rio Grande do Sul 451,0880.39%
Bandeira de Rondonia.svg Rondônia 2462,52626.32%
Bandeira de Roraima.svg Roraima 32195,75287.27%
Bandeira Santa Catarina.svg Santa Catarina 205620.59%
Bandeira do Estado de Sao Paulo.svg São Paulo 281710.07%
Bandeira de Sergipe.svg Sergipe 1430.2%
Bandeira do Tocantins.svg Tocantins 1225,5219.19%
Flag of Brazil.svg Brazil6721,105,25813%
  1. As of March 2011. Some TIs cross state borders and are counted twice.
  2. 1 2 Approximate. See above.

Demarcation process

The process of demarcating indigenous territories was established in the 1973 Statute of the Indian and has been revised several times, most recently in 1996. [16] [17] Under the current legal framework, the initial identification and definition of potential TIs is the responsibility of FUNAI, the government body in charge of indigenous affairs, who commission an ethnographic and geographical survey of the area and publish a proposal. This proposal must then be approved by the Ministry of Justice, who consider FUNAI's proposal and any objections from other interested parties with respect to the Constitution. If approved, FUNAI begins physically demarcating the new TI and the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform undertakes the resettlement of any non-indigenous occupants. Final approval, or homologation, for the demarcation a TI is issued by the President of the Republic, after which it is officially registered. [3]

The Statute of the Indian specified that all indigenous lands should be demarcated by 1978, [18] and the 1988 Constitution also set a five-year deadline. [2] However, demarcation is still ongoing. The process is frequently delayed by legal disputes arising from the objections of non-indigenous settlers and commercial interests in the proposed TI. This has been increasingly common since 1996, when a change in the law required an explicit period to be set aside in the demarcation process for the hearing of complaints. [4] In 2008 the Supreme Federal Court issued a high-profile decision in favour of the continued territorial integrity of Raposa Serra do Sol in Roraima. Non-indigenous rice farmers had protested their deportation from the TI, arguing that the reserve undermined Brazil's national integrity and the state's economic development, and proposing that it be broken up. The ruling established a legal precedent that affected more than 100 similar cases that were before the Supreme Court at the time. [6] [10]


Land ownership is a contentious issue in Brazil. In the 1990s, as much as 45% of the available farmland in the country was controlled by 1% of the population. [19] Some advocates of land reform have therefore criticised the amount of land reserved for indigenous peoples, who make up just 0.2% of the national population. According to this view the 1988 Constitution's approach towards indigenous peoples' right to land is overly idealist, and a return to a more integrationist policy is favoured. [12] In the Raposa Serra do Sol dispute, non-indigenous rice farmers and their advocates charged TIs with hindering economic development in sparsely populated states such as Roraima, where a large proportion of the land is reserved for indigenous peoples despite commercial pressures to develop it for agricultural use. [11] Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian indigenous rights group, argue that the disparity between indigenous population and land ownership is justified because their traditional subsistence patterns (typically shifting cultivation or hunting and gathering) are more land extensive than modern agriculture, and because many TIs include large areas of agriculturally unproductive land or are environmentally degraded due to recent incursions. [8]

Opponents of indigenous territories also claim that they undermine national sovereignty. The promotion of indigenous rights by NGOs is seen as reflecting an "internationalisation of the Amazon" which is contrary to Brazil's economic interests. [10] [11] Elements in the military have also expressed concern that because many TIs occupy border regions they pose a threat to national security – although both the army and police are allowed full access. [6]

The current system of indigenous territories has also been criticised by proponents of indigenous rights, who say that the process of demarcation is too slow [4] and that FUNAI lacks the resources to properly protect them from encroachment once registered. [20]

See also


  1. Defined as those lands "on which they live on a permanent basis, those used for their productive activities, those indispensable to the preservation of the environmental resources necessary for their well-being and for their physical and cultural reproduction, according to their uses, customs and traditions."

Related Research Articles

Indigenous peoples in Brazil Diverse range of ethnic groups

Indigenous peoples in Brazil or Indigenous Brazilians once comprised an estimated 2000 tribes and nations inhabiting what is now the country of Brazil, prior to the European contact around 1500. Christopher Columbus thought he had reached the East Indies, but Portuguese Vasco da Gama had already reached India via the Indian Ocean route, when Brazil was discovered by Portugal. Nevertheless, the word índios ("Indians") was by then established to designate the people of the New World and continues to be used in the Portuguese language to designate these people, while a person from India is called indiano in order to distinguish the two.

