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LaShandra P.

 Sullivan,   ***Draft, Please Do Not Cite****** 

This is a paper that I am preparing for a conference on land development politics. It

touches on the central theme of my dissertation research: the expansion of ethanol fuel
production in Brazil and Kaiowá-Guarani mobilizations for land. The paper is still very
much in rough draft stage of development. I look forward to discussing it with you.

"'The Indian Does Not Produce': Ethanol Production and Land Conflict on the Brazilian

In this paper, I examine ethnographic moments in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, in

which self-identified ‘Indians’ and ‘non-Indians’ articulate ethnic boundaries through

discourses on economic productivity and national belonging. Land use, land tenure and

land occupancy recur as issues around which informants denote meanings of indigeneity

and Brazilianess (in this case referencing a non-indigene, or “não-indio). Political and

economic transformations of different scales factor into the emergence and endurance of

such ethnic boundaries, which become articulated as territorial. I query how land

emerges as a site for both mapping those boundaries and resolving the conflicts brought

to bear in their production.

Since 2007, I have conducted fieldwork to investigate land conflict by focusing

on ethnicity based social movements in the region, particularly, Kaiowá-Guarani

occupations of sugarcane plantations. The mobilizations take place amid two contrasting

processes currently unfolding in Mato Grosso do Sul. First, Brazil’s federal agency

overseeing Indian affairs (Funai) recently commissioned studies to demarcate historical-

cultural indigenous lands. Secondly, expanding agro-industrial production, particularly

sugarcane plantations for ethanol fuel, has put upward pressure on land values and

increased competition over land use. The number of sugarcane-ethanol plantations is set

to multiply from eleven to more than fifty in the next few years. The land conflict

coincides with the unresolved sense of place, identity and citizenship that accompanies

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the significant re-organization of production in the Brazilian countryside, particularly

since the 1970s.

In this paper, I focus on two sets of ethnographic moments, to analyze how

boundary formation, both ethnic identity and delineations of land territory, are worked

out in conflicting and contradictory terms by ethnographic subjects. In each set, different

scales of interventions by state and private institutions have contributed to the terms of

articulations of identity and territory. In the first, Kaiowa express a yearning for “the

space to be ourselves.” They decry that the existing reservations provide insufficient

space to carry out so-called traditional Kaiowa activities, including prior modes of

economic production. Dispossessed of their ancestral lands, their state of land shortage

has wrought contemporary problems like starvation and increasing rates of violent crime

on reservations.

In the second set of ethnographic moments, I describe the general paranoia

pervasive among não-indios concerning how much land will be demarcated as cultural

historical indigenous land. While conducting fieldwork, I heard rumors that as much as a

third of the land of the state is “vulnerable.” Não-indios across different social classes, as

well as public statements from politicians, plantation owners and agri-businesses, lament

that land return would be a waste of resources and detrimental to the advance of the state

of Mato Grosso do Sul, and indeed to the larger path of development of Brazil.

In examining these moments in which meanings of indigeneity and Brazilianess

are articulated, I query how land emerges as a site for both mapping those boundaries and

resolving the conflicts brought to bear in their production. Despite the seeking of

resolutions in ongoing juridical, and sometimes violent, land disputes, I argue that the

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contradictory terms of identity formation remain open-ended and unresolved in the

articulations of difference. Indeed the ongoing political and economic transformations

continue to undercut prior ways of life, increasing the precariousness of the means of

subsistence. For example, the expansion of mechanization of manual agricultural work

shifts from remunerated work on the land to agro-industrial work in cities. Ironically, the

ongoing trajectory of “rural exodus” of people from the land that began in the mid 20th

century has coincided with expressions of identification with the land through “ethnic”

and “national” imaginaries of rural space and belonging.

Over the course of the 20th century, Brazil’s population shifted from roughly 80%

agrarian to 80% urban. There existed a push-pull relationship between the city and

country in which people were attracted to industrializing urban areas by the prospects of

work and pushed off the land by a variety of factors. Though droughts in the northeast,

massive deforestation (Dean 1995), and public works like hydroelectricity projects

(Bloemer 2001) were factors in the rural exodus, changes in the regulation of land and

labor displaced millions of people in favor of large landholders (called fazendeiros) and

agro-industry. In Mato Grosso do Sul, an explicit program of colonization for rural

development often violently displaced indigenous populations onto reservations. `

Both indigenous and “non-indigenous” people have faced similar circumstances

of displacement by large-scale agro-industry and incorporation as manual laborers.

