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Maracanã Village and University: The Saga of Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance in the Heart of Rio de Janeiro

Leia em português

By Edson Krenak (Krenak, CS Staff)

Indigenous Peoples in urban contexts often face unique challenges, including marginalization and lack of recognition of their cultural identity. Sometimes, they are invisible even to other Indigenous organizations and relatives. Urbanization is one of the legacies of colonization that grows and deeply impacts Indigenous Peoples, threatening their very existence. Despite living in cities, they retain distinct social, cultural, and economic practices linked to their Indigenous heritage. Urban Indigenous populations require legal frameworks that recognize and protect their rights to maintain and develop their cultural traditions, languages, and community structures. In Brazil, the majority of Indigenous people (64 percent) live outside of traditional territories and reside in cities. Therefore, it is crucial that urban policies incorporate specific measures to support their integration without assimilation, ensuring access to health, education, and employment opportunities while safeguarding their right to participate in decisions that affect their lives and communities. I spoke with Monica Lima Mura Manaú Arawak, whose work focuses on education and how she and her community fight for recognition and protection. 

Edson Krenak: Can you introduce yourself by sharing your story and the history and origins of the Maracanã Village movement, as well as that of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Maracanã Village?

Monica Arawak: I am Mônica Lima Mura Manaú Arawak, a teacher and student at the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Maracanã Village. I am also a teacher at the Secretary of Education for prison schools in Rio de Janeiro and at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).

I am an Indigenous person who was born in the city that invaded the forest (an Indigenous person in an urban context), and this was the first violence I suffered.

My grandparents were brought from the Amazon and the Rio Negro, which was part of their territory, to be enslaved in the city of Rio de Janeiro. My grandfather became enslaved in construction, and my grandmother as a domestic worker, without even speaking Portuguese.

The second violence I suffered was not being recognized as an Indigenous woman by the State, its institutions, and even by my own relatives. But I know who I am, just as I know that the Rio Negro lives in me. Its waters are my waters.

The idea of reclaiming Maracanã Village was born at the Terra Livre Camp at the beginning of [President] Lula's government when we occupied the Ministry Plateau in Brasília. In 2006, we organized a congress at the State University of Rio de Janeiro together with the Tamoios Indigenous movement, which had representatives from different Indigenous ethnic groups, and we also joined unions and social movements. At the end of the congress, we reclaimed the sacred territory of Maracanã Village, where the old Indian Museum, now deteriorating, is located next to the Maracanã stadium. (Maracanã is already an Indigenous word and has the shape of a Maracá.)

Recognizing the issue of Indigenous people living in urban areas, which, according to Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), make up 64 percent of the Brazilian Indigenous population, there are more than 20,000 Indigenous inhabitants of the city of Rio de Janeiro representing various Indigenous ethnicities. They are inhabitants of the metropolitan region and the complex favelas of Rio de Janeiro, who have been meeting and self-organizing since the 1990s here in the recognized Pluriethnic Indigenous University. In October 2006, as a result of the resolution of the First Tamoio Congress of Original Peoples, held at UERJ, representatives of 20 Indigenous ethnicities and various social movements and traditional Peoples occupied the space of the old Indian Museum, now Aldeia Maracanã.

During Eco 92, we talked about the Indigenous University. During Rio + 20 we deepened the debate with some of the leaders who were present. When we reclaimed the Indigenous territory of Aldeia Maracanã, we also reclaimed this dream and project of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Aldeia Maracanã. In practice, the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Aldeia Maracanã has existed for two decades with laboratories and courses in different areas of ancestral knowledge such as Indigenous languages, agroecology, environmental education, design, music, arts and theater, female empowerment, matrilineal ancestral medicine, forest medicine, permaculture, ecology, environmental justice, community management, political training, permaculture, crafts, Indigenous women, among others.  We are a living museum disseminating our ancestral culture.

Throughout the creation of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Aldeia Maracanã, we received Professor Catharine Wash, Minister Oscar Oliveira from [former Bolivian President] Evo Morales' government, Professor Carlos Walter, among other distinguished debaters on the topic.

