UND students find introspection and identity while fighting for indigenous rights of the Xukuru? people


David L. Dodds

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UND students find introspection and identity while fighting for indigenous rights of the Xukuru? people

Three University of North Dakota students, along with their instructor Associate Professor Marcia Mikulak, spent the past two weeks together in Brazil getting an up close and personal look at the plight of the Xukuru? nation, an indigenous people that has spent years fighting to retain its constitutional rights in that county.

The students, who returned to the United States on Sunday, are Benjamin “Ben” Davis, Sartell, Minn., majoring in international studies, philosophy and honors; Amy Rassier, a native of Sidney, Mont., majoring in political science and internationals studies and minoring in Spanish; and Joshua Everett, Grand Forks, majoring in anthropology and social work.

Mikulak is still in Brazil, continuing her research.

For most of their trip, there were no hotels, instead they stayed at the home of cacique (Chief) Marcos Xukuru? and his family.

“These students had the opportunity to gain an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Xukuru? people in northeastern Brazil by living and working alongside them throughout the two-week experience,” Mikulak said. “During this time, students experience firsthand how to respect and value human diversity. It is my long term research and collaboration with the Xukuru? that has made it possible to take students with me to share in my work as an anthropologist.”

The UND students participated in a Xukuru? political march on May 20, when more than 5,000 people commemorated the 1998 assassination of former Xukuru? cacique Xição Xukuru? (father of Marcos Xukuru?) and demonstrated in support of Xukuru? efforts work to reclaim its sovereign rights and lands. The march was part of the 15th Assembleia of the Xukuru?, which was held May 15-20 in the Aldeia Pedra D’Água (village of the Rock of the Water). The event focused on the need to defend the earth from environmental devastation. It also addressed political agendas within the Brazilian Nation-State that seek, through congressional and presidential approval, to remove indigenous rights from the Brazilian constitution.

Advance! Advance!

Before the march, Marcos Xukuru? addressed the crowd, and Mikulak and her group of UND students captured it on video.

The translation of Marcos’ speech is here:

“We are here in nature ? the encantadas (ancestral spirits) are happy that we are here. I am very happy that all of you have come here today, of your own volition, to defend our territory with us. This is not just a march we are making today, this is a march with an objective ? to walk with the intent to cross over the problems that appear in our lives so that we can advance each day and with each Assembleia. This march is about consciousness. We are marching into the city of Pesqueira, advancing with the encantadas, with their protection and illumination, which is always with us so that we can continue to defend our rights to our land and our way of life. All of you are walking on the same road that Cacique Xição walked and where he was assassinated, where his blood was spilt. That same blood returned and it now pulses in our veins, giving us courage to continue so that our fight for our ancestral lands and our Xukuru? identity will continue. Advance! Advance!”

After taking part in the Assembleia and the Xukuru? march, one of the UND students, Ben Davis, reflected on the momentous days’ events in his own words:

In their own words:

“'Listen to the trees,’ said casique Marcos, the chief. “They are happy because each one of you is here today.” He was standing on top of the government-imposed gate that marks where Xukuru land officially begins, standing and showing the freedom of his povo , his people.

“Advance,” we cheered together, referring to both the povo and our task that day. The people were advancing politically, claiming their rights to their territory, showing their unity as an indigenous nation. And they were advancing literally, marching from their land to the city of Pesquiera.

“It was to participate in that march, to advance in solidarity, that we were listening to the trees that day.

“We marched alongside 5,000, participating in a process much larger than ourselves. The march was a kind of embodied resistance: against years of oppression ? by the colonizers, the missionaries, and the nation-state, against individualism, against the privatization of the sacred land. It was a celebration: of Xukuru? identity, of the strength of the collective, of the relationship between the povo and the land, their land. And for us it was an opportunity: to learn about the advancement of a nation through participation in collective action.

“We began at 2 p.m., under the blaze of the Brazilian sun. Walking downhill, holding hands, we moved to the rhythm of the group. Rushing forward with spirit, in spurts, we followed the leaders of the march.

“From the gate to the city, Xukuru? youth led the march. Thus, they were forming their collective historical identity. ‘I am not afraid to be Xukuru,’ a young girl’s shirt read. It would be fair if she were afraid ? Marcos’ father, casique at the time, was assassinated in 1998. Marcos escaped an attempted assassination in 2002. A bill in the current congress threatens to expropriate Xukuru? land. And yet, the shirt declared the opposite: ‘Identity’ was on the back.

“That night we spoke with Marcos at his house, where he had invited us to stay. With patience and attention, he discussed the importance of learning the history of the Xukuru? people, and the march as a window to learn about the identity of his povo .

“We were (re)forming and (de)constructing our identities, too. Like most of our experience with the Xukuru?, this was a relational process. We marched in relation to the trees, to the land, to the incantados, to one another. We are all of us connected. Beginning our own relations with the Xukuru?, we advanced as a collective, calling into question the individualism our own nation-state. We keep in mind these reflections, and many others, as we move forward here in Brazil.”

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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