Riot police have fired teargas and rubber bullets at indigenous activists protesting outside Brazil’s congress against new legislation that would undermine legal protections for indigenous territories, and open them up to commercial agriculture and mining.
Thick clouds of teargas enveloped the demonstrators, including children and the elderly, as police attempted to clear the camp in Brasília on Tuesday where they have been protesting for the past two weeks.
“We were surprised from behind with gas bombs and rubber bullets. People were hurt in the confrontation,” said indigenous leader Dinamam Tuxá. “It was an abuse of power, with violence from the police.”
Footage of the episode showed protesters running and shouting amid the clouds of gas. Tuxá said that police officers continued to shoot gas and rubber bullets even after one of the protester had collapsed on the ground. Protesters fought back with bows and arrows.
Three protesters were injured, as were three policemen who were hit by arrows, the police said.
Despite the confrontations, hundreds of protesters returned to the streets on Wednesday, and indigenous women handed flowers to police officers.
“We came back with more people and became stronger. This is our fight, of resistance, of singing and spirituality, and we join forces to prevent the voting,” Sônia Guajajara, the head of the Association of Indigenous Peoples (Apib), said.
The bill, known as PL 490/2007, has been under consideration since 2007 when it was proposed by Brazil’s powerful farming lobby, but it has received fresh impetus under the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly called for looser regulations in the Brazilian Amazon.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly disparaged Brazil’s indigenous people – comparing them to animals in zoos and “prehistoric men” – and overseen efforts to dismantle Funai, the already underfunded agency supposed to protect Brazil’s more than 300 tribes.
If approved, the legislation would throw up fresh barriers to the official recognition of new indigenous territories, and open up the land for use by non-indigenous peoples to develop extractive activities, including mining commercial agriculture and large-scale infrastructure projects.
“The bill may hurt indigenous peoples to death,” the congresswoman and indigenous leader Joenia Wapichana said.