We also held four international Indigenous congresses where we discussed the project and model of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Aldeia Maracanã. In these congresses, the discussion was had with Indigenous bases from Rio de Janeiro (mainly the Indigenous people who are in the favela complexes) and nearby villages. In these congresses, we received members and professors from various countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Canada.

We are autonomous and value our self-management. We are a university created and managed by Indigenous people from different ethnicities without the supremacy of one ethnicity over another. We do not want a university where white people have supremacy and continue to tell us what we need to know and that we have to be recognized by the colonial and capitalistic State and by the colonizers. We do not claim the concept of "allowed" or “tutored Indian” because we are the true owners of these lands of Pindorama in this "Patria Amaada” (“beloved nation,” as Brazil is known in the national anthem).

Currently, we are advocating to be part of the National Commission for Indigenous Education and the National Agency for Higher Education (ANPED). We have this legitimacy because we have been a living and organic university for two decades.

EK: How does the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Maracanã Village address the challenges and aspirations of Indigenous communities, especially urban ones, in Brazil?

MA: As a space for meeting, knowledge exchange, articulation, (re)production of collective knowledge, communication, social struggle, redefinition of strategies, joint action, and strengthening the resistance of Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities, Quilombolas, Afro-descendants, fishers, artisans, peasants, favela residents, resistance groups from communities affected by large capitalist enterprises and events in an urban situation, and students and researchers who are engaged and recognized for their active involvement in resistance movements.

It is also a space for critical political training against the dominant socio political economic and cultural development model, proposing perspectives and strategies to overcome this model, in the geopolitical space of the globalized capitalist model city that hosted the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

[It is] a reconstitutive space for resolution, the political-pedagogical project, and the principles of community management of resistance movements and the village university of the Marakánà Peoples; a space for promoting research, teaching, and the valorization of the knowledge of Traditional Peoples and higher education.

The goal of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Maracanã Village is also to give visibility to and strengthen Indigenous agendas, whether from village or urban contexts. We participate in national and international debates on public policies for Indigenous Peoples, including official conferences. We are the pioneers in addressing the erasure of Indigenous Peoples in cities. For more than two decades, we have been discussing the issue of Indigenous people in urban contexts and the recovery of those who have lost awareness of their Indigenous identity. The Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Maracanã Village is a laboratory for articulation and political training from the Indigenous gaze and cultural perspective, presenting alternative worldviews to the destructive and diseased societal project we live in. It also functions as a welcoming center for Indigenous people both in and outside of Brazil.

Recently, we have also organized conferences with our Indigenous bases such as the Free Popular Conference of Indigenous People in Urban Contexts, the Indigenous Mental Health Conference, and the Indigenous Women and Mental Health Conference, among others. Our agendas for these conferences are mainly related to health, education, and Indigenous territories. We generate minutes and documents to demand and require the Brazilian State and the Lula administration to meet our demands.

A fifth international Indigenous congress is being organized. We will first have a pre-congress, which will be an International Meeting at UERJ on November 13 with the support of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Maracanã Village.

As we have always worked on the debate of Indigenous people in urban contexts and rejected the concept of the "allowed Indian" by the State and its institutions, unfortunately we have always been repudiated by the State that violates us by its racist institutions and by Indigenous movements that align with the State. We do not reconcile with the structure that murders us, nor do we allow ourselves to be capitulated, captured, or pacified by the same superstructure of the colonial State; we do not reproduce it in our practices. Our commitment is to these basic and profound principles of our convictions of self-government and decoloniality. 

Like any resistance or Indigenous community, we live the challenges and not the privileges of those in the structure of the State or governments. Many relatives prefer to cut into their own flesh when they become accustomed to the privileges of the structure, such as power and resources, and lose their identity consciousness. We are also not the type of 'well-behaved' Indigenous people that the State and governments imprison through negotiations to reproduce the politics of whites; we are free by our spirituality and essence because it is spirituality that guides us.

EK: With the growing phenomenon of urban Indigenous populations, how does the University bridge ancestral Indigenous traditions and the urban context?

