Before I start working on an article, I do my research. This time, my focus was on Vítor Pinto, a 2-year old Brazilian indigenous who was tragically murdered by an unknown white man one day before New Year’s Eve. The keyword I first typed in was the name of the victim. The results didn’t show much about him, so I got more specific by adding “indigenous”. I still found no references. Finally, I added the word “murdered”, and found the answers I was looking for — but even the most recent reports of this case were from quite far back. This was despite the fact that I conducted my search in Portuguese, the language from the killed boy’s own country.
Unfortunately, this scenario quite accurately reflects a lot about the way Brazil treats its own natives. Our politics and media do not offer representation to this significant part of the population. Indigenous natives’ identities, cultural origin and (unfair) lives are unheard of. When a white person is killed, the whole country watches with bated breath. But when an indigenous person is the victim, it is overlooked.
Recently, for example, a 4-year old girl was killed by her father. We easily find news about her death, its consequent investigations and documents from the case. National TV programs and celebrities comment on her case; she creates national commotion. When I typed her name, Sophia Najjar, on Google, I found countless pages, pictures and videos about her. But, the fate of poor Vítor Pinto, who was killed by a sanguinary racist man on a bus station, only got coverage in regional news sites, and the occasional opinion piece. There is an obligatory political similarity about the homicides of these two children, that is, the imprisonment of their killers. Yet, the crimes differ in the repercussions each had on our ways of thought.
Nearly no one tried to think about why these two similar crimes were treated so differently. No historians, social scientists and politicians thought of Vítor, his mother, or his tribe, the Kaingangs, to analyze the differences between a white and an indigenous kid. No one tried to explain why they should be treated so dissimilarly. The white one went to death at the hands of her own father. The native kid was stabbed on his neck by an absolute stranger. This pattern has been present on America ever since its colonization. The white man kills the white man, and the white man also kills the native. The latter happens simply because of numeric hegemony, violence and more advanced war methods. The victimisation of indigenous peoples is a consequence of this violence.
But saying these words is practically null, as our indigenous and their supporters don’t have a voice. Everything they say to empower themselves and plead for minimum equal rights cannot be heard. Every time they peacefully try to show their power and knowledge, violence quickly overcomes them. Society sees the natives as the wild nonhuman beings shown on colonial romanticized paintings rather than as bones and flesh, with a rich and sustainable culture to show and such environment wisdom.
Racist violence against these people has been suppressing them and taking their essence for more than 500 years, through enslavement, exploitation and genocide. The colonizers destroyed their cultural units, expression and even their homes. The greed was banalized and constitutionalized, so ethics were thrown away. Natives still exist, but they are weak.
In 1967, the current government created an organ focused on improving the lives of these people, the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI). But ever since, its own members have been defrauding it, leaving the people that it should be protecting without medical assistance. These natives also suffer from drugs and alcohol problems (illegal commerces sustained by regional dealers), face lack of jobs opportunity out of their villages, can’t get fishes to their own consume because of dams construction, can’t receive aid and funds because of the government deviation, and to top it all off, their lands get each year smaller because of overly extensive and exploited livestock and agriculture.
It is clear that natives are on a difficult situation. But tragedies have been befalling them for so long, normalising these events. The people who damaged and still harm their cultures are those who have no sympathy for the plight of their ancestors. These people have so little conscience, that they ignore the terrible consequences of their acts. No matter how strongly this minority fights back, it must have the support of this generation and the following. Contrariwise, we risk losing natives and their culture; America’s most natural origin.
We have the means to altogether stop indigenous sidelining. Starting through small acts, we must enhance our NGOs (so we don’t depend on the dirty government money) and show the world that our indigenous deserve as much respect as everybody else. We must restore their lives and independence by offering them home and shelter, bringing them education, so they can be well integrated on society. We must help them to develop their countless talents, so they can get a better and growing income. There are indeed many steps to take. But we must hurry up. Nobody can predict who will be the next Vítor Pinto.