This story is over 5 years old.


Brazil Wants to Tear Down an Indigenous Museum to Put Up a Parking Lot

The Brazilian government wants to destroy the Museum of Indian Culture in Rio de Janeiro to build a parking lot for the new World Cup stadium that sits next door.

The outside of the Aldeia Maracanã building

In the middle of urban Rio de Janeiro is a decrepit grey building called Aldeia Maracanã. The tired structure next to the Estádio do Maracanã—one of the stadia for next year's World Cup—was Rio's Museum of Indian Culture until 1978, when the exhibition was moved next door and the building was cleared and left derelict. In 2006, after three decades of neglect, native Indians started moving into the empty building in their droves, and by the beginning of this year it was home to 21 different ethnicities of indigenous Brazilian people.


At the end of 2012, Brazilian police began trying to evict the building's residents, claiming that FIFA needed the land to build a parking lot for the neighboring World Cup stadium. However, the soccer governing body quickly refuted that claim, releasing a statement that said it "never made such a request to demolish the Indian Museum in Rio de Janeiro."

And it appears that the demolition never really had much to do with FIFA; in March of this year, police stormed Aldeia Maracanã, evicting the residents with force and pepper-spraying everyone in sight, including children and babies.

The fate of Brazil's indigenous people hasn't been great since Pedro Alvares Cabral first turned up in South America 513 years ago and changed the Guarani Indian name for Brazil, Pindorama—"land of palm trees"—to Terra de Santa Cruz. Half a millennium later, the original inhabitants of Brazil are no longer being enslaved and killed off by disease, but they’re still being marginalized and persecuted by the Brazilian government.

However, the residents of Aldeia Maracanã have been fighting to change that. After their eviction, they campaigned to have the building listed and protected from demolition, which they achieved at the beginning of August. Since then, they have moved back in and now want their temporary home to become an indigenous university that will work to preserve and teach their people’s culture.


A banner saying, "Get out, Globo!" directed at Brazil's largest media network

When I turned up to the village the community have built in and around the old museum, I was met by a crowd of suspicious stares. I quickly realized those stares had something to do with a banner hanging over a fence that was directed at Brazil's largest media network and read, "Fora Globo!" ("Get out, Globo!"). I explained to Gabriel, a young man of Xukurú ethnicity, that I was working for a different news outlet. "Well, at least you're not from Globo," he signed in relief. "They said there were drug traffickers in here."

Once I made my way into the village, Potyra—a member of the Krikati people—told me, "There has always been a lack of respect for the indigenous community, but there has to be more respect. There are many ethnicities that are not known in Brazil, and people from outside of Brazil care more about us [than the Brazilian government]."

Gabriel interrupted: "I think it's a war that stretches back 513 years—not just here, but also in Mato Grosso, in Paraná," he said. "There are also other fights in the southern state of Bahia, and there’s Belo Monte."

In Belo Monte, an area in the Brazilian state of Pará, Gabriel’s own people have been fighting a losing battle to keep their land and officially be granted its ownership. The biggest worry is that the government want to build a dam in the region's Xingu River—one of the last uncorrupted rivers in the Amazon—which would destroy the homes and livelihoods of the various tribes that have lived along its banks for hundreds of years. On a more local level, rogue farmers and miners are keen to grab the fertile land in the region and have been killing the indigenous people who call it home in order to do so.


"This isn’t just an attack [on our culture], they are decimating it, they are murdering it, not attacking it. It’s genocide of our people," says Haloux, another resident of Aldeia Maracanã who hasn’t yet discovered his ethnicity.

Gabriel inside Aldeia Maracanã

A recently discovered document has brought to light the massacre of Mato Grosso Indians during the military dictatorship of Brazil in the 1960s. According to historical records, the military government slaughtered entire swathes of various ethnicities to take their land. The document had been lost for 40 years and revealed that the people who committed these crimes were never punished. Since then, the killings have continued, mostly by miners, with up to 80 Indians killed in the border area between Venezuela and Brazil in July of 2012 alone.

"What authority do they have?" asks Haloux. "They set fire to Indians’ huts. Brazil, after the United States, is the biggest murderer of its own culture."

When I ask the Aldeia Maracanã residents about the government eviction in March by military police, Gabriel goes silent and avoids eye contact. Potyra, who's much more vocal than Gabriel, tells me that most of them ended up in the hospital because of the tear gas, including children and a newborn baby.

"We say it’s from Cabral to Cabral," she explains, drawing a line between Pedro Alvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil, and Sérgio Cabral, the current governor of Rio. “Because [Pedro Álvares] Cabral destroyed many Indians and now [Sérgio] Cabral wants to destroy all of us. He got the Indians out of here—there was police pepper spray, they hit us. They sprayed us all, including the children—six-year-olds and a three-month-old baby. She had to stay in the hospital for a week."


Potyra inside Aldeia Maracanã

Potyra has lived in Aldeia Maracanã for seven years. She raised her children there, where they are free to practice their customs. When her daughter had her first period, they followed the tradition of locking her in a room for eight days so she could learn how to be a woman; she learned how to eat properly, how to respect her elders, children, and the culture and to never leave her indigenous people. When Gabriel came of age he made holes in his ears to signify adulthood. These are only a couple of traditions that they are trying to preserve. If these customs aren’t passed down to future generations, Potyra says, they will vanish.

"An example of this is the Goytacá; they say they disappeared a long time ago, but in Campos [dos Goytacazes] there are people who look like native Indians—who have that genetic strand—but they lost their culture," she tells me.

The government continues to be an impediment to all Indians in Brazil. The most recent blow to their existence has been two bills of law that, if passed, will make indigenous people much more vulnerable. The bill PEC 127 was proposed by Congressman Paes Landim and would transfer the power to border indigenous land from the president to congress. Many congressmen are connected to rural businesses, so they would be able to demarcate land to their own interests.

The complementary law, PLC 227, would see exceptions added to the "Native Indians Law" that makes indigenous land exclusive to Indian ethnicities. The Indian peoples could be removed if it is "in the public interest" to be used for "agribusiness, mining companies and the constructions of enterprises in the interest of the federal, state and municipal governments".


Haloux says native Indians already have nowhere to go and that the laws already in place do not work: "The majority of Indians have no way of existing. There is no land. All those demarcations are lies. When Indians try to take their land [back], they get shot," he says.

The grey walls of Aldeia Maracanã are covered in anti-government graffiti and paintings of Indians. When I asked if I could take a picture of Potyra in front go one the walls, she runs off to grab a feather earring—one of the traditional ones, not like the impulse buy you might find at the front counter of a trendy clothing store.

While Potyra's out of the room, Gabriel turns to me. "My culture is everything to me," he says. "I don't want to lose the little I have left."


More stories about indigenous people and the World Cup fucking everything up for Brazil:

Rio Militarises Its Favela Slums in Preparation for the 2014 World Cup

Brazil's Confederations Cup Ended in Tear Gas and Rubber Bullets

Brazilian Soldiers and Native Tribespeople Are Clashing in the Amazon