Indigenous women are role models when it comes to activism. In addition to fighting gender inequalities and machismo, they are at the forefront of mobilizations that fight for the rights of indigenous peoples, in favor of preserving the forest and the culture of these peoples. Next, check out the history of some indigenous women that you cannot miss.
10 indigenous women you need to meet
Indigenous women give their name in favor of activism, inside and outside the villages. They occupy the most diverse spaces, such as the National Congress, international conferences, and rap stages. Some of their demands are gender equality, respect for indigenous peoples, preservation of indigenous lands, and an end to indigenous genocide.
1. Sonia Guajajara, activist (Guajajara/tentehar)
Originally from the Guajajara/Tentehar ethnic group, from the Araribóia indigenous land, in Maranhão, Sonia Guajajara was the first indigenous woman to run for vice-presidency in the country, in 2018. Due to the struggle for indigenous peoples, she was elected one of the most influential people in the country. Latin America in 2020.
As executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib), she actively works to defend the rights of indigenous peoples, such as land demarcation. In addition, she fights for indigenous women at the head of the National Articulation of Women Warriors of Ancestrality (ANMIGA), made up of indigenous women from all biomes in Brazil. In an interview with Brasil de Fato, she reports
“To be an indigenous woman in Brazil is to live an eternal challenge, to fight, to occupy spaces, to be the protagonists of your own history. Historically, we were told that we could not occupy certain spaces”.
2. Katú Mirim, rapper (Boe Bororo)
Katú Mirim is a rapper, songwriter, YouTuber and activist, descended from the Boe Bororo people. In 2018, she launched the #ÍndioNãoÉFantasia campaign, to draw attention to the emptying of indigenous history and culture in Carnival parties. Music is her main instrument of struggle and activism.
The lyrics of their songs address important activism for the indigenous cause, such as land demarcation, violence, ancestry and culture, as in this excerpt from the song ‘Xondaria’: “We are granddaughters of the indigenous people you couldn’t kill”. In addition, she addresses the importance of respecting LGBTQIA+ people. Katú was the first indigenous artist to perform for the internationally known brand, Levi’s.
3. Alessandra Korap, activist and indigenous leader (Munduruku)
Months after having her house invaded and receiving death threats for denouncing illegal activities on indigenous lands, activist and indigenous from the Munduruku tribe, Alessandra Korap, received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, one of the most important in the world.
For years, Alessandra has denounced illegal deforestation, land invasion and mining activities in Munduruku people’s territories. Currently, she is one of the voices in the fight for the rights of indigenous peoples and indigenous women in the country.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, she and other indigenous women created actions to protect indigenous peoples, as they fought to prevent and denounce the destruction of their lands.
4. Graça Graúna, writer and researcher (Potiguaras)
A descendant of Potiguaras, Graça Graúna is a writer, teacher and literary critic, in addition to being a master, doctor, post-doctor and researcher in the areas of Letters, considered one of the greatest indigenous artists in Brazil.
In the curriculum, she is still a member of the Indigenous School Education Council of the state of Pernambuco. Among the best-known works are “Flor da Mata”, “Contrapontos da Literatura Indígena Contemporaneo no Brasil”, “O Coelho e a fosa” and “Letters from Ameríndia”, among many other short stories, poetry, chronicles and essays.
5. Alice Pataxó, activist and communicator (Pataxó)
Alice Pataxó is a young activist and communicator from the Pataxó ethnic group. In 2021, she participated in the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COP26, and defended the preservation of forests. She uses social media, where she has thousands of followers, to talk about issues related to the struggle for indigenous rights.
At COP26, Alice was cited as one of the women with one of the biggest voices at the event by another activist, Malala Yousafzai, who became known around the world after being the target of an attack or defending the right to education for girls in Pakistan. In an interview with the UOL portal, she says “Our issues are not just about gender equality in the villages, but about how vulnerable we are outside the territory, sometimes without drinking water. These are things that need to be discussed broadly.”
6. Txai Suruí, lawyer and activist (Paiter-suruí)
Another character that caught the world’s attention during COP26 for her speech in favor of nature is the young indigenous Txai Suruí, from the Paiter-Suruí ethnic group, daughter of one of the best-known indigenous leaders in the country, Almir Suruí. Her mother is also an activist.
She is the first indigenous person of the ethnic group to study law, an area in which she will work in favor of human rights. In 2021, she created and coordinated the Movimento da Juventude Indígena de Rondônia, which brings together indigenous leaders to debate topics such as politics, the climate crisis and the rights of indigenous peoples.
