What is known about trying to consider ranchers and miners as traditional peoples

This week, the meeting of the National Council of Traditional Peoples and Communities (CNPCT) caught the attention of environmentalists and human rights defenders. The agenda of the agency, which is linked to the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights (MMFDH), of Minister Damares Alves, provided for a discussion on the criteria for including prospectors and ranchers as traditional peoples.

The fact generated controversy due to the public support of President Jair Bolsonaro (PL) to miners and ruralists and the fact that the two groups are frequently associated with the destruction of the environment. The ministry denied that the initiative came from him and said that the organ had been sought by miners and ranchers seeking recognition as traditional peoples and communities.

On Wednesday (8), the MMFDH released a note stating that he had been approached by representatives of miners and ranchers asking for recognition as traditional communities. The note did not say, however, which groups these would be.

In the note, the ministry said that it was “reckless” to recognize prospectors and ranchers as traditional peoples and communities.

BBC News Brasil asked the ministry to inform the names of the entities responsible for the requests on behalf of the miners, but the agency did not send a response.


What would be driving these two groups to try to obtain this status? What advantages would prospectors and cattle raisers have by being “recognized” as traditional peoples?

Specialists heard by BBC News Brasil believe that this maneuver would have two objectives: to legitimize the presence of these groups in sensitive territories and get differentiated treatment from the state; and empty the current legislation on the subject.

According to Decree No. 6.040 of February

, traditional peoples and communities are “culturally differentiated groups that recognize themselves as such” and “use territories and natural resources as a condition for their reproduction” and use “knowledge, innovations and practices generated and transmitted by the tradition”.

The best known representatives of these populations are the indigenous peoples and quilombolas, but in Brazil there are a number of other communities that recognize themselves as traditional, such as caiçara fishermen, who live in some regions of the Brazilian coast.

The legislation does not establish strict procedures and criteria for a given community to be considered traditional. The national policy on the subject was created in 169 and one of its main points is the possibility of “self-recognition”.

For the former Juliana Simões, secretary of extractivism at the Ministry of the Environment and current deputy manager of the indigenous peoples and traditional communities strategy of the non-governmental organization The Nature Conservancy, this flexibility is a way of allowing historically marginalized groups to recognize themselves as traditional and prevents the state from preventing this movement.

“The possibility of self-recognition is important because it does not allow the state to define, in a discretionary way, who is and who is not a traditional community or people “, he affirmed.

If, on the one hand, the legislation does not provide for a body that centralizes the task of determining who is and who is not traditional people, on the other hand, this recognition takes place on a case-by-case basis and in different instances.

In the case of indigenous peoples, it is appropriate to Funai (National Indigenous Foundation) to assess, through anthropological studies, the claims of populations that want to be recognized as such. In the case of quilombolas, the Palmares Foundation takes care of the matter. In the case of people living in federal conservation units, for example, the person responsible for carrying out these assessments is the ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation). at the origin of the controversy

Part of this story began far away from Brasília or even from the Amazon, where most of the attention is focused. A few years ago, a mining company specialized in phosphate extraction has been trying to install itself in the municipality of Lavras do Sul, in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul.

The idea was to install an open-pit mine for the removal of the mineral used to manufacture fertilizers.

A group of ranchers who live in the Pampa region of Rio Grande do Sul came out against the initiative, claiming that the mine would put their way of life at risk . Since 2015, family farmers in the region have sought recognition from the federal government as a traditional people.

In 2020, the MPF (Federal Public Ministry) prepared an anthropological expert report stating that that group of cattle raisers had characteristics consistent with the concept of traditional peoples and communities.

According to convention no. 169 of the ILO (International Labor Organization), of which Brazil is a signatory, these populations need to be consulted regarding works or undertakings that may affect them.

For the MPF, this recognition would be important because if cattle raisers were not considered traditional peoples, the case would leave the federal sphere and would be handled by the state authorities.

According to a note from the civil society representatives of the CNPCT (National Council of Traditional Peoples and Communities), the request for the organ to deliberate on the criteria for recon knowledge of ranchers as traditional peoples would have the support of the MPF.

