RIO DE JANEIRO ( Associated Press) – Brazil’s President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced Thursday that Sonia Guajazara will head a new ministry of indigenous peoples, tasked with overseeing policies ranging from land demarcation to health care .
Gujazara was elected to the Congress in October. He is a prominent face of the indigenous movement as he is the head of the main organization of tribes in Brazil and a member of the Guajajara of the Amazon. This year he made Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
“It is more than a personal achievement,” Gujazara said. “It is a collective achievement of indigenous peoples, a historic moment of reform in Brazil.” The creation of the ministry “is a confirmation of Lula’s commitment to us,” he wrote in a tweet.
Lula promised to create an indigenous ministry during his presidential campaign. He will return to power on January 1 after ruling from 2003 to 2010.
Guajazara’s appointment to that position is a 180-degree turn for the current Brazilian government. The incumbent president, Jair Bolsonaro, defeated in October, is opposed to indigenous rights and land, as well as having a history of racist statements. In 1998, while still a legislator, he gave a speech in the Brazilian Congress, where he praised the US Cavalry for “eliminating the Indians” and lamented that Brazil had not done the same.
Bolsonaro’s promises to develop the Amazon and the dismantling of environmental laws during his administration have led to an increase in the number of illegal loggers, miners and land thieves in Brazil’s indigenous territory. According to local indigenous organizations, some 20,000 gold miners now work illegally in the Yanomami tribal region alone.
Guajajara fiercely resisted attempts to legalize these policies. Between 2019 and 2020, five members of the tribe were killed fighting against illegal loggers.
Several indigenous organizations, including the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon, congratulated them on social media for the nomination, following the official announcement of her appointment and 15 others in the capital of Brasilia on Thursday.
Officials working on Indigenous affairs also congratulated the future minister and the wider Indigenous social movement on the nomination.
The land where Brazil’s indigenous people live is one of the most important carbon sinks in the world. The Amazon rainforest acts as a buffer against climate change by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide.
About 13% of Brazil’s territory – roughly the size of Colombia – is demarcated as an indigenous region. Most of it is in the Amazon and is covered by tropical rainforest.
The Associated Press’s climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.