“It is a double-edged sword between government desires and what your community needs”

It was really a privilege to interact with the indigenous communities. We have been generously welcomed by the native Guarani people of Boa Vista, Tekoa Kalipety, and Tekoa Yvy Para-Jaragua. The children and teenagers from their neighbourhoods sang traditional songs to welcome us at each of their doorsteps. What an honour it was to be in their presence. We listened and shared stories of origin and cosmology, along with stories of the challenges we bear as indigenous peoples, and recommendations for how to improve our communities.

The Guarani people regard their health just as highly as everything else. Upon our arrival, they started blowing smoke throughout their meeting house as we sat down. Leandro, one of the students from the University of Sao Paulo, shared his knowledge with us. “The smoke heals from spiritual disease. …[the smoke] takes away from the disease because we believe that through it we connect with our creator father (Nhanderu)”.
When I asked him for more information about the illnesses their native relatives were alluding to, he responded, “All diseases, both those that are more visible and the invisible, so it is part of our being to take care of our elders…he puts the smoke in our body until the disease comes out and we are eventually we are healed”.

It was amazing to watch as they carried out their rituals in front of us. Although this would be disregarded in a western context, I know that the spiritual wisdom I absorbed would be highly valued among our indigenous communities. With increasing suicide rates among our young people combined with mental health implications, it was important for me to inquire about ways in which they navigate solutions to mental health. What I took from this was the value in which their connections to spirituality created a space of non-judgement and unbiased discussions. Personally, a great pathway to lead and promote within our own healthcare systems. The colonisation of our spaces has led to a continual disregard for indigenous healing practices. After an exchange in conversations, psychology lecturers at the University of Sao Paulo are hopeful that, despite the west’s rejection of traditional medicine as a legitimate type of treatment, western and indigenous knowledge could hopefully one day be combined to offer our people the best care possible- an interesting discussion which aims to re-indigenize our systems.

The Guarani, as with all indigenous people, consider the environment as an extension of themselves, standing strong in unity and supplying vitality, even though resource exploitation for the environment is a widespread practice today from farming corporations and predatory groups. Although suffering from exploitation, Guarani culture is still thriving and powerful. They are planting the same knowledge seeds with smaller groups in an effort to increase their community’s resistance to colonisers. Food and water sources, on the other hand, are becoming more and more crucial for the survival of their group while the demand to use outside influences like the internet and cell phones (or “diseases,” as they like to term them) is increasing. It’s conflicting and contradictory. Despite the strong feelings of animosity they have towards colonisers, their need for even the most fundamental rights to food and water puts community leaders in a precarious position. Nonetheless, meeting the needs of their people has always been their main priority.

During our visit to the University of Sao Paulo, we were met with two incredible Guarani students- Leandro Karai Mirim and Natan Kuparaka with whom we were able to bond and establish a personal connection. When we talked about their aims and aspirations, they always responded with a comprehensive approach that covered moving both themselves and their people ahead. Being in the presence of young indigenous people who, in the face of generational challenges, maintain their sense of self, made me feel safe and grounded while also motivating me to do the same.

Throughout each of our trips, it became clear that their long list of environmental decolonization efforts placed the battle for land reclamation at the top of the list. They used to fight for 1500 hectares of land, but today, despite government rules that allow them to occupy more property, they struggle to fight for fewer than 500 hectares. It was also made apparent to us that just 12–15% of the Atlantic rainforest was still in existence, and the Guarani people still live there to attempt and preserve the remaining forest. For more than 500 years, the Guarani have fought for the most fundamental rights, and it is still evident from the echo of their voices, songs, and cultural practices that they are still fighting for the same rights and striving for the designation of more territory while defending their fundamental human rights and sovereignty.
I became aware of the importance of community and striving towards fair and honest outcomes upon leaving their whenua, and the reality is that it’s challenging to ignore the possibility that we can struggle alongside the Guarani people for sovereignty and fundamental indigenous rights in light of our unheard voices.

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