Brazil’s indigenous population

Brazil’s indigenous population includes nearly 900,000 people and more than 300 unique groups. They face a litany of issues including discrimination, threats to their native lands and extreme poverty. Here are six facts about Brazil’s indigenous population.

6 Facts About Brazil’s Indigenous Population

  1. Indigenous people can be found living in areas ranging from Brazil’s cities to remote regions of the Amazon rainforest. Totaling over 300 groups, they represent a diverse and varying subsect of the Brazilian population. Depending on a group’s culture, history or location, they encounter different problems and require separate solutions. This is essential to keep in mind when discussing issues facing Brazil’s indigenous population as a whole.
  2. Indigenous Brazilians endure severe forms of discrimination and prejudice. As recently as the 1960s, there was a coordinated effort to eradicate Brazil’s indigenous population entirely. The “Figueiredo report” details the genocide, torture, rape and enslavement of indigenous people during a 30 year period. Today, the period’s brutal legacy lives on. “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians,” Brazil’s recently elected president Jair Bolsonaro once said.
  3. Due to discrimination, Brazil’s indigenous population’s access to education and health care is limited compared to their non-indigenous compatriots. A 2008 United Nations report highlighted the low education and health standards endured by this population. Additionally, reports allege that they are often denied care by public health services due simply to their affiliation with indigenous groups.
  4. Many of Brazil’s indigenous population have been crowded into reservations that are constantly shrinking in size. Brazilian businesses and the government have partnered to continue deforestation of the Amazon, which is home to many indigenous tribes. The largest tribe left is the Guarani, with roughly 51,000 members, but most of their land has been replaced by cattle farms and sugar cane plantations. Armed bands of “grileiros” have recently launched attacks on indigenous communities, pushing them further into the Amazon, burning the rainforest, and planting grass for cattle. The NGO Repórter Brasil published a report in 2019 that found that 14 indigenous communities are currently being invaded or are seriously threatened by one.
  5. These conditions have led to a reality where many of Brazil’s indigenous population live in extreme poverty. While no official count exists, it is widely maintained that indigenous groups face poverty at a much higher rate than the rest of Brazil.
  6. NGOs such as Survival International and Cultural Survival provide hope for Brazil’s struggling indigenous population. These NGOs attempt to lobby international organizations and human rights groups on issues of indigenous concern, such as the issues outlined above. Both groups identify international action as the only viable path left for indigenous Brazilians. Cultural Survival works with indigenous groups to develop media and advocacy projects; thus far, the organization has invested $2.5 million into indigenous groups. Further, the team actively trains members to become community radio journalists, allowing for indigenous groups to have a voice in the media.

Pushed from native lands and facing serious threats to life, many members of indigenous groups are doing what they can to survive in a nation often hostile and violent towards them. “Today, we are seeing the biggest attack on our rights in Brazilian history,” said indigenous lawmaker Joênia Wapichana.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr


Epilepsy, Indigenous
Epilepsy represents an important public health issue, particularly in low-income communities where significant disparities are present in the care available to patients with epilepsy.

Where there is annually between 30 to 50 per 100 thousand people in the general population in high-income countries who suffer from epilepsy, this figure could be two times higher in low- and middle-income countries. Up to 80 percent of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income communities.

Due to the higher incidence of psychological stress, nutritional deficiencies and missed medication, poverty-stricken countries are prompted with greater seizure triggers, situations that precipitate seizures. Mortality associated with epilepsy in low-income countries is substantially higher because of untreated epileptic seizures.

According to a study by The World Bank, indigenous peoples are more likely to be poor as opposed to the general population due to their likelihood of living in rural areas and lack of education. Therefore, what can be said about their epilepsy rates?

Epilepsy in Indigenous Populations

Within the indigenous populations of Bolivia, the prevalence of this non-communicable disease is 12.3 persons out of 1000. This prevalence is also reflected within Canada’s First Nations, wherein 122 per 100,000 persons were found to have epilepsy, twice more than the non-indigenous populations. The numbers were even greater among the Australian Aboriginals, with over 44 percent of patients who were admitted to hospitals identifying as indigenous.

Despite the similarity in epilepsy syndromes among the indigenous and non-indigenous populations, the former presents with more serious degrees of the disease when diagnosed. Research has stated this is related to the inequitable access of healthcare resulting from geographic isolation and cultural issues to treatment.

Geographic Isolation and Epilepsy

The Bolivian Guaraní live in the Bolivian Chaco, a hot and semi-arid region of the Río de la Plata Basin. This area is sparsely populated, but of the 49 percent of indigenous persons, 68.9 percent of them live in conditions of poverty, with everyday issues of energy and sanitation.

