“Our language is one, our river is one and the Munduruku people are one,” the Munduruku people often say. It was precisely this feeling of belonging that led some Indians to travel for days upriver and join others in the early hours of July 16 to occupy the building site for the São Manoel hydroelectric dam that is being built on the Teles Pires river in the east of the Amazon. In all, some 200 Indians, from about 138 indigenous villages distributed along the basin of the Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers, took part in the occupation.
The construction consortium, São Manoel Energia, immediately went to court to get the Indians evicted but, at the request of the local Public Ministry Prosecutor, a judicial decision has been delayed to see if a peaceful solution can be reached. This week a prosecutor will be going with Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas, the acting head of the Indian agency, FUNAI, on a visit. Antonio Brasiliano, the director of São Manoel Energia, said that construction work would be halted for the duration of the occupation.

The decision to occupy the site was quietly made during a meeting of Munduruku women in May. After the occupation started, the Munduruku distributed a document in which they say “our sacred sites of Karabixexe [the Sete Quedas rapids, dynamited during the construction of the Teles Pires and Sao Manoel dams] and Deku ka’a were violated and destroyed. According to our shamans, our ancestors are weeping. Our Teles Pires and Tapajós rivers are dying. Our rights, which are guaranteed in the Federal Constitution and were achieved after the spilling of much indigenous blood, are being violated.”
The Munduruku are making a series of concrete demands they want fulfilled before they end the occupation. One is a request that their “robbed urns” – sacred urns that were removed during the construction of the São Manoel dam — be taken to “a place where no Pariwat [white person] has access,” with their shamans accompanying the journey. It would set a legal precedent for the Indians to get the urns returned because, according to Brazilian law, the urns are archaeological relics, belonging to the national state, and should go to an appropriate museum.

Another demand is for the hydroelectric companies to create a “Munduruku Fund” for four specific projects. One is for the creation of an indigenous university and another is for increased protection of their remaining sacred sites.

While São Manoel Energia is carrying out the construction work, the plant is owned by a consortium made up of Portuguese-owned Energias do Brasil, Brazil state-owned Furnas, and China Three Gorges Corporation, one of China’s early moves into Amazon megaprojects.
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