Suicides among Brazil indigenous peoples at 28-year high

Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – Suicides among indigenous populations in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul have reached a 28-year high, a local missionary organisation reported on Monday.

The Missionary Council for Indigenous Peoples, CIMI, said that data from a study of violence against Brazil’s indigenous people showed 73 Indians committed suicide in 2013 in the central-western state, of which 72 belonged to the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe.

“They have no future; they get no respect; they have no work or land to plant crops and live,” Guarani-Kaiowá leader Otoniel was quoted in the CIMI report as saying.

“They just choose death because, in truth, they are already dead on the inside.”

Most of the cases involved young individuals between 15 and 30 years old, but the council highlighted the case from this April of a girl who had just turned 13, who hanged herself from a tree with a bed sheet, only to be found by her mother the following morning.

The girl’s death was one of three to happen at the tribal village in the space of two weeks, after a 12-year-old girl and another aged 16 also killed themselves.

“These indigenous peoples live in extremely vulnerable social and cultural circumstances in Mato Grosso do Sul, practically without any land to call their own,” CIMI Executive Secretary Cleber Buzatto told the Anadolu Agency.

“Young people don’t see any future for them to live a traditional, indigenous way of life,” he said. “Their emotions have been pushed to the limits.”

‘No land to call their own’

According to Buzatto, some 35,000 members of the indigenous peoples in the state live in a space of less than 300 square kilometres (115 square miles) of territory.

Indigenous peoples in the area have often come into conflict with ranch owners and cattle farmers who settled on the peoples’ traditional lands in the past, and clashes have led to deaths on both sides.

Part of the blame has to be apportioned on the government’s decision to stop marking out territories for the indigenous people, Buzatto said.

Public attorney for the city of Dourados in Mato Grosso do Sul, Marco Antônio Delfino, explained that the situation was aggravated by the fact that indigenous peoples are usually restricted to low-paid manual labor jobs, such as cutting sugar cane.

He added local media in effect depicted tribe members as “obstacles to development.”

The report said the 684 suicides have been registered between 2000 and 2013.

According to Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, data from a state farmers’ association reveals that indigenous people are currently occupying around 80 private properties.

The Justice Ministry announced this February that it would conduct a feasibility study on renting land that now belongs to private land owners, with a view to turning them into indigenous areas, but no timeframe has yet been set for the study.

Mato Grosso do Sul state, in Brazil’s center-west region, is home to around 70,000 members of indigenous tribes, according to the ministry, which is the second biggest population in Brazil.

Between May 26-29, 500 members of over 100 of Brazil’s indigenous peoples are reuniting in the state of Goiás for a National Indigenous Mobilisation awareness campaign, highlighting the rights of native Indian populations and protesting against government legislation promoted by the Rural Caucus, whom they blame for their plight.

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