Rondônia State of Brazil

Rondônia is one of the 26 states of Brazil, located in the northern part of the country. To the west is a short border with the state of Acre, to the north is the state of Amazonas, in the east is Mato Grosso, and in the south and southwest is Bolivia. Rondônia has a population of 1,755,000 as of 2014. It is the fifth least populated state. Its capital and largest city is Porto Velho. The state was named after Cândido Rondon, who explored the north of the country during the 1910s.

Fundação Nacional do Índio Brazilian agency for Indian interests and culture

Fundação Nacional do Índio or FUNAI is a Brazilian governmental protection agency for Indian interests and their culture.

Protected areas of Brazil

Protected areas of Brazil included various classes of area according to the National System of Conservation Units (SNUC), a formal, unified system for federal, state and municipal parks created in 2000.

The Akuntsu are an indigenous people of Rondônia, Brazil. Their land is part of the Rio Omerê Indigenous Territory, a small indigenous territory which is also inhabited by a group of Kanoê. The Akuntsu were victims of a massacre perpetrated by Brazilian cattle ranchers in the 1980s and currently number just four individuals.

Rio Omerê Indigenous Territory Brazilian indigenous land

The Rio Omerê Indigenous Territory is an indigenous territory for isolated indigenous peoples in Rondônia, Brazil. The territory consists of 26,000 hectares of forest on the Omerê River and is home to the Kanoê and Akuntsu tribes. Both tribes were the victims of severe massacres by cattle ranchers in the 1970s and 1980s. As of 2011, the Akuntsu number just five individuals and the Rio Omerê Kanoê four. The two tribes are separate peoples speaking mutually unintelligible languages, but are linked by marriage. The reserve is also home to an unknown man who lives alone and is thought to be the last survivor of a different tribe. Several loggers and cattle ranchers also remain in the territory despite attempts to eject them and continue to pose a threat to its indigenous inhabitants.

Terra Indigena Menkragnoti is an indigenous territory created in 1994 in the state of Pará and in Mato Grosso, Brazil. It is home to the Menkragnoti tribe, which belongs to the Kayapo nation. It has a total population of 626 people living in 4,914,254.82 hectares. The Terra Indigena is also home to an unknown number of isolated Mengra Mrari Indians. TI Menkragnoti is adjacent to Terra Indigena Kaiapo and TI Bau. It forms the most important nature conservancy unit in Para.

The Kanoê are an indigenous people of southern Rondônia, Brazil, near the Bolivian border. There are two major groups of Kanoê: one residing in the region of the Guaporé River and another in the Rio Omerê Indigenous Territory. The latter consists of just five individuals following violent contact with white settlers in the last few decades. The Kanoê of the Guaporé River have also had a troubled history of interaction with colonists; significantly reduced in population, they are now largely assimilated into neighbouring indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

The Yudjá are an Indigenous people of Brazil, who live in the states of Mato Grosso and Pará. They live in two villages in the Xingu Indigenous Park, located near the mouth of the Maritsauá-Mitau River. They fish and raise crops, such as manioc.

Parintintín people in Madeira River basin, Brazil

The Parintintin are an indigenous people who live in Brazil in the Madeira River basin. They refer to themselves as Cabahyba, Kagwahiva’nga, or Kagwahiva, which means "our people."


The Apinajé are an indigenous people of Brazil called Gê, living in the state of Tocantins, Eastern Central Brazil.

The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau are an indigenous people of Brazil, living in the state of Rondônia.

The process that has been described as the genocide of indigenous peoples in Brazil began with the Portuguese colonization of the Americas, when Pedro Álvares Cabral made landfall in what is now the country of Brazil in 1500. This started the process that led to the depopulation of the indigenous peoples in Brazil, because of disease and violent treatment by European settlers, and their gradual replacement with colonists from Europe and Africa. This process has been described as a genocide, and continues into the modern era with the ongoing destruction of indigenous peoples of the Amazonian region.