MA: Even before any census, we had the perspective and sensitivity to redefine the identity of Indigenous people in an urban context. Our project has always been to Indigenize, to make people seek their roots and ancestry through ancestral memory, mainly matrilineal.

The 2022 census has shown, despite underreporting, that more than one million Indigenous people (63.27 percent) live outside homologated territories. The largest proportion is in the Southeast (where the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã is located), where 82.5 percent of self-declared Indigenous people live outside Indigenous lands, followed by the Northeast (75.43 percent) and the North (57.99 percent). Together, Amazonas and Bahia account for 46.46 percent of the total Indigenous people in this situation. 

But even though Rio de Janeiro has the highest proportion of non-village Indigenous people and the importance of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã in this recognition and identity advancement, the State, governments, and Indigenous institutions insist on categorizing us in the "non-place," or place of non-existence, as we are the state with the fewest public policies aimed at Indigenous people. That is, our rights are being denied by the complicity of those who ignore the data and have no commitment to the cause and Indigenous agendas. 

The greater contradiction is ignoring the well-recognized Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã, if it is the one that most works to meet the demands of these "non-existent" Indigenous people for the State, and for the Indigenous institutions. However, the Indigenous people who live in the Aldeia Maracanã are aware of their territory and identity very much because of the pedagogy and politics applied at this University and also because of its welcoming practices of recognition. It strikes us as odd that Rio Grande do Sul, which has fewer Indigenous people than Rio de Janeiro, receives more Indigenous people in its universities than Rio de Janeiro. We need to advance in this sense.

The formation of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã in 2006 grew out of resistance to colonization of some of these thousands of Indigenous people in urban situations in the city of Rio de Janeiro in a movement that has two important origins, one diffuse and the other specific. The diffuse origin is expressed in the cultural formation of popular spaces and in the denomination in Tupi language of its geographic spaces, whether in the use of the word of muytiró (Guarani origin) for the designation of mutirão (collective work) of self-construction of houses, sanitation systems, lighting, supply, survival, etc. in favelas and common spaces. Whether in the preservation of kinship systems in villages in the suburbs, or whether in the individual and collective trajectory of various “unvillaged” Indigenous people, the history of articulation of this social group, its self-organization, has its historical origin in the formation of the University in the 1990s in the common spaces and favelas of Rio de Janeiro. It is a story of encounters and paths, which, in October 2006, finally emerged and expressed itself through the realization of the Tamoio Congress of Original Peoples and in the occupation and realization of the social function of the property dedicated to Indigenous culture (which had been abandoned by the State since 1978) in the Maracanã neighborhood, bringing together representations of about 20 Indigenous ethnicities of the 3 linguistic trunks constitutive of the pre-colonial populations native to the territory that is modern-day Brazil.

Since then, this community has been actively fighting to preserve and rebuild its foundations based on principles of a pluriethnic, intercultural community. Their goal is resistance as a means for ethnic survival, recognition, affirmation, and cultural promotion, which strengthens the protagonism and struggles of these peoples. As a reference point for Original and Traditional Peoples in Rio de Janeiro, they interact with groups affected by large capitalist projects such as mega hydroelectric, mining, and infrastructure projects in the Amazon, and general logistics projects in Gerais. They build resilience through self-governance, engaging with various allies including those displaced from Rio's favelas and neighborhoods, as well as Brazilian and international academic institutions, human rights defenders, historical minorities, artistic, religious, and spiritual groups, and those advocating for the rights of nature.

We build, with these actors, the construction of spaces for free formation and experimentation for teaching and research of the Tupi Language, for the formation of a cinealdeia (cinema club), for the formation of the circle of time of women of the villages, the circle of ritual living of the forest cosmology, a circle of matrilineal ancestral medicine, of meetings, plenaries, lectures, debates, assemblies of various social movements carried out, together, in this common space of local, regional, national, and international resistances. [We are constructing] the movement in the streets for the reinvention of politics, for the destitution of authorities who committed abuse of political and economic power against minorities, against social regression, against the current model of capitalist development, against the systematic violation of the rights of Indigenous and oppressed proletarianized minorities, for the return of the Indigenous management territory of Aldeia Maracanã, and for the guarantee of the rights to land, nature, and all oppressed and exploited minorities, of all Original and Traditional Peoples!