However, researchers have contrasted in their approach to study of these transformations.

Researchers (cf D’Incao 1984, Moraes 1999 and 2006, Stolcke 1988) analyze non-

indigenous people in terms of the transformed consciousness in the transition from

peasants to wage laborers, that is to say, they focus on proletarianization. In contrast,

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specialists on the Kaiowá-Guarani (cf Brand 1997, Almeida 2001) concentrate on the

continuities of ‘culture,” as a as a given basis of identity and political mobilization, along

lines of kinship and ethnicity.

For example, anthropologists (e.g., Carneiro da Cunha 1987) that sought to

influence the writing of the 1988 constitution, argued that the basis of indigenous land

rights are based on their status as first occupants of the land and the subsequent

legislation recognizing this basis over a series of Brazilian governments. Terras

indígenas belong to those who have a genealogy that goes back to pre-Columbian era


In an influential essay, Seeger and Viveiros de Castro (1978) advocated studies in

Brazil of the cultural impact caused by settler land encroachment and the displacement of

indigenous people onto reservations. They wondered how the pre-existing characteristics

of these tribes would produce new cultural forms in response to that confinement. Seeger

and Viveiros de Castro argue that geography alters cultures in accordance with their pre-

existing characteristics, particularly their economic activities. Unmanaged settler

encroachments near indigenous people, as well as their displacement and confinement,

therefore, ought to be expected to transform these groups accordingly. Proponents of

designating protected areas for indigenous people, including the Yanomama (Ramos &

Taylor 1979), cited such changes and the negative impacts of unregulated contact and


With a narrative of cultural loss and recuperation, the bulk of literature on the

Kaiowá pleads for land return and protection to prevent such externalities and preserve

Kaiowá culture (cf. Brand 1997; Almeida 2001). This approach amounts to a sort of

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impact study of land loss, where the goal is to advocate moral redress for victims of

colonization and dispossession by demonstrating the cultural loss and accompanying

social distress (malnutrition, crime, etc.). In these analyses, recuperation of land would

rectify such problems by allowing greater autonomy to live in accordance with prior

ethnic ways of life, i.e., economic activities and social organization.

Much of the literature on the Kaiowá’s land struggles (e.g., Almeida 2001; Brand

1997; Pereira 2004), cite Barth’s (1969) analysis of ethnicity as determined by the

boundaries recognized between groups. The positive definitions or characteristics

delimiting a group are not the basis of the discreteness of the group’s ethnic category.

Such positive definitions contain contradictions and inconsistencies. However, the

groups still recognize themselves and are recognized in relational opposition to other

groups. The boundaries that operate to distinguish groups are the basis for the ethnic


However, this approach to ethnicity does not account for how political and

economic contexts of different scales factor into the emergence or endurance of ethnic

boundaries. By different scales, I mean the national and international processes that play

into structures of authority and networks of exchange of ideas and commodities. For

example, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank exerted

considerable influence on the then military dictatorship in the 1980s by linking financing

for development projects in indigenous areas to assurance of studies for demarcation of

indigenous territory and the impact on these populations (Carneiro da Cunha 1987:132-

133; Guimarães 1989:40). Such conditions mandated an articulation of ethnicity as a

basis for interlocution with the state and transnational institutions.

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Moreover, transformations in land occupancy regimes, as well as regimes of

production and accumulation of surplus emergent with land use policies are complicity

with ethnicity terms in which identity and place become linked to stakes of material

survival and being, or more to the point, survival through being. Similar to the

emergence of “cowboy and Indian” narratives through country music in the mid-20th

century, notions of rural selfhood linked to prior modes of production on the land become

possible only at the moment in which those former relations of production have been

utterly transformed. Indeed, such narratives emerge in urban contexts in folk

remembrances of invoked past, and remembered sense of place to which one belongs.

