Indigenous territory (Brazil)

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Current and proposed indigenous territories in Brazil

In Brazil, an indigenous territory or indigenous land (Portuguese: Terra Indígena [ˈtɛhɐ ĩˈdʒiʒẽnɐ], TI) is an area inhabited and exclusively possessed by indigenous people. Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution recognises the inalienable right of indigenous peoples to lands they "traditionally occupy"[n 1][1][2] and automatically confers them permanent possession of these lands. In practice, however, a formal multi-stage process of demarcation is required for a TI to gain full protection,[2][3] and this has often entailed protracted legal battles.[4][5][6] Even after demarcation, TIs are frequently subject to illegal invasions by settlers and mining and logging companies.[2]

There are 724 proposed or approved indigenous territories in Brazil,[7] covering about 13% of the country's land area.[8] Critics of the system say that this is out of proportion with the number of indigenous people in Brazil, about 0.41%[9] of the population; they argue that the amount of land reserved as TIs undermines the country's economic development and national security.[6][10][11][12]


As of 2016, there were 702 indigenous territories in Brazil, covering 1,172,995 km2 – 14% of the country's land area.[13] As of 2020, 120 areas were in the formal process of being identified, covering a total of 1,084,049 hectares; 43 had been formally identified (2,179,316 ha); 74 had been formally declared (7,305,639 ha) and 487 had already been formally approved (106,858,319 ha). This means that in total, 723 areas were either under evaluation or had been legally consolidated as indigenous territories, covering a total area of 117,427,323 hectares.[7] For historical reasons—Portuguese colonisation started from the coast—most of these are concentrated in the country's interior, particularly Amazônia.[8] There are only three federated units without any TIs: the states of Rio Grande do Norte and Piauí, and the Federal District.

Indigenous territories by state (2011)[edit]

Flag State Number
of TIs
[14][tn 1]
of TIs
[15][tn 2]
of state
[tn 2]
Bandeira do Acre.svg Acre 36 30,721 20.13%
Bandeira de Alagoas.svg Alagoas 10 130 0.47%
Bandeira do Amapá.svg Amapá 6 41,965 29.38%
Bandeira do Amazonas.svg Amazonas 166 527,783 33.6%
Bandeira da Bahia.svg Bahia 26 2,345 0.42%
Bandeira do Ceará.svg Ceará 11 114 0.08%
Bandeira do Distrito Federal.svg Distrito Federal 0 0 0%
Bandeira do Espírito Santo.svg Espírito Santo 3 76 0.16%
Flag of Goiás.svg Goiás 5 405 0.12%
Bandeira do Maranhão.svg Maranhão 20 19,057 5.74%
Bandeira de Mato Grosso.svg Mato Grosso 78 188,490 20.87%
Bandeira de Mato Grosso do Sul.svg Mato Grosso do Sul 49 6,781 1.9%
Bandeira de Minas Gerais.svg Minas Gerais 9 670 0.11%
Bandeira do Pará.svg Pará 58 305,724 24.5%
Bandeira da Paraíba.svg Paraíba 3 338 0.6%
Bandeira do Paraná.svg Paraná 26 944 0.47%
Bandeira de Pernambuco.svg Pernambuco 15 1,181 1.2%
Bandeira do Piauí.svg Piauí 0 0 0%
Bandeira Estado RiodeJaneiro Brasil2.svg Rio de Janeiro 5 24 0.05%
Bandeira do Rio Grande do Norte.svg Rio Grande do Norte 0 0 0%
Bandeira do Rio Grande do Sul.svg Rio Grande do Sul 45 1,088 0.39%
Bandeira de Rondônia.svg Rondônia 24 62,526 26.32%
Bandeira de Roraima.svg Roraima 32 195,752 87.27%
Bandeira Santa Catarina.svg Santa Catarina 20 562 0.59%
Bandeira do Estado de São Paulo.svg São Paulo 28 171 0.07%
Bandeira de Sergipe.svg Sergipe 1 43 0.2%
Bandeira do Tocantins.svg Tocantins 12 25,521 9.19%
Flag of Brazil.svg Brazil 672 1,105,258 13%
  1. ^ As of March 2011. Some TIs cross state borders and are counted twice.
  2. ^ a b Approximate. See above.

