Raposa Serra do Sol

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Lake Caracaranã, a sacred place of the Macuxi people located in Raposa/Serra do Sol in an area settled by farmers. Photo: Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr

Terra indígena Raposa/Serra do Sol (Portuguese for Fox/Sun Hills Indigenous Land) is an Indigenous Land in Brazil, intended to be home to the Macuxi people. It is located in the northern half of the Brazilian state of Roraima and is the largest in that country and one of the world's largest, with an area of 1,743,089 ha and a perimeter of about 1,000 km[1] (see map).

The creation of Raposa/Serra do Sol has been the subject of sharp controversy ever since it was first proposed in 1993, for a series of reasons including concerns of national security and territorial integrity. After being identified as an Indian homeland by FUNAI, it was mapped during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration but was only accepted formally by president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva in 2005.[2] In May 2009 the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that the reserve should be inhabited only by indigenous people, and an operation began to remove the remaining non-indigenous inhabitants.[3]

The area includes two major natural landscapes: plains occupied by a type of vegetation similar to that of cerrado and steep mountains covered with thick rainforest. It is home to about 20,000 people, most of them Macuxi. Other peoples represented there are the Wapixanas, Ingaricós, Taurepangs and Patamonas, as well as non-indigenous farmers.

The inhabitants of the reserve vary wildly in language and degree of cultural contact with the mainstream Brazilian culture. The Macuxis have a good degree of contact with the local non-indigenous society, while others are still outside its reach. Most of the Indians of the reserve cannot speak Portuguese. Most of the contact the Indians have had with the mainstream society has been through FUNAI researchers, missionaries, military men, gold diggers and farmers, who grow rice in the damp plains.

The presence of non-indigenous inhabitants in the reserve is not recent, but has seen a boom recently, since the reserve was proposed, because the Brazilian government usually refunds bona fide settlers for the land they forsake.[4]

Concerns about the reserve started back in the 1970s, when Brazilian indigenist Orlando Villas-Boas gave a now-famous interview in which he said that the creation of Indian reserves close to border areas was a risk to the integrity of the Brazilian territory and that the action of missionaries in Brazil sought to build up national conscience among the most numerous indigenous peoples, like the Macuxi and the Yanomami, with the covert goal of establishing independent or semi-independent national entities and fragmenting the control of the Amazon jungle. The fact that the Raposa/Serra do Sol lies right along the border with Guyana and Venezuela adds to this preoccupation.

Another major source of concern was that, after the creation of the reserve, the state of Roraima - still the least populous and the most scarcely populated Brazilian state - would have more than 54% of its area occupied by Indian reserves or national parks, which was seen by the locals as an obstacle to the state's present economic boom. Most of the rice crops of the Brazilian northern region are from within the limits of Raposa/Serra do Sol and the creation of the reserve would reduce Roraima's GDP severely. Besides large parts of other municipalities, there are an entire town, Uiramutã, and four non-Indian villages inside the territory of the reserve.