This sense of self, experience of identity and self-fashioning, is enacted as moments of


These conflicts play out amidst a neoliberal economic order in which access to the

material means of everyday life have become increasingly precarious for rural people in

general and the Kaiowá in particular. Factors like the increased concentration of land

ownership, capital intensification of agro-industry and mechanization, as well as

rationalized management of labor contribute to the increased precariousness. This

remains the case despite current government efforts to extend welfare programs to the

desperately poor (Haddod 2008). Thus, the conjunctural context in which lands are

claimed according to ethnicity, studied for demarcation, and contested by different


Kaiowá invoke a primordial essence and “tradition” that calls on the past, while at

the same time enables a way out or solution to present crises. This invocation emerges

from the precarious conditions described above as a means of envisioning possible

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futures. Thus, this research project focuses on what Comaroff and Comaroff (2004: 336)

call the “crisis of reproduction” under conditions of contemporary capitalism. This

references a sense of disorder accompanying political and economic transformations that

have altered the terms of access to the means of reproducing one’s social order and way

of being. Here, Comaroff and Comaroff refer to the “shifting ratio of desire to

possibility” in which access to the material means of producing life, for example

employment earnings that afford advancement through life cycles in their myriad cultural

forms, have palpably diminished (340).

By foregrounding land as a point of analysis to be accounted for in relation to 1)

its position as a means of survival through its anchoring of claims on the state, and 2)

object to which ones’ relation serves as a point of nostalgia and longing. In both these

functions land serves as a point of struggle in the material reproduction of life and

prioritizing of competing maps and narratives of citizenship, belonging and subjectivity.

The Sugar-Ethanol Economy and Rural Development

Once considered a drag on the nation’s economic progress, agro-industry in

Brazil’s countryside is now a major force in the national economy. Particularly, the

sugarcane-ethanol industry has emerged as a growing sector in terms of land use and

manual labor. This growth owes its long arc to federal government initiatives since the

1930s. Initially a sugar industry bailout, government subsidization of ethanol fuel

evolved to concern ‘energy security’ with the global petroleum supply crises of the 1970s

(Nunberg 1986). Pro-alcohol, as the program was called, was a boon to both local

capitalists and the newly formed middle-class. The former sought to counter the

flattening of world sugar prices and decline of the dominance of coffee with newly

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profitable ventures (Barzelay 1986). Though recent domestic petroleum discoveries have

dampened the energy security line of logic, international concerns over global warming

and carbon emissions have underlined ethanol’s utility as an environmentally friendly

alternative fuel. This has spurred its ongoing growth as a site for public and private

investment for both national and international finance.

Thus sugarcane-ethanol sector grows practically unabated, particularly in former

hinterlands like Mato Grosso do Sul. Anxieties about how to develop the countryside

have constituted a persistent focus of policy since at least the abolition of slavery in the

late 19th century (Andrews 1991). In southeast Brazil, the assurance of a labor supply

that was both sufficiently plentiful and motivated to fill the labor needs of large

plantations invoked a racialized image of the countryside as inhabited by lazy and

backwards caboclos (considered mixed racial stock of Brazilians). In the second half of

the 19th century, after much debate and maneuverings, a program of colonization was put

in place to insure labor productivity with European immigrants (colonos) and disperse

caboclos further into the hinterland of the country (Holloway 1980; Stolcke 1988). The

clearing of these lands, in turn, made way for further inroads of colonization and rural

economic development (i.e., the extension of deforestation, railroads, roads and

communications lines) into previously un-colonized areas (Dean 1995).

Kaiowá “Way of Life” and Rural Development

The Kaiowá, who call themselves Pãi-Tavyterã, eluded missionization and slave

raiders in the colonial era by hiding in the forests (Meliá, Grunberg & Grunberg

1976:175-177). 1 Late 19th century legal precedents and settler expansion altered these

They were known as the Caaguá, and later the Kaiowá, a variation on “Cayua,” caa meaning forest and

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relations.2 In this period, the government initially leased the land area of the Kaiowá as a

concession to an herva matte3 company, Matte Laranjeiras. Matte Laranjeiras lost

monopoly control over the exploitation of the region with the early 20th century influx of

fazendeiros (plantation owners) for agriculture and animal husbandry. Kaiowá were thus

increasingly moved onto reservations or restricted to 'protected' areas under the direction

of the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios (SPI).4 This occurred sometimes by force (due to

settler violence) and sometimes by choice due to the diminishment of resources (like

forests) or the encouragement of missionaries (Brand 1997:123-133).