Waimiri Atroari Indigenous Territory

The Waimiri Atroari Indigenous Territory is an indigenous territory in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, Brazil. There has been a long history of violent conflict between the indigenous Waimiri-Atroari people and newcomers from other parts of Brazil. Since the 1960s there have been many efforts to "civilise" the Waimiri-Atroari to avoid problems with the BR-174 highway, which cuts across the territory, and with tin mines and the huge Balbina Dam. The territory is now considerably smaller, but there have been improvements in living standards.

Mundurucu Indigenous Territory

The Mundurucu Indigenous Territory is an indigenous territory in the state of Pará, Brazil. It is occupied by the Apiacá and Munduruku people. A proposed dam on the Tapajós river is on hold since it would flood part of the territory, and the constitution does not allow projects that would force relocation of indigenous people.

Sai Cinza Indigenous Territory

The Sai Cinza Indigenous Territory is an indigenous territory in the state of Pará, Brazil. A proposed dam on the Tapajós river is on hold since it would flood part of the territory, and the constitution does not allow projects that would force relocation of indigenous people.

Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory

The Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory, also called the Daje Kapap Eipi, is an indigenous territory of Munduruku people in the state of Pará, Brazil. It includes land that is sacred to the Mundurukus. Issuance of the document that delimits the territory was delayed until April 2016 because of the problems recognition would create with the proposed São Luiz do Tapajós Dam, which would flood part of the area. As of November 2016 the territory had still not been formally created by decree.

Cué-cué/Marabitanas Indigenous Territory

The Cué-cué/Marabitanas Indigenous Territory is an indigenous territory in the northwest of the state of Amazonas, Brazil. There were extended delays while the territory was being identified and formally declared.

Yanomami Indigenous Territory

The Yanomami Indigenous Territory is an indigenous territory in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, Brazil. It overlaps with several federal or state conservation units. It is home to Yanomami and Ye'kuana people. There were conflicts with an overlapping national forest in which mining was permitted, but these appear to have been resolved.


  1. Federal Constitution of Brazil. Chapter VII Article 231.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Indigenous Lands - Introduction - About Lands". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituo Socioambiental (ISA). Archived from the original on 2011-01-27. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  3. 1 2 "Indigenous Lands > Demarcation > Demarcation process". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  4. 1 2 3 Borges, Beto; Combrisson, Gilles. "Indigenous Rights in Brazil: Stagnation to Political Impasse". South and Meso American Indian Rights Center. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  5. Schwartzman, Stephan; Valéria Araújo, Ana; Pankararú, Paulo (1996). "Brazil: The Legal Battle Over Indigenous Land Rights". NACLA Report on the Americas. 29 (5). Archived from the original on 2010-04-20. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Brazilian Indians 'win land case'". BBC News. 11 December 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  7. 1 2 "Situação jurídica das TIs no Brasil hoje - Povos Indígenas no Brasil". Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  8. 1 2 3 "Indigenous Lands - Demarcation - Location and extension". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  10. 1 2 3 "Brazilian court ruling backs Indian reservation". 19 March 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  11. 1 2 3 Elizondo, Gabriele (27 August 2008). "Land dispute divides Brazil's north". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  12. 1 2 Pires-O'Brien, Joaquina (September 1999). "Indian Land Rights And Land Conflicts In Brazil". Contemporary Review.
  13. "Indigenous Lands > Demarcation > Location and extension". Retrieved 2016-07-13.
  14. "Caracterização Socioambiental das Terras Indígenas no Brasil". Povos Indígenas no Brasil (in Portuguese). Instituto Socioambiental. Archived from the original on 2011-02-27. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  15. "Listagem de Terras Indígenas" (in Portuguese). FUNAI. 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
  16. "Indigenous Lands > Demarcation > Introduction". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  17. "Indigenous Lands > Demarcation > Demarcation procedures in the past". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  18. Box, Ben; Egginton, Jane; Day, Mick (2003). Brazil handbook (3rd ed.). Bath: Footprint. pp.  680. ISBN   978-1-903471-44-9.
  19. "This land is anti-capitalist land". The Economist. 26 April 2007. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  20. Maybury-Lewis, David (2003). "Hope for the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil". Cultural Survival Quarterly (Spring 2003).