Theological Round Table on Indigenous People – Brazil

The "theological broth"

The following blog is written by Revdo. Professor Deacon Victor Hugo de Oliveira Marques of the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil (Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil). It is an account of an ecumenical round table hosted by Anglicans to work more intentionally for inclusion of indigenous people. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.

In the context of the UN’s International Year of the Indigenous Languages and the worsening situation of the indigenous people of Brazil, the Episcopal Anglican Parish of Inclusion, in Campo Grande in the western part of Brazil, decided to raise up indigenous voices calling for justice. It took place in Feb/2019, as a “theological broth” (sharing the table, the meal and the word) on indigenous peoples’ rights and their cry for land, justice and a safe life.

I am Victor Hugo. I am a deacon and work in the Anglican Parish of Inclusion (IEAB), located in the city of Campo Grande, Missionary District, which is in the most violent and cruel state of Brazil towards indigenous people: the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. My calling is the challenge of inclusion. There are three hundred indigenous nations (ethnic groups) in Brazil, of which eight are located in Mato Grosso do Sul. In other words, we are an indigenous state. However, agribusiness, which has become popular here in Brazil, does not think so. They think that they are doing the country – and for the natives themselves – a favour by attempting to clean the region of them.

It is interesting to note that the arguments used by agribusiness farmers are very simplistic and easily refuted.  In Brazil there are studies that prove how limited their arguments are. But why are indigenous people still seen to be a problem?

For me, there are two major problems in my country: one of them is the politicians. In spite living in a country that was originally populated by indigenous nations, all references to them have always been with the intention of affirming that they are “a problem” for the country. What? That’s right, the traditional owners of the house are its problems… If this were not enough, the policies that defend agribusiness create absurdities: [they argue that] if we gave the land back to the indigenous people, the country would stop producing and people would starve – as if the purpose of agribusiness is to end the hunger of Brazilians …. [but] everyone knows that agribusiness is for the export market and that little of it addresses the hunger of the country.

The second problem is the media. Our population has very little information about our ancestors. All Brazilians are direct or indirect relatives of indigenous people. But few people have this awareness and are helped by the big media companies to have even less awareness. The media, in addition to defending agribusiness and its corrupt policies, decry work such as ours, for example, the Parish of Inclusion, which seeks to inform people about the true indigenous reality in the country. The media sell a caricatured and deformed image of our indigenous fathers and mothers, judging their character, logic, spirituality and customs to be very different from those of the so-called “civilised”.

But what do the indigenous people want? To take over the country? To expel the non-indigenous people? None of this! According to the CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council), here in Mato Grosso do Sul indigenous lands do not make up even two percent of the territory of the State. Come on! Two percent! But the media and public authorities do not speak of this; they prefer to encourage armed conflicts between farmers and indigenous communities, placing the blame only on indigenous people.

I and my faith community understand that there is much to do for these people. We are part of a parish that has as its spirituality the concept and practice of inclusion. Inclusion, I understand, is not only a concept. It is a requirement and a challenge for Christians. The gospels are full of examples of acts of inclusiveness. Jesus understood that exclusion and out-casting are not part of the Kingdom of God project. If there is any kind of judgment to be made, Jesus teaches us, it is for the Father and not for us. It was in the light of Jesus’ attitude and his non-exclusionary project, that I and my community proposed the so-called “Theological Broth”.

In Brazil, and in the world, there are many ways of understanding and working pastorally on both diversity and inclusiveness. One day, talking to the brothers and sisters, I asked: what do we mean by inclusion in Mato Grosso do Sul? I realized that none of us knew how to answer correctly. So we discovered that inclusion should not be for us a concept, but a goal. An apprenticeship. And for that we should create spaces of inclusion or spaces to talk about themes that we believe are discussing inclusion. In January, Brazil had the campaign “Indigenous Blood: No more droplets!“. I felt that this theme would have everything to do with our goal of experiencing inclusion. Thus, I and my community decided that our Theological Broth for the month of February should explore the indigenous theme, as we have been living  largely separately from these brothers and sisters around here.

For this task, we invited a member of the CIMI, the Roman Catholic missionary Matias Benno Rempel, to tell us about the indigenous situation in the State and how the Indian policies have changed since the last elections. For over an hour and with great knowledge, Matias told us about the Indian theme and the problems faced in the state. We realised that we really do not know much about these brothers whom we have excluded. It was a meeting not only of Anglicans, but was ecumenical, with Roman Catholic brothers and sisters present as well as with members of the Parish. But this cannot be all we do. We are aware that this is a small step for both of what needs to be done. We know of their difficulties, but also of our limitations in both human and financial resources. I hope that this initiative is replicated and that it can sensitize others to rethink not only about the challenge of inclusiveness, but also about the nature of inclusion, which is not about conversion, but respect.