SÃO PAULO – More than 6,000 indigenous protestors have been camped in Brasília since August 22 in order to follow a Supreme Court deliberation regarding their land rights. Called Struggle for Life, the camp has received support from the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) and other Catholic organizations.

The Brazilian Supreme Court has taken up a case of land dispute involving an indigenous people in Santa Catarina State, in the southern region of Brazil. The case will affect the processes of giving land grants to indigenous communities in the country.

One of the elements which will be settled is the legitimacy of a legal thesis called “temporal landmark.” According to the thesis, only territories effectively occupied by native groups when the Brazilian Constitution was approved, in 1988, can be granted to indigenous peoples.

The theory is rejected by the protestors camped out in the capital.

“The Constitution guarantees the indigenous right to their traditional territories. But many groups had been displaced from their lands since the end of the 19th century. It makes no sense to say that their ancestral territories should not be granted to them just because they were not there in 1988,” said Sister Laura Vicuña Manso, an activist of CNBB’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI).

According to Manso, the “temporal landmark” is an “unconstitutional fraud” created by powerful economic groups that want to change the Constitution.

“That is why so many indigenous activists have gathered in Brasília to protest. This is the largest indigenous mobilization in the country’s history since the approval of the Constitution in 1988,” she said.

In a letter published on August 28, the indigenous movements said that they hope that the Supreme Court will “sacrament” their land rights, “which are not dependent upon a specific date that can confirm the occupation, as the invaders argue.”

“Our history has not begun in 1988; our struggles are centenary, that is, they have been in place since the Portuguese and successive European invaders arrived in our lands to get hold of our territories and their wealth,” the letter read.

In the document, the indigenous movement claimed that “with the temporal landmark thesis, the current colonizers want to ignore that we were already here when their ancestors decimated many of our ancestors, building over their corpses the current national State.”

The statement said that not only the indigenous groups, but humanity as a whole is threatened by the “policy of extermination and devastation of Mother Nature promoted by the economic elites, which inherited the greed of the expansionist colonial, mercantile, and feudal powers – and by statesmen like the genocidal [Brazilian President] Jair Bolsonaro.”

Bolsonaro has been a vocal opponent of new land grants for indigenous peoples since his 2018 electoral campaign. Supported by large landowners and agribusiness, he has said many times that during his administration, indigenous groups “would not receive a square inch of land.” Indeed, programs for processing land grant to traditional populations and peasants have almost all been frozen since he assumed office in 2019.

In their letter, the indigenous activists called the current administration’s policies as “racist” and “anti-indigenous.”

According to Roberto Liebgott, one of the CIMI’s coordinators, the “temporal landmark” should not be considered a legal thesis, but a political attack from agribusiness against indigenous rights.

“Juridically, it is an anomaly. It is contrary to the Constitution, which secures the fundamental indigenous rights to land and life,” he told Crux.

Liebgott said he believes that the Supreme Court will side with the indigenous groups.

“We think it will be finally buried under the rubble of totalitarianism, prejudice, and devastation which permeate the colonialist and racist milieu that sees the indigenous peoples as obstacles,” he said.

On August 24, CNBB’s President, Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo, and Secretary General, Bishop Joel Portella Amado, visited the camp in Brasília along with CIMI’s President, Archbishop Roque Paloschi.

“We have a long history, and part of that history is our commitment to the indigenous cause. We are here to express our hope, our expectation that the Supreme Court will overthrow the temporal landmark and respect the Federal Constitution,” Azevedo said.

He added that the supreme court justices should respect the current process of land grants, which respects the “the indigenous peoples and the wealth and the teachings that they bring to us.”

“We are by your side,” he told the indigenous demonstrators.

Paloschi told Crux that the Church cannot “stay silent at this moment.”

“We must say loud and clear that the State should respect the rights of the indigenous, considering that they are in the Constitution,” he said.

Paloschi added that the indigenous populations are not against development, as their opponents claim.

“They oppose a specific kind of development, the one that results in the poisoning of rivers, in the destruction of biomes, in the devastation of forests – a development model that concentrates income and generates poverty,” he said.