Demarcation process[edit]

The process of demarcating indigenous territories was established in the 1973 Statute of the Indian and has been revised several times, most recently in 1996.[16][17] Under the current legal framework, the initial identification and definition of potential TIs is the responsibility of FUNAI, the government body in charge of indigenous affairs, who commission an ethnographic and geographical survey of the area and publish a proposal. This proposal must then be approved by the Ministry of Justice, who consider FUNAI's proposal and any objections from other interested parties with respect to the Constitution. If approved, FUNAI begins physically demarcating the new TI and the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform undertakes the resettlement of any non-indigenous occupants. Final approval, or homologation, for the demarcation a TI is issued by the President of the Republic, after which it is officially registered.[3]

The Statute of the Indian specified that all indigenous lands should be demarcated by 1978,[18] and the 1988 Constitution also set a five-year deadline.[2] However, demarcation is still ongoing. The process is frequently delayed by legal disputes arising from the objections of non-indigenous settlers and commercial interests in the proposed TI. This has been increasingly common since 1996, when a change in the law required an explicit period to be set aside in the demarcation process for the hearing of complaints.[4] In 2008 the Supreme Federal Court issued a high-profile decision in favour of the continued territorial integrity of Raposa Serra do Sol in Roraima. Non-indigenous rice farmers had protested their deportation from the TI, arguing that the reserve undermined Brazil's national integrity and the state's economic development, and proposing that it be broken up. The ruling established a legal precedent that affected more than 100 similar cases that were before the Supreme Court at the time.[6][10]


Land ownership is a contentious issue in Brazil. In the 1990s, as much as 45% of the available farmland in the country was controlled by 1% of the population.[19] Some advocates of land reform have therefore criticised the amount of land reserved for indigenous peoples, who make up just 0.2% of the national population. According to this view the 1988 Constitution's approach towards indigenous peoples' right to land is overly idealist, and a return to a more integrationist policy is favoured.[12] In the Raposa Serra do Sol dispute, non-indigenous rice farmers and their advocates charged TIs with hindering economic development in sparsely populated states such as Roraima, where a large proportion of the land is reserved for indigenous peoples despite commercial pressures to develop it for agricultural use.[11] Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian indigenous rights group, argue that the disparity between indigenous population and land ownership is justified because their traditional subsistence patterns (typically shifting cultivation or hunting and gathering) are more land extensive than modern agriculture, and because many TIs include large areas of agriculturally unproductive land or are environmentally degraded due to recent incursions.[8]

Opponents of indigenous territories also claim that they undermine national sovereignty. The promotion of indigenous rights by NGOs is seen as reflecting an "internationalisation of the Amazon" which is contrary to Brazil's economic interests.[10][11] Elements in the military have also expressed concern that because many TIs occupy border regions they pose a threat to national security – although both the army and police are allowed full access.[6]

The current system of indigenous territories has also been criticised by proponents of indigenous rights, who say that the process of demarcation is too slow[4] and that FUNAI lacks the resources to properly protect them from encroachment once registered.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Defined as those lands "on which they live on a permanent basis, those used for their productive activities, those indispensable to the preservation of the environmental resources necessary for their well-being and for their physical and cultural reproduction, according to their uses, customs and traditions."


  1. ^ Federal Constitution of Brazil. Chapter VII Article 231 Archived 2011-01-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b c d "Indigenous Lands - Introduction - About Lands". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituo Socioambiental (ISA). Archived from the original on 2011-01-27. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Indigenous Lands > Demarcation > Demarcation process". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Borges, Beto; Combrisson, Gilles. "Indigenous Rights in Brazil: Stagnation to Political Impasse". South and Meso American Indian Rights Center. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  5. ^ Schwartzman, Stephan; Valéria Araújo, Ana; Pankararú, Paulo (1996). "Brazil: The Legal Battle Over Indigenous Land Rights". NACLA Report on the Americas. 29 (5): 36–43. doi:10.1080/10714839.1996.11725759. Archived from the original on 2010-04-20. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d "Brazilian Indians 'win land case'". BBC News. 11 December 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  7. ^ a b "Situação jurídica das TIs no Brasil hoje - Povos Indígenas no Brasil". Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  8. ^ a b c "Indigenous Lands - Demarcation - Location and extension". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c "Brazilian court ruling backs Indian reservation". 19 March 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Elizondo, Gabriele (27 August 2008). "Land dispute divides Brazil's north". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  12. ^ a b Pires-O'Brien, Joaquina (September 1999). "Indian Land Rights And Land Conflicts In Brazil". Contemporary Review.
  13. ^ "Indigenous Lands > Demarcation > Location and extension". Retrieved 2016-07-13.
  14. ^ "Caracterização Socioambiental das Terras Indígenas no Brasil". Povos Indígenas no Brasil (in Portuguese). Instituto Socioambiental. Archived from the original on 2011-02-27. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  15. ^ "Listagem de Terras Indígenas" (in Portuguese). FUNAI. 2011. Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
  16. ^ "Indigenous Lands > Demarcation > Introduction". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  17. ^ "Indigenous Lands > Demarcation > Demarcation procedures in the past". Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  18. ^ Box, Ben; Egginton, Jane; Day, Mick (2003). Brazil handbook (3rd ed.). Bath: Footprint. pp. 680. ISBN 978-1-903471-44-9.
  19. ^ "This land is anti-capitalist land". The Economist. 26 April 2007. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  20. ^ Maybury-Lewis, David (2003). "Hope for the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil". Cultural Survival Quarterly (Spring 2003).