7. Putanny Yawanawá, shaman (Yawanawá)
Along with her sister, Putanny Yawanawá was one of the first women of the Yawanawás tribe to become a shaman. To achieve this feat, she had to deal with the machismo of men who didn’t accept that she could become a leader, in addition to having to face a long strict diet and isolation in the forest as part of the ritual.
As a woman, the preparation, which lasted about 1 year, was even more rigorous than that applied to men. Inside and outside the tribe, she works to rescue and maintain the culture, knowledge and traditions of the Yawanawás. “Unfortunately, indigenous men are very sexist and no woman has dared to set foot on this sacred terreiro. But my sister and I felt the call and broke a tradition. It was a struggle, we were repudiated and discredited in the village”, says Putanny Yawanawá to Jornal O Globo.
8. Daiara Tukano, artist and activist (Yepá Mahsã)
Artist, educator, activist and communicator, Daiara Tukano is from the Yepá Mahsã people, known as the Tukano. In her artistic works, she often portrays indigenous ancestry and knowledge through murals, paintings and drawings.
In addition to being an artist, she plays an activism role in favor of indigenous rights, being a well-known leader in the country. She participates in indigenous and feminist movements, in addition to collaborating with the first indigenous web radio in the country, Rádio Yandê.
9. Joênia Wapichana, federal deputy (Wapixana)
Belonging to the Wapixana ethnicity, Joênia Wapichana was the first indigenous woman elected federal deputy in the country, in 2018. Today, she is one of the main Brazilian voices in defending the rights of indigenous peoples, inside and outside the National Congress.
She was also the first to be recognized as an indigenous lawyer who works for the rights of these people. She has received several awards throughout her work in the activism of indigenous peoples, including the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Award.
10. Célia Xakriabá, teacher and communicator (Xakriabá)
From the Xakriabá people, teacher and communicator Célia Xakriabá is an activist for climate change and the demarcation of indigenous lands. She is the first of her ethnicity to complete an academic master’s degree and the only indigenous person to pursue a doctorate.
She is the presenter of the podcast “Papo de Relative”, where she addresses various topics related to the culture and stories of indigenous peoples. He was also the first indigenous woman to be part of the Minas Gerais State Department of Education.
There are so many other anonymous indigenous women who do incredible and important work inside and outside villages across the country. It is worth researching and checking if there is any activism movement in your city led by an indigenous woman and knowing the agendas claimed by them.
The creation of the first officially registered indigenous women’s organization in the country took place in 1984, with the Association of Indigenous Women of Alto Rio Negro. Since then, several collectives have emerged that bring together women who fight for indigenous causes, such as the well-known marches composed only of women from different tribes in Brazil. Despite a march to demand rights composed only of women, the indigenous women seek much more than individual rights.
As with other groups of women, indigenous women have particularities that are often not covered by traditional feminism, such as the struggle for land, against illegal mining activities and for the preservation of nature. In addition to fighting for gender equality and against machismo (inside and outside the villages), they need to act in defense of their territory and for the survival of their people.
In an interview with Canal Brasil, activist and indigenous anthropologist Taily Terena explained that, in indigenous feminism, the issues are not focused only on women, but above all, on the struggle for land. “Getting to know feminism, I started thinking about what it is for us. Feminism doesn’t really fit into our culture. We talk about the struggle of indigenous women. (…) but being able to fight together for the common good, which is the land. Fighting together with men, being able to give our contribution, our vision.”
To exemplify a little about the struggle of indigenous women against machismo, Tayly Terena also spoke about how these women need to deal with the objectification and hypersexualization of the body by non-indigenous people. They occur due to the lack of knowledge about the indigenous culture and the perpetuated stereotype of savages. However, this does not happen within the villages. That is, they have to deal with different issues inside and outside the villages.
Indigenous feminism is much more complex than just a few paragraphs. To get a better understanding of the topic, check out the videos below!
Better understand what indigenous women think about feminism and activism
Each indigenous woman of a tribe has her particularities related to feminism, or as some like to call it, the struggle of indigenous women. In order for you to better understand the different views on the subject, nothing better than hearing from these women what they think about feminism. Hear what they have to say!
Indigenous women and the struggle for the rights of indigenous peoples
In this video, made as a documentary by the UN, you will see a little about the importance of indigenous women’s articulation in favor of human rights and justice for indigenous peoples. In addition to interviews with some of the main feminist leaders.
Emergence of the Indigenous Women’s Association
TV Unesp interviews Jupira Terena, representative of the Association of Indigenous Women, to understand a little better about the creation of this association and its purposes. Jupira also tells about her…
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