Indigenous Woman Honored With Human Rights Award

Joênia Batista de Carvalho, 30, a Wapixana woman, mother of two, and Brazil’s first female indigenous lawyer, received a Reebok Human Rights Award in May 2004. The award recognizes her efforts to secure indigenous people’s rights to their ancestral lands against the encroachment of outside commercial, farming, and hunting interests, and her work to defend indigenous victims of human rights violations in Brazil.

Batista de Carvalho was raised in poverty. As a Wapixana Indian, she faced discrimination at school—for being poor, for being indigenous, and for being a woman—after her family moved from an isolated Amazonian village to the city of Boa Vista. She credits her rebellious spirit for her decision to go to law school. Becoming the first indigenous woman lawyer was not Batista de Carvalho’s only “first.” She took the highly contested land claim involving the demarcation of Raposa Serra do Sol, Brazil’s largest indigenous reserve, to the Brazilian Supreme Court and to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

One of Brazil’s leading spokespersons for indigenous rights, Batista de Carvalho represents indigenous people’s interests to the press, organizes campaigns, and attempts to bridge the gap between indigenous communities and governmental authorities. She also holds workshops to teach people their legal rights and strategies for organizing themselves as a community.

Established in 1988, the Reebok Human Rights Award honors activists 30 years old or younger who, often at great personal risk, have made significant contributions to the field of human rights through nonviolent means.

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