BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian tribal leaders and advocates on Thursday criticized the granting of an indigenous rights award to President Jair Bolsonaro, calling it an “atrocity” that ignores his record on dismantling protections for native people and the environment.
Justice Minister Anderson Torres on Wednesday gave the Medal of Indigenous Merit to his boss, Bolsonaro, in “recognition for relevant services” in the defense of indigenous communities.
But indigenous Brazilians and environmental activists said it was inappropriate to give such an award to the former army captain, who has questioned the veracity of global warming, has erased environmental protections, and has pushed to allow mining and oil exploration on indigenous reservations.
“It is an atrocity to honor a president who has shamelessly opposed indigenous people,” said Congresswoman Joenia Wapichana, the second indigenous representative ever to sit in the Brazilian legislature. She has introduced a bill to annul the decree giving Bolsonaro the medal.
One former recipient of the prize said he would be handing it back in protest.
Ethnographer Sydney Possuelo, a leading authority on isolated Amazon tribes who earned the same decoration 35 years ago for his work creating the Yanomami reservation, said he no longer wanted the medal. In a statement, he said it had “lost all meaning.”
Leaders of Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people say Bolsonaro has been the most detrimental president in four decades of democracy for their rights and claims to ancestral lands.
Backed by Brazil’s powerful farm lobby, Bolsonaro has long advocated for greater development of the Amazon, the largest tropical rainforest on the planet.
In office, he has defunded the government’s indigenous affairs agency Funai and said his government would not recognize another inch of land claimed by tribes.
In 2020, he sparked outrage when he said: “The Indian has evolved and become more and more a human being like us,” adding that he wanted them to integrate more into Brazilian society.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)