Joênia Wapixana (officially Joênia Batista de Carvalho) (born 1974) is the first indigenous lawyer in Brazil and a member of the Wapixana tribe of northern Brazil. After taking a land dispute to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Wapixana became the first indigenous lawyer to argue before the Supreme Court of Brazil. She is the current president of the National Commission for the Defense of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
She was elected federal deputy for the state of Roraima, from the party list of the Sustainability Network (REDE), in the 2018 general election. Batista de Carvalho is the first indigenous woman elected to the Chamber of Deputies and the second indigenous federal deputy since the election of Mário Juruna in 1982.
Joênia was born in the Brazilian state of Roraima and grew up in isolated Amazonian villages like Truarú or Guariba, where traditional ways of life flourished and few of the elders spoke Portuguese. When her parents were brought from their village to register their births and those of their children, a clerk chose the official name Joênia Batista de Carvalho for her identification papers. She identifies herself by her first name and her tribal affiliation as Joênia Wapixana. By the time she was seven or eight, Joênia's father had left the family and her mother moved to the state capital, Boa Vista, seeking economic opportunities. The children were enrolled in school, though three older brothers dropped out to go to work. Joênia completed her high school education in the early 1990s and initially considered becoming a doctor, as she was uninterested in the usual avenue for educated indigenous women, teaching. She enrolled in law school, working nights in an accounting office to pay her way through school. In 1997, Joênia graduated from the Federal University of Roraima (UFRR) as the first indigenous lawyer in Brazil.
Batista de Carvalho began working in the legal department of the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR). In 2004, she filed an action with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asking them to compel the Brazilian government to officially set out the boundaries of the Indigenous Territory of the Raposa Serra do Sol, which are the traditional homelands of the Ingarikó, Makuxi, Patamona, Taurepang, and Wapixana peoples. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Brazil (STF) ratified the boundaries of the reserve and declared it an environmental conservation area in which native rights were constitutionally protected, but altercations between loggers, miners and the native communities continued. In 2008, Batista de Carvalho became the first aboriginal lawyer to argue before the STF. The case concerned whether the government had the right to divide the lands of the Raposa Serra do Sol into fragmented areas to support claims to the land by prospectors and rice producers. Batista de Carvalho argued that the constitution forbade such divisions and would be a violation of the protections in the constitution for ineidgenous rights. On 19 March 2009, the STF, in a vote of ten to one, confirmed the exclusive right of the Indians to occupy and use the reserve lands of Raposa Serra do Sol.
In 2013, she was appointed as the first president of the recently created National Commission for the Defense of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The post was created by the Order of Attorneys of Brazil as a means of monitoring legislation which might impact native rights. The role of the commission is to support and intervene if need be in legal matters of the lower courts or Supreme Court in cases which impact indigenous rights.
Awards and recognition
Batista de Carvalho received the Reebok Human Rights Award in 2004 and in 2010 was honored with the Ordem do Mérito Cultural by the Brazilian government. In 2018 she was awarded the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.
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