Nevertheless, in 2012, an educational campaign directed to the Bolivian Guaraní has been implemented by general practitioners to teach the population about the main causes of epilepsy, its diagnosis, treatment and first aid. They also target the social stigma that exists around the disease.

With the help of programs like Bono Juana Azurduy, Programa Mi Salud, Ley de Gratuidad and Seguros Departamentales, there has been an increase in the social security and improvement in the treatment for epilepsy among the geographically isolated community.

Cultural Issues

Apart from geographic isolation, indigenous populations such as the Aboriginals of Australia also have traditional health beliefs about the causes of epilepsy. For instance, environmental factors like the moon are seen as an epileptic precursor. They also associate a connection with the supernatural due to transgressions as causes of the diseases, making it more difficult to find treatment for the neurological condition.

When such cultural issues arise due to a difference in beliefs, it is important for general practitioners and patients to find a suitable course of treatment that is acceptable for both parties. Various clinics in Far North Queensland, where many Aboriginals reside, have assessed and managed the situation through gathering as much information as possible about the person’s original function and the impact of the disease on them.

They also advise other hospitals treating Aboriginal people to identify and implement strategies, whether they be medication, behavioral, environmental or social, to be developed in conjunction with the patient, their families and communities. In time, it is believed that this will lead to the best interim solution for all parties in the support network and the patient themselves.

Within the Aboriginals living in Canada, the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS) has also successfully delivered treatment for epilepsy patients by working as a liaison between service agencies and clients to find the best possible treatment. Their services extend to alleviate anxiety from patients who have previously had negative experiences with healthcare.

Moving Forward

Knowing that epilepsy is a neurological condition that receives substantial stigma in indigenous communities, there is a barrier for patients to have access to biomedical treatment and have it become integrated within the society they live in. Therefore, in order to reduce the burden of epilepsy in poor regions of the world, and especially within indigenous populations, hospitals, non-governmental organizations and the government have much to do. Aid can come in the form of risk factor prevention, offering check-up clinics in rural areas, stigma-reducing educational programs, improving access to biomedical diagnosis and treatment as well as providing a continuous supply of good quality anti-epileptic drugs to patients who need it, irrespective of their background.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Pixabay

Education for Indigenous People
The indigenous community of many countries often becomes the most disadvantaged group of people in the country. In Latin America and the Caribbean, only about 40 percent of aboriginal children complete their secondary education.

The U.N. is promoting the need for greater access to education for indigenous people with events in many countries around the world including Colombia, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Peru and Sri Lanka. One of the major hurdles facing the global education sector in order to provide education for indigenous communities around the world is providing an education that fulfills their linguistic and cultural necessities.

Many indigenous children are unable to take full advantage of the education provided to them by their country because of linguistic and cultural barriers. A country’s educational system most often utilizes their national language, which disregards native languages spoken by indigenous communities. Particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, history lessons focus on teaching history from the colonial empirical standpoint versus the perspective of the indigenous community.

By not providing the tools necessary for public education for indigenous people, they will be marginalized in the wider community. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Indigenous peoples regularly face stigmatization of their cultural identity and lack of respect and recognition for their heritage and values, including in textbooks and other educational materials.” This creates an uncomfortable learning environment for indigenous students in schools where they are often the minority.

The lack of assistance towards the indigenous community is most evidently seen in the statistics that reveal that indigenous people represent only five percent of the global population but account for 15 percent of the world’s most impoverished according to the World Bank.

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) reports that in Latin America alone there are about 41 million, or about 6.3 percent, of the region’s population that identify as indigenous people. Most governments in the region have chosen not to accommodate the needs of the students belonging to this demographic which explains why graduation rates are much lower compared to the national majority population.

When discussing countries like Bolivia, where 10.6 million of the population, or 62 percent, identify themselves as belonging to an indigenous community, it’s a problem that must be addressed. UNICEF stated that in Bolivia, a non-indigenous child in an urban zone belonging to the upper-middle class completes approximately 14.4 years in education, while an indigenous girl in a rural zone from a low-income family is only able to complete two years of education.

All indigenous people are at a disadvantage in Australia. Participation of indigenous 15 to 19-year-olds in higher education was 60 percent in 2013, below the 80 percent participation for all Australians in the same age group. The numbers concerning indigenous communities can be disheartening but the U.N. has called on all countries to improve the lives of 370 million indigenous people.

Although currently, indigenous communities worldwide have been marginalized, they are finally receiving the international recognition they deserve in terms of education. Experts suggest that the solution to the problem lies in providing education for indigenous people that is linguistically and culturally fitting for each community. Special attention is being given to girls and women because they are at an even greater disadvantage and possibly in more danger than their male counterparts.

