The SCIOA Group stands for a photo on a beach.
Indigenous youth participate in a farming and generational knowledge exchange activity in Roraima, Brazil. | Photo Credit: CIR

Providing New Spaces for Indigenous Women and Youth to Champion Territorial Rights

By Luana Luizy

At an end-of-project event in March 2023, USAID’s Strengthening the Capacity of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon (SCIOA) activity brought together the three Indigenous organizations it has been supporting in the Brazilian Amazon over the past four years. The implementers—Pact and the International Institute of Education of Brazil (IEB)—took this opportunity to reflect on their accomplishments and the challenges associated with increasing the political impact of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Alto Madeira (OPIAM), the Union of Indigenous Women of the Brazilian Amazon (UMIAB), and the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR). SCIOA worked to strengthen each of these organizations by providing new spaces for women and youth to participate in decision-making, build skills to advocate for Indigenous rights and representation, and preserve traditional knowledge and practices that will help build a sustainable and equitable future. 

In spite of their different perspectives, cultures, and approaches, these three organizations and the communities they represent share a deep relationship with nature and confront similar threats to their way of life, including increased deforestation and climate change impacts. Their first meeting through SCIOA took place in Lima, Peru in 2019. “Despite a complex Brazilian political scene in recent years, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Sara Gaia, IEB’s Indigenous Peoples Program adjunct coordinator, “the Indigenous movements in Brazil have demonstrated enormous resistance. They were able to incorporate the project’s methodologies into their daily lives with great creativity and resilience.” 

Indigenous young people are fundamental to building sustainable livelihoods and serve as a powerful force for change in the region. SCIOA supported CIR’s young people’s farm that connects youth to income-generating activities and the knowledge of their elders. 

“Young people tending the orchards to help their parents and grandparents have awakened the interest of other youth to join in this traditional work,” says Raquel Wapichana, CIR’s youth coordinator. “SCIOA enhanced youth participation and administrative sustainability, while helping us to recover traditional seeds.”

Another group often sidelined from decision-making—Indigenous women—stand out for their defense of Brazil’s culture and environment. They have taken an increasingly relevant role in their communities, leading struggles for their rights and representation, as well as becoming important actors for the preservation and transmission of traditional Indigenous knowledge and practices. A record number of Indigenous women ran for office in Brazil’s 2022 elections.

SCIOA encouraged leadership among these underrepresented groups in all three organizations. “We can confidently say that all the organizations have focused on empowering Indigenous women and youth,” says Gaia. “We saw new spaces for participation open, resulting from these organization’s greater political maturity, but also thanks to the enabling conditions SCIOA created to strengthen these specific areas.”

For UMIAB this took the form of connecting women on virtual platforms and facilitating a process for women to address and counter gender-based violence.  Women representing nine Indigenous regions of the Brazilian Amazon participated in hearings that used sensitive listening methodology to share their experiences in a safe space. 

“It’s very important for us Indigenous women to become stronger, because we need to reach our grassroots communities,” says Edna Shanenawa, UMIAB deputy general coordinator. 

With USAID support, OPIAM, which is active in the Madeira region of Brazil and represents eight different ethnic groups, has gained prominence in the Indigenous struggle of the southern Amazon. “Through the SCIOA project, we are enhancing our capabilities in Madeira, including project management, communication, mobilization, and articulation for the defense of Indigenous rights,” says Nilcélio Rodrigues Ramos, OPIAM’s executive coordinator and member of the Jiahui people. SCIOA supported the creation of a women’s department of the organization, which convened for the first time in 2022 with 50 participants. USAID also supported delegations from UMIAB and OPIAM to attend the March of Indigenous Women in Brasilia held in January 2023 to advocate for their ancestral lands.

Representatives from all three organizations celebrated their accomplishments at the end-of-project event and explored future efforts to strengthen and expand their political impact, which is vital to the sustainability of their way of life.

This blog has also been translated into Portuguese.

Brazil, Peru
Strategic Objective
Climate Risk Management, Forest/Forestry, Gender and Social Inclusion, Indigenous, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Resilience
Latin America & Caribbean

Luana Luizy

Luana Luizy is a communications advisor for IEB’s Indigenous Peoples.

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