aThe first wave of Covid infection swept through the city of Manaus in Brazil – forcing residents to bury their loved ones in mass graves – Vanda Ortega and Witoto have worked hard at minimal levels of protective gear, trying to keep the virus at bay in the Amazon city’s long-neglected Indigenous neighborhood.
When the ambulance service refused to send a car to the area — which has no healthcare infrastructure and no running water — the technical nurse, who goes simply via Vanda, took the Covid patient to the hospital herself.
“Our people have not received any help, especially in the Amazon region,” said Vanda, who has tirelessly provided help, hope and reassurance to her community during the pandemic that has hit the riverside city twice. on his knees. This neglect of our people is not due to the epidemic. The pandemic has intensified the absence and neglect of the state.”
It was criminal negligence An official response to the Covid that convinced 35-year-old Vanda to run for a federal vice presidency in this year’s congressional elections. If she succeeds, she will be the first indigenous Brazilian to win office in a general election in Amazonas, which has the largest indigenous population in the country.
Vanda is part of a coordinated effort to increase indigenous representation in politics, at a time when indigenous peoples in Brazil are suffering from a historic assault on their rights.
Attacks on indigenous people and their lands escalated Under President Jair Bolsonaro, who dismantled indigenous protections and encouraged land grabbers and other criminals. It was while documenting this persecution that Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips were killed in June.
A total of 181 candidates who identify as indigenous registered to participate in Brazil’s general election on October 2 – an increase of 36% in four years. Most run for state or federal deputy position, and many enter politics for the first time.
So far, Brazil has elected only two indigenous representatives to Congress: Mario Gorona, of the Xavante people, in 1982, and Guinha Wabishana, of the Amazonian state of Roraima, in 2018.
“We don’t participate in the areas of decision-making because this state has always said there is no place for Indigenous people, no place for women. But I realized that is exactly where we belong,” says Vanda. “It is our right to occupy these spaces because our absence results in us losing access to public policies.”
Kleber Caribona, executive coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples’ Joint in Brazil (APIB), the country’s largest indigenous organization, says Wapicana’s work advocating for indigenous issues in Congress has convinced the indigenous movement of the importance of increasing its representation in political spheres.
“We understand today that political representation is necessary not only to secure rights, but to continue existence the original peopleSamara Bataxo, Bahia’s Bataxo People’s Member and the first Indigenous woman to work at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
Vanda says she will represent all indigenous Brazilians in Congress, if elected. In addition to protecting the rights of indigenous people, she has advocated for improved education and health care infrastructure; policies targeting all underrepresented groups; women’s economic empowerment; The sustainable development of the Amazon, where deforestation have risen In Bolsonaro’s watch.
“It is better to defend the Amazon than those who live there,” she said.
Political representation is also related to the restoration of indigenous identity in Brazil – only 0.5% of Brazilians were identified as indigenous in the 2010 census.
“There is a historic violence that is the erasure of the identity of our peoples in this country,” said Vanda, who hopes to see that number rise when the results of the last census are released later this year.
She was born in a village in Alto Rio Solimos, 900 kilometers (559 miles) west of Manaus deep in the Amazon. But her family left society when she was still a child, and it was only when she was young that she reconnected with her indigenous roots and the culture of her indigenous people who hailed from Colombia.
Today, Vanda campaigns in Aboriginal dress, and proudly displays the traditional Witoto face paint. “I used to wear paint from my ancestral land in Colombia, which represents the scorpion’s tail. The scorpion provides protection and is a symbol of strength. I wear this paint on my political journey in the face of challenge,” she explains.
It is a challenge not to be underestimated. Amazonas state in 2018 voted for Bolsonaro – albeit by a very small margin – and elected eight men to Congress, four of whom are members of the anti-indigenous agribusiness lobby. Amid a vitriolic campaign that could turn violent, APIB is concerned about the security of Indigenous candidates.
However, Vanda is encouraged by the support she has received and optimistic about her chances of winning, which will require appealing to non-Indigenous voters as well. “We want the whole of society to see these Indigenous candidates as a ray of light in these decision-making places,” she says.
Karibona, the leader of APIB, echoes this. “Vote for Indigenous candidates is a vote to ensure the survival of mankind.”