For Kelliane Wapichana, 31, the idea of working with thousands of representatives of Indigenous peoples from around the globe is hardly intimidating. As the youngest ever women’s secretary of the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), she is used to organizing across languages and cultural barriers.
Encompassing 55,000 people across 10 language groups, CIR is one of the largest regional representative organizations in Brazil. It is also one of the most distant from the centers of power, based in the far-flung state of Roraima, which lies along the northernmost border with Guyana and Venezuela.
It stands to reason, then, that for Kelliane, one of the biggest challenges in preparing to march on the capital were logistical. Plane travel to and from the region is expensive, with ticket prices ranging between USD$400 to USD$1200, the latter nearly 3x average monthly wages in the region. Raising the funds to transport a delegation of 18 regional leaders is a major hurdle. But for Kelliane, the opportunity to join thousands of Indigenous women to march on the capital cannot be overestimated.
“Women are always on the front lines. And when we come together, we have enormous strength to fight for what is ours” – Kelliane Wapichana
Women at the Center of Power
This was the first Indigenous Women’s March since the arrival of President Lula da Silva in January, and the subsequent appointment of multiple Indigenous women to office. Among them Joenia Wapichana, a former lawyer for CIR, who became the first woman and the first Indigenous person to direct the National Indigenous Peoples’ Foundation (FUNAI), and Sonia Guajajara, Brazil’s first-ever minister for Indigenous Peoples.
Organized by Brazil’s National Articulation of Indigenous Ancestral Women Warriors (ANMIGA), the program featured a diverse lineup of panel discussions, working groups, cross-cultural ceremonies, and culminated with a march on the capital.
On the first day of programming, Sonia, Joenia, and Célia Xacriabá, Indigenous congresswoman, invited 500 Indigenous marchers inside the National Congress for a historic event.
“We are extremely capable of being at the front of this room, of participating in these dialogues, of sitting at the table as equals, and proposing our own ideas,” said Joenia, as the sound of ceremonial maracas and applause ricocheted off the walls of the lower house.
“At the heart of this march is a powerful call for equal rights for Indigenous women. These women have faced countless challenges and injustices throughout their lives, but they refuse to be silenced” -Brazil’s National Articulation of Indigenous Ancestral Women Warriors (ANMIGA)