We share an intense experience of intercultural class formation in the struggle that in a modern-colonial and/or postmodern order, presents us with new alter-globalist perspectives. Habit, culture, and myth, the learning through the living of the cosmology of the Peoples of the forest, the woods, nature, in rituals of recognition of the creative and epistemic relationship of production of a matrilineal ancestral medicine, is an exercise done together in the villages of domesticating the forces of nature (and culture) by the whole community, with prominence, by experience, by the pajés (shamans) and the tamui (Elders), together with all who share their knowledge and/or power of healing.

Various cultural activities and debates happen concurrently to our courses, and we receive many visitors with whom we are forming and initiating the process of ancestral and spiritual rescue. Connections are also fostered through experiences at Aldeia Maracanã, where students and teachers collaboratively organize the self-managed Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã.

We have broken the barriers and institutional and generational vices to decolonize white and racist institutions and the relatives who value this racist and colonial construction of the State. We work in this deconstruction. That is why we are attacked and they try to expel us from our lands. However, the management is, and will always be, Indigenous. That is the cure and the solution to the ecological challenges we are facing.

EK: How has the institution influenced or redefined the broader perception and understanding of Indigenous cultures, especially in an urban setting like Rio de Janeiro? Could you provide examples of this resistance struggle?

MA: It's a two-way street, as we host students from other schools and universities daily at the University, and we also visit schools and universities for debates and lectures. This is how training through our multi and intercultural resistance takes place. One of our pillars is critical interculturality. It's a daily effort to redefine, in the common sense, what it means to be Indigenous.

Many of us who teach at the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Aldeia Maracanã are also teachers at other universities or schools, and even at community pre-college courses in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. There are also various spaces for public education where Indigenous people are working on intercultural training projects according to Indigenous culture.

The Peoples of Maraká’nà took to the streets in 2013 and are mobilized, in struggles, in resistance processes against the dominant forces of the capitalist state. We resist processes of arbitrary removal, lack of fairness, and racism in the implementation of large capitalist enterprises in Rio de Janeiro, in the Amazon, in Mato Grosso do Sul, in Maranhão, in Brasília, from the Southern, Southeastern, Northern, and Northeastern regions. Throughout Brazil, descendants of the Tupi, Arawak, and Gê nations, from Angola, from Africa, from Taksim Square, from Palestinian Territories, from Chiapas, in manifest silence, are the Peoples of resistance.

To the perplexity of those who predicted the end and/or dilution of Traditional Peoples in the dominant culture, we continue to grow demographically and reaffirm ourselves as culturally separate in Brazil and in most countries of Abya Yala and around the world. Indigenous Peoples are considered extinct or reborn like a phoenix from the ashes; few pay attention to this spiritual path of rebirth. The Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã is not only attentive, but fosters this spirituality. These are Peoples who resist and put the dominant system in check. Various historically oppressed ethnicities who were removed, withdrawn, dispossessed, anonymized, or exterminated found in the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maraká’nà a space of resistance, reclamation, reterritorialization, survival, recognition, and affirmation, a place for community living and the production of art, knowledge, and counterculture.

We have been attacked by the State and even evicted from our territory, but still, we returned with our rituals and classes, even with the repression present to violate us.  We reclaimed the portal Aldeia Maracanã countless times. And the great masses recognize us, so much so that in the 2013 uprising, the crowd shouted in the demonstrations, "Aldeia Reexiste! (The Community Re-exists! A play on words combining ‘resist’ and ‘exist’), Countless times the demonstrations would end up at the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã. We may not be recognized by the institutions of the State, but we are recognized by the masses, with whom we really dialogue to construct concrete transformations.

Our cultural and political resistance crosses the ecological transition in the sense that our Indigenous practices are the technological alternatives to postpone the end of humanity with its managers and corporations that unbalance the cycles of Mother Nature, Mother Earth, the great womb that bore us.

