Brazilian Indigenous people gather in thousands to protest land rights infringements

June 13, 2024

Last April APIB and Hivos’ partner COIAB co-organized the largest gathering of Indigenous Peoples in the history of Brazil. More than eight thousand people from around two hundred different Indigenous ethnic groups attended the twentieth edition of the seven-day “Free Land Camp” (Acampamento Terra Livre) in the capital Brasília.

Hivos has a history of supporting the Free Land Camp, and this time our Voices for Just Climate Action program provided financial support to organize the camp and buy food and water for the attendees.

Throughout the week, people protested against the continued infringement of Indigenous People’s rights in Brazil, in particular land rights. Central to this struggle is the Marco Temporal (Temporal Milestone) thesis: a legal concept that nullifies Indigenous claims to huge swaths of land.

Indigenous gathering Brazil
Photo courtesy of APIB

Political tug-of-war

The Brazilian Supreme Court declared the Temporal Milestone to be unconstitutional in September 2023. However, this did not stop Brazil’s congress from trying to slip it into a new law. What followed was a complicated tug-of-war between President Lula – who is more supportive of Indigenous rights – and the farmer’s caucus that dominates congress. The country now awaits a second ruling from the Supreme Court.

Although the court is expected to declare the Temporal Milestone unconstitutional again, other parts of the new law remain a threat to the existing protected status of Indigenous land.

During the week, several protests called for demarcating Indigenous lands in Brazil, a key election promise of President Lula. In response to demands made by APIB, the government announced the creation of a task force aimed at unblocking pending land titling processes awaiting presidential approval.


APIB also reports that political pressures have risen alongside intensified violence against Indigenous people in the country. This is not a coincidence, according to the organization. In their eyes, what happens on the political stage directly contributes to violence on the ground: “For over 500 years, we have fought for our lives and territories, but violence against us was legalized last year with the approval of the genocide law [ed. the previously mentioned new law].”

Mental health

Another big topic during the Free Land Camp was mental health. A study by Harvard University and the Cidacs/Fiocruz Bahia health organization found that Indigenous people have the highest suicide and self-harm rates of the Brazilian population. Yet hospitalization rates after self-harm are lower amongst Indigenous people. The public Indigenous health service has fewer than 120 psychologists to provide mental health assistance for more than 800 thousand Indigenous people in the whole country.

The fight continues

This year the camp’s slogan was: “Our existence is ancestral. We’ve always been here.” Today, the ancestral rights of the Indigenous community remain under threat.

However, the departure of former anti-rights president Bolsonaro, the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Temporal Milestone, and the fact that APIB and COIAB managed to organize the largest gathering of Indigenous activists in the history of Brazil, are successes to be celebrated as we fight to protect Indigenous rights.