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Brazil's supreme court rules in favour of Indigenous land rights

INDIGENOUS people in Brazil were celebrating this week after the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit to restrict native people’s rights to reservations on their ancestral lands.

The justices had been evaluating a lawsuit brought by Santa Catarina state, backed by farmers, seeking to block an Indigenous group from expanding the size of its territorial claim.

Nine out of 11 of the high court’s justices voted to support the Xokleng on Thursday.

The group were the victims of one of the most brutal land grabs in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mercenaries were hired to drive them away from their lands, collecting the ears of those they had killed to claim their reward.

There are some 2,300 Xokleng people living in Santa Catarina, south Brazil, in the Ibirama La-Klano lands alongside two other indigenous groups.

They were officially granted rights to Ibirama La-Klano, covering some 15,000 hectares of land, in 1996, but argued that the ancestral lands are much bigger.

This week’s case began in 2009 when the Xokleng were evicted by Santa Catarina from lands which form part of a nature reserve.

Santa Catarina state had argued a legal theory that the date Brazil’s constitution was promulgated — October 5 1988 — should be the deadline for indigenous peoples to have already either physically occupied land or be legally fighting to reoccupy territory.

The two justices who voted to support the state’s position had been appointed by former president Jair Bolsonaro, who was opposed to expanding indigenous territories and supported their assimilation.

Indigenous rights groups had argued that the concept of the deadline was unfair, saying it does not account for expulsions and forced displacements of indigenous populations, particularly during Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship.

Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib) argued that the legal challenge put at risk the status of Brazil’s hundreds of indigenous territories.

Apib executive co-ordinator Dinamam Tuxa said: “We’ve won the battle, but not the war.

“We will continue to fight for indigenous territories to be demarcated so that the rights of Indigenous peoples are safeguarded and protected.”

Dozens of Indigenous people in traditional yellow feather headdresses and body paint danced and sang in the capital of Brasilia after the vote was cast.

“I’m shaking. It took a while, but we did it,” said Jessica Nghe Mum Pripra, from the Xokleng group.

“It’s a very beautiful and strong feeling. Our ancestors are present — no doubt about it.”

Indigenous territories cover nearly 14 per cent of Brazil and the process to officially establish an Indigenous territory can take decades.

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