aThe first wave of Covid infections hit Manaus, Brazil, forcing residents to bury their loved ones in mass graves. Banda Ortega Witoto struggled with minimal protective gear to try and keep the virus at bay in long-neglected indigenous areas of Amazonian cities.
When ambulance services refused to dispatch vehicles to areas without medical infrastructure or running water, nursing technicians, simply bandas, took Covid patients to hospitals themselves.
“Our people have been left without any help, especially in the Amazon,” he said, providing tireless support, hope and reassurance to the community during a pandemic that has twice devastated the riverside city. Banda said. “This disrespect for our people does not stem from the pandemic. The pandemic has only exacerbated the state’s absenteeism and inaction,” she adds.
It was a criminally negligent official response to Covid that convinced Banda, 35, to run for federal vice president in this year’s parliamentary elections. If she succeeds, she will become the first indigenous Brazilian to win a general election in the state of Amazonas, home to the largest indigenous people in the country.
Bandas are part of a concerted effort to increase indigenous representation in politics at a time when Brazil’s indigenous peoples are suffering historic attacks on their rights.
Attacks on indigenous peoples and their lands have escalated under President Jair Bolsonaro, who has dismantled indigenous protection frameworks and emboldened land grabbers and other criminals. Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips were killed in June while documenting the persecution.
Brazil’s October 2 general elections have 181 candidates who identify as indigenous, a 36% increase in four years. Most of them are running for state or federal seats, and many are entering politics for the first time.
Brazil has so far elected only two indigenous representatives, Mario Journa of the Xavante tribe in 1982 and Joênia Wapichana of the Amazon state of Roraima in 2018.
“We are not in the decision-making forum because we have always said this state is not a place for Indigenous peoples and it is not a place for women. But that is exactly where we are. I’ve come to understand things,” says Vanda. “It is our right to occupy these spaces because our absence would mean we would lose access to public policy.”
Kleber Kalipuna, executive coordinator of Brazil’s largest indigenous organization, the Integration of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), said Wapichana’s defense of indigenous issues in parliament helped the indigenous movement gain momentum in the political arena. He said he was convinced of the importance of increasing the number of representatives.
APIB has launched a campaign to elect a “Headdress Caucus” in state and federal legislatures that will fight back against a disruptive agenda pushed by powerful rural lobbying.
Samara Pataxo, a member of the Pataxo tribe of Bahia and the first indigenous woman to serve in the High Electoral Court, said, “Today, political representation not only guarantees rights, but ensures the survival of indigenous peoples. We understand that it is essential for Center of diversity and inclusion.
If elected, Banda has said he will represent all indigenous Brazilians in Congress. Beyond protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, she calls for better education and health infrastructure. A policy for all underrepresented groups. economic empowerment of women; and sustainable development in the Amazon, where deforestation has surged under Bolsonaro’s watch.
“No one deserves to protect the Amazon more than the people who live there,” she said.
Political representation is also about reclaiming Brazil’s indigenous identity: the 2010 census identified only 0.5% of Brazilians as indigenous.
“There is historic violence in this country that erases our ethnic identity,” Banda said, adding that the figure is expected to rise when the latest census results are released later this year. I am looking forward to
She was born in the village of Alto Rio Solimões, 900 km (559 miles) west of Manaus, deep in the Amazon. However, her family left the community when she was still a child. It wasn’t until she was a young adult that she reconnected with her indigenous roots and the culture of the Witoto tribe, who hails from Colombia.
Today, Banda campaigns in indigenous costume and proudly displays traditional Witoto face paint. “I wear paint from my ancestral country in Colombia that represents the tail of the scorpion. The scorpion offers protection and is a symbol of strength. ,” she explains.
A challenge not to be underestimated. The state of Amazonas voted for Bolsonaro in 2018, albeit by a narrow margin, and in Congress he elected eight men. Four of them are members of the Anti-Indigenous Agribusiness Lobby. APIB is concerned about the safety of indigenous candidates in a ferocious campaign that can escalate into violence.
Still, Vanda is encouraged by the support she has received and is optimistic about the chances of victory that need to appeal to non-Indigenous voters. I want people to see me as a ray of light in these decision-making arenas,” she says.
APIB leader Kalipuna agrees. “Voting for an indigenous candidate is a vote that guarantees the survival of humanity.”