We present the bases and principles of Indigenous management of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maraká’ànà, for the purposes of recognition and partnership by Indigenous institutions, the Ministry of Education (MEC), the Indigenous Peoples Ministry (MPI), National Agency for Higher Education (ANPED), and universities for development and formalization as a Management Plan of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã.

We list below the bases and principles of Indigenous management of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maraká’ànà:

  1. Immediate reestablishment of the Indigenous territoriality of Aldeia Maracanã as an Indigenous management territory, encompassing the entire perimeter required and recognized in the judicial sentence (14,300 square meters) as a fundamental condition for the establishment of a living village, aimed at directly benefiting a community of over 40,000 Indigenous inhabitants, mainly from the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro, through the Indigenous representative institution, Center for Socio-cultural and Environmental Ethno Knowledge (CAIURÉ).
  2. Recognition and reinstatement of the management process carried out according to and by Indigenous uses and traditions since October 2006, involving activities for the affirmation, promotion, defense, and exercise of Indigenous culture and rights, and the resumption of this process and the establishment of a process for the reconstitution and formalization of its Intercultural Indigenous Management Plan.
  3. Guarantee of protection of Indigenous rights  by the responsible agencies as per the Federal Constitution (MPF, Federal Justice office, and Funai State Indigenous Agency);
  4. Guarantee of the use and social function of the urban land of Indigenous management for cultural purposes of affirmation, exercise, community coexistence, promotion, and defense of Indigenous rights and cultures;
  5. Guarantee of university residence for purposes of coexistence and intercultural training of villagers, knowledge exchange, shelter in situations of risk and need for welcoming Indigenous people and their descendants;
  6. Preservation of the property (territory) and expansion of Indigenous use and management of all 14,300 square meters;
  7. Autonomy in social, political, cultural, and economic use and management;
  8. Plurality and interculturality with full respect for differences – Being a space free of oppressions and of any form of prejudice, such as racism, sexism, or exclusion due to cultural differences, habits, and customs;
  9. Indigenous intercultural self-affirmation;
  10. Exercise of uses, customs, traditions, contemporary intercultural dynamics, and Indigenous management;
  11. Space for recognition and production of strategic knowledge for the defense and promotion of national and international Indigenous rights and struggles;
  12. Immediate demarcation of the space (property) of Aldeia Maracanã for the realization and development of its Indigenous management;
  13. Holding of an Indigenous Congress to advance the discussion of the Political-Pedagogical Project of the Pluriethnic Indigenous University of Aldeia Maracanã, with the participation of representations from villages, ethnicities, organizations, and Indigenous and social movements recognized by the village community in defense of Indigenous rights and the Aldeia.

EK: One last question about MPI and its proposal for an Indigenous university. What do you think about the ministry's performance, and what is the relevance of an Indigenous university?

MA: Despite the importance of creating the MPI, little progress has been made on Indigenous agendas, especially regarding urban Indigenous issues and land demarcation. The same can be said for FUNAI.

We, the Indigenous Peoples, need to have our own autonomous university to disseminate and deepen ancestral knowledge with our pedagogy, our worldview, our epistemology, and especially with our protagonism. The colonial university and Cartesian science do not serve and do not respect our diversity of cultures and ethnicities. Support for the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã and our possibility to reinvent reality depends on the acquisition of resources and funding that are denied to us. Unfortunately, the MPI and other involved institutions deny our expertise as the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã.

A network of self-defense and other demands such as the protagonism of Indigenous women urgently needs to be expanded, but we women from the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã, and our network of women's articulation, are non-existent to the women who lead and manage the MPI, Funai, APIB, MEC, ANPED, ABA (Brazilian Association of Anthropologists), etc.

It is inconceivable that the MPI, MEC, ANPED, ABA, and APIB ignore our history of resistance and struggle in the field of Indigenous education. But you can't block out the sun with a sieve. We are the Pluriethnic Indigenous University Aldeia Maracanã, a living university, and history shows and will continue to show who we are.

Você pode ler a versão em português aqui.