When contacted, the MPF in Rio Grande do Sul did not respond.

The coordinator of the Committee Fernando Aristimunho, of the Traditional Peoples and Communities of the Pampa, says he regrets that the claim of family farmers in the region has been mixed with that of miners.

“We are against livestock that destroys the Amazon . Our livestock is totally different. Here, there is harmony with the environment, with the pampa biome. We regret that our plea was mixed with that of miners. We have nothing to do with it,” he said.

What is not known so far, however, is how the category of garimpeiros was included on the agenda of the council meeting. The question arises because neither the request of family farmers in the pampa nor the actions of the MPF in Rio Grande do Sul make any mention of garimpeiros.

“I don’t know who is behind this. We were all surprised,” said Raimundo Nonato Pereira da Silva, known as Taata Konmannanjy, representative of the National Cultural Association for the Preservation of Bantu Heritage (ACBANTU) and member of the board. the advantages of being considered a traditional people?

Sheilla Borges Dourado, a Doctor of Laws, has been studying the rights of traditional peoples for over a decade. . She explains that the possibility of claiming public policies or even protecting the state are the main advantages of recognition as a traditional people.

“This recognition opens up the possibility for them to have access to resources and specific public policies. Some time ago, for example, we had specific public bank funds for traditional populations. They they want to enter this basket to take advantage of this legal recognition”, he says.

Another reason why this recognition may be being sought is an attempt to legitimize the presence of people who should not be in certain areas. territories.

This would be especially important for miners who have been attracting public attention in recent years because of the trail of destruction left in indigenous lands and rivers in the Amazon.

In the last two weeks, after images revealed hundreds of irregular mining rafts on the Madeira River, hundreds of miners sought out politicians in an attempt to legalize their activities. Part of their argument was precisely the fact that have been working as miners in the region for many decades.

“They no longer want to be recognized as invaders, as people who threaten the traditional way of life. They no longer want to be seen as outsiders, but as insiders. It’s a tricky strategy,” she said.

The teacher says she does not know the scientific basis for classifying prospectors and ranchers as traditional peoples. This happens, in part, because the concept of traditionality, she explains, is strongly associated with the sustainable use of the natural resources of the territory where these people live.

“I see no basis for these requests to prosper. The idea of ​​traditional people is closely associated with sustainability. I interpret this movement as an appropriation, an attempt to distort a mechanism created to protect people”, she explains.

Juliana Simões explains that, in theory, miners who are recognized as traditional peoples in the Amazon they could claim their permanence in these regions and the possibility of continuing to explore the region’s ores freely.

“This is all a land dispute. It’s dispute over land and resources. In the case of miners, they can claim territory to continue mining without being disturbed. Ultimately, a change in the law would be necessary, but they could demand the creation of mining reserves in the Amazon”, she says.

Juliana Simões warns of another danger: the emptying of the concept of self-recognition . According to her, when the council proposes to establish criteria about who can who cannot be considered traditional people, this leaves room for the misuse of these concepts.

“It is not the council’s responsibility make that deliberation. For me, this is like a Trojan horse. They introduced this discussion to create these recognition mechanisms, but that will end up emptying the self-recognition policy. Tomorrow or the day after, this can be used against people who, in fact, are traditional”, he affirmed. and garimpeiros.

In a statement released on Wednesday (8), the MMFDH said that the inclusion of the debate on the creation of a thematic chamber to establish criteria for recognizing cattle raisers and garimpeiros as traditional peoples was made by the presidency of the council, exercised by Carlos Alberto Pinto Santos.

The representatives of civil society who are part of the council released a statement on Thursday (9) stating that the The inclusion of the topic was not made by the presidency of the council, but by the National Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SNPIR), under the command of the ministry.

Amidst the controversy, the CNPCT decided to create a working group with four representatives to discuss, over the course of a year, criteria for recognition. knowledge of traditional peoples and communities. The result of the group will be evaluated in December of next year.

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