Cowboys and Indians, 1994

Brazilian Indians threaten suicide over loss of their land

Over 200 Guarani-Kaiowa Indians are prepared to die rather than abandon their home. They are being driven from their land by a lawsuit filed by a rancher who claims ownership of more than half of the Kaiowa’s 2,350-hectare reserve in the southwest state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Although Brazil’s justice minister declared the disputed lands a permanent possession of the Kaiowa in 1992, land ownership policy allows court challenges to such decisions prior to final presidential decree. In November 1993, a federal judge ruled in the rancher’s favor and ordered the Indians to vacate by last February. The Kaiowa are appealing, however, and await a final decision.

Mass suicides by Indians have occurred before: Brazilian government statistics show that 117 Guarani tribespeople (88 of whom were Kaiowa) committed suicide betwen 1986 and 1993, though Indians place the toll at 300. “The suicides are a result of these people being evicted from their lands,” says Jose Borges of Rainforest Action Network.

More and more, indigenous groups in Brazil are being displaced by commercial interests such as mining and ranching. In the past 10 years, Indian-occupied territory in Mato Grosso do Sul may have shrunk by half.