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Reunião na aldeia Demini, Terra Indígena Yanomami, em agosto deste ano. Foto: Pablo Albarenga

The Public Defender’s Office has given the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) five days to explain the measures it will take to ensure all the country’s indigenous peoples are included in the next national census. As SUMAÚMA revealed last week, the populations of three groups may be erased from the census, as the IBGE has been unable to obtain the helicopters needed to reach the remote areas where they live. Failure to include all indigenous people in the population count could diminish government health and education policies aimed at this population.

In a document dated December 7, the Public Defender’s Office, which lists the legal defense of native peoples among its responsibilities, recommended the IGBE hire an air taxi service “as urgently as possible” to enable it to register all the indigenous communities of the affected Yanomami and Wajãpi people, as well as people from the Ye’kwana ethnic grouping, who live in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory and have also yet to be counted in their entirety. The statistical agency estimates that 15,000 indigenous people from the three ethnic groups are at risk of being left out of the census. The request from the Public Defender’s Office is an initial step before a judicial order is sought. The IBGE must provide an action plan, with supporting documents, by December 12.

The confusion over the helicopters began at the start of the year. An IBGE document obtained by SUMAÚMA states the authority sought help from the federal agency of indigenous affairs, known as Funai, and the Special Office of Indigenous Health, or Sesai, which have contractual arrangements with air taxi firms in the areas in question, as well as the Brazilian Army, which carries out airborne patrols in border regions. The Army and Sesai refused to help, while Funai was able to provide some, but not all, of the flight time required. In September, with no time left to carry out a tendering process, the IBGE sought permission to directly procure air transport, but two months later Brazil’s Attorney General’s Office denied the request, and recommended the formation of a government task force to carry out data collection. The IBGE, however, has yet to explain how it intends to fulfill its obligations. Data collection for the 2022 Census began in August and is scheduled to end this month.

Both the Yanomami (in the states of Amazonas and Roraima) and the Wajãpi (in the state of Amapá) indigenous territories have suffered large-scale invasion by illegal miners in recent years, causing an increase in violent crime and disease and, consequently, higher mortality rates. The absence of complete census data prevents comparison with the results of the last edition of the survey, carried out by the IBGE in 2010, and makes it impossible to know how this population has changed over the last ten years, or understand the impact of criminal activity within these territories. It is not known, for example, how many individuals have died and were born, how many left their villages, the cultural richness that has been lost, or whether the mercury from illegal mining, which pollutes the region’s rivers, has created a public health problem.

The failure to collect such data is a clear violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, as the IBGE itself admitted in a document seen by SUMAÚMA. “If the 2022 Demographic Census does not guarantee coverage of all Indigenous Territories and, within them, every village and community (…) [there will be] impacts on the execution and monitoring of the National Policy for Health Care for Indigenous Peoples, the National Policy for the Management of Indigenous Lands and the National Policy for Indigenous School Education,” said the November 30 document, signed by the Directorate of Research, Directorate of Geosciences and the General Coordination of Census Operations.

When asked by SUMAÚMA, the IBGE stated it is exploring legal options in order to apply the Census amongst the indigenous population. “The IBGE is committed to honouring the goals of the Census. Failing to register part of the indigenous peoples was never contemplated,” the agency explained in an email. The IBGE confirmed that by the start of December, the Census had been applied in 605 (95.73%) of the 632 Indigenous Territories in Brazil. Of these, 382 had been surveyed in their entirety, while data collection was ongoing in 223 (35.28%), with census information partially collected. Data collection had yet to begin in 27 Indigenous Territories.

Translated by James Young

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