Sources

What Brazil Owes Its Indigenous Aikewara

A Brazilian Justice Ministry committee has officially apologized and offered reparations to the Aikewara, decimated in the early 1970s by army soldiers. But one more step is still needed.

A file photo of Aikewara
A file photo of Aikewara
Ywynuhu Surui*

-OpEd-

BELÉM — We, the Aikewara, a Tupi-Guarani group also known as "the Suruí do Pará," are writing this article so that everybody knows why on Sept. 19 we became the first indigenous people of Brazil to receive an official government apology, and to be granted reparations for our suffering. This was a historic day for us and for all the indigenous people of this country.

For 40 years, we waited for the Brazilian state to acknowledge the violence we endured during the era of military rule. We suffered both in our homeland and outside, without knowing why these men in uniforms came to our village to "hunt people down." Our grandfathers and fathers asked themselves "Why?" as the military killed their people.

Between 1971 and 1973, the Aikewara lived in fear, trembling at the first sound of a car or plane, immediately fearing they would be killed. Many had insomnia: They couldn't sleep because they were constantly threatened by Brazilian army soldiers.

The women were panic-stricken when the few among them who could speak a little Portuguese translated what the soldiers were saying, that the children needed to keep quiet or else they'd be killed. The adult men had all been taken away, forced to serve as guides for the soldiers in the forest, which we are very familiar with because it is our land.

For days and days the men walked through the forest. They didn't eat properly and were forced to carry heavy loads on their backs while being pushed, screamed at and threatened, sleeping outside in the forest, falling ill.

Regardless of the reparations we obtain, the Aikewara people will never forget these scenes of terror and torture, which everyone in the village witnessed and was subjected to. While the army tried to crackdown on the Araguaia guerrilla, the Aikewara were prisoners in their own homes, locked inside. Children, the elderly and women starved because they were stripped of the right to come and go on their own land.

As children, all of us heard the stories that our grandparents told for years and years. Today we are ourselves parents and some even grandparents. Now we understand why they shared these memories so often, and why we must keep telling our children and grandchildren the story of the Aikewara people.

That, however, is not how we would like to be remembered in our country’s history.

It is a sad thing that we had to fight and lose so many lives to live in a democracy. For freedom, we lost real heroes who can never be forgotten, whose efforts were cut short by violence and death. It is thanks to the bravery of these people that we can now demonstrate for our rights.

Now that our suffering has been legally acknowledged by the Justice Ministry's Brazilian Amnesty Commission, we await the most important reparation of all: the restitution of the indigenous land of Tuwa Apekuokawera, which is part of our territory and was taken away 40 years ago. Only when our territory has been returned to us and protected will we be able to go back to living in peace.

*Ywynuhu Surui is an Aikewara and headmaster of the Moroneikó Indigenous School in the northern state of Pará.

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