The U.N. has declared a firm position on the issue concerning the report that is due to be released later this year on the education of indigenous communities worldwide. The World Bank has also shown solidarity by working actively with indigenous people worldwide on a number of issues. The topic of educating indigenous people is now part of the global education conversation.

Mariana Camacho

Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Knowledge: Key to Coping with Climate Change?
It is no mystery these days that scientists have told Africa to brace itself for potentially devastating impacts of global climate change, and that the rural and the poor are likely to be hit the hardest. However, recent findings reported at the UNESCO scientific conference in Paris last month proposed that these rural areas, and the native farmers and pastoralists who live there, may actually be the most prepared to respond to a changing climate.

Benoit Hazard, an anthropologist from Institut National des Sciences Humaines et Sociales in Kenya researching resilience in East Africa, thinks the indigenous knowledge of local agriculturalists has already prepared them to adapt to sudden climate changes–and Hazard thinks this knowledge ought to be more widely implemented.

“We have traditional societies with specific knowledge to link things with ecological conditions, who know where water sources are and how to adapt. They need to be supported to mix their knowledge with agriculture practices,” said Hazard.

According to the research findings, those practicing more traditional farming methods tend to be much more sensitive to ecological changes, like drought for example. They also understand how to change their practices in order to not only adapt for themselves but to also not overburden the natural resources.

In addition to understanding how to utilize natural resources in a sustainable way, farmers who practice this type of agro-ecology, most often invest in a variety of agricultural products, such as livestock, crops, and the use of pollinators. Mixing these resources in a way that blends with the natural ecology of the landscape creates agriculture that has a higher chance of adapting with its environment.

Other farmer innovations stemming from traditional knowledge include planting indigenous crops, utilizing organic fertilizer and even using waste crop material to increase crop fertility.

Hazard suggested at the UNESCO conference that these traditional practices needed to be taught and encouraged more broadly and that combining new agricultural advances with the indigenous knowledge that has allowed East Africans to succeed in such a harsh climate is key to surviving potentially harsher future climates.

Gina Lehner

Sources: allAfrica, United Nations Environment Program
Photo: Our World


As the world became increasingly globalized and populated, many companies struggled to keep up with the demand for their goods. When they came upon the abundance of resources and land that lay within the Amazon rainforest, those struggles seemed to melt away; however, this marked the beginning of many issues for the people living within this tropical wonderland.

The Amazon rainforest has one of the largest collections of plant and animal species in the entire world. There are countless organisms within its realm that have not even been discovered yet. However, many creatures, insects, flora and more will remain undiscovered and unknown to us because their habitats are being destroyed by large corporations clearing land for factories and plantations.

However, the flora and fauna are not the only ones in danger. Several of the indigenous tribes in the Amazon have lost their homes and sources of income and food. These individuals had learned to live off of the land sustainably and had carried on living this way for thousands of years, but are now left to find alternate methods of work and shelter with little to no time at all.

Since many of the indigenous people have gone most of their lives without a strong education, corporations are hiring them to work in the very factories for which their homes were destroyed. In these factories, workers receive meager wages and are forced to work in tough conditions; many report illnesses from the pesticides and chemicals used in the preparation of the goods that they are producing.

In most countries, the government could begin to take action against big companies coming in and destroying the environment. With the amazing profit that is being generated, however, it is no wonder that many Latin American governments are not taking the steps to prevent this movement. While this—working in factories located on land cleared in the Amazon rainforest—is the case for some, high concentrations of indigenous people can be found in urban areas. These individuals have come here to get work and perhaps to adapt themselves to a different way of life. Many of the indigenous people feel targeted as more and more laws are made to rip them from their land, forcing them into lives of submission. For many, this is not tolerable, and thus many guerrilla, anti-government militant factions gain support. However, some NGOs are ready to turn all of this around.

One NGO called Escuela Nueva is doing wonderful work to shift the focus of the classroom from the teachers to the students. This Colombian-based organization has expanded to include over 14 Latin American countries and strives to promote a new, innovative and interactive classroom style. This gives the children the feeling that they are in control of their own futures and provides them with a chance to rise up. Since 1993, several studies have shown that the techniques used in Escuela Nueva have raised grades and self-esteem, promoted gender equality and increased cooperation. This model has been recognized as one of the top education reforms in the world and has been implemented in several other developing countries.

It is hard to imagine a life without a home and without great promise of a future, but somewhere deep within the Amazon rainforest, hope is growing among a people who are not yet ready to give up.

– Sumita Tellakat

Sources: IR Online, IWGIA
Photo: Mexika Resistance