While creeping settler encroachment onto demarcated reservations significantly

diminished SPI-protected land from the beginning, displacement reached significant

proportions with an aggressive colonization program under the Vargas government5 that

favored deforestation for agricultural development and land appropriation for fazendeiros

(with a small exception to attract small producers from São Paulo and the northeast).

In the last decades, the third party contracting of sugar cane production is

exemplary of a larger socio-economic transformation of the countryside. Usinas prefer to

contract out cane production to third party producers in order to not have to deal with

messiness of labor management, environmental regulations, etc. The separate cane

growers worry with that and provide the cane supply to the usinas. The risks of those
awa meaning man in Guaraní (Koenigswald 1908:1-3). Alternate spellings for Caaguá include Cayugá,
Kainguá, as well as alternate Kaiowá spellings like Cayuá, Kayová, and Kaiuá.
A federal decree transferred the catechism and civilizing of Indians from the central to the state
governments in 1889. The Constitution of 1891 transferred dominion over the devolution of land to the
states without regard to the rights of indigenous people.
Herva matte, yerba mate in English, is an herb mixed with water to make a beverage stimulant.
The SPI mission of “protecting” the Indians implemented a policy of “accommodation” and acculturation
for the supposed well-being of indigenous populations that rationalized confinement onto reservations.
This state agency created to execute indigenous policy was transformed into the Fundação Nacional do
Índio (Funai) in 1967.
The Colônia Agrícola Nacional de Dourados e os Kaiowá de Panambi e Panambizinho

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types of responsibilities are also spread out across multiple suppliers, thus allowing more

flexibility for the usinas in cases of problems in labor relations, environmental

regulations, etc. However, this increases difficulties of laborer organizing, as well as for

those pushing for greater environmental safeguards. Of course, vulnerabilities remain for

the usinas in terms of insuring a supply of sugarcane, which thus cannot be entrusted

completely to management of loosely related producers. Thus, usinas have some interest

in political regulations of labor relations, territorial disputes over land rights with

ethnic/identity groups and such. The irony, however, is that once granted land by the

state, MST, quilombo and indigenous groups often become cane producers for the usinas

(or rent out their land to such producers). So, the vulnerabilities presented to usinas by

land rights disputes, on their face, do not seem to pose the risk to fazendeiros suggested

by their staunch opposition and activism against land activists.

In the contemporary shift to flexible accumulation in rural production, indigenes

face increased difficulty finding work (even day labor type jobs, contract work is

practically non-existent outside of usinas) for multiple reasons that are historical

developments. Previously, the launching/development of fazendas in the region required

manual labor. With that work done for the most part, the fazendas now established, there

is a less need for that and thus fewer jobs. However, also, the larger context of fewer

jobs has also to do with general moving of workers off of land in favor of day laborers.

This situation extends to non-indigenes as well. The massive displacement of

rural people from is a result of the larger shift in preference to clearing land for more

intensified production, more efficient production by using machines and day laborers

instead of manual labor for example. Previous labor regimes, for example, involved

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fazendeiros allowing people (generally families) to live on a parcel of land in exchange

for them clearing forests and generally developing the land (many examples in lit here to

cite throughout this paragraph: Quieroz, d'Incao, Durham, etc.). These relationships

extended to non-indigenous and indigenous people alike. They would grow their own

food, livestock etc. and sell any surplus for money. They would also buy some

commodities from the fazendeiro with money gained from selling their surplus. Over a

period of time, when the land they were occupying was cleared/developed, they would be

moved to another parcel of land of the fazendeiro and repeat the process. These people

did not have an expectation of land ownership or gaining land ownership. Rights of

posse did not exist. The land was understood as belonging to the fazendeiro in terms of

legal recognition. This was the case for the majority of inhabitants of the countryside in

Mato Grosso do Sul.

Sometimes, communities (based on compadrio, etc.) of people occupying land by

posse existed on the same parcel of land for generations. They did so without recognition

of posse by the state. When eventually fazendeiros showed up to claim their land, a fight

could develop. The fight could be actual violence, or in legal terms within organs of

government, or both. Large landholders most always won these fights. In this way, the

countryside of Brazil was developed over the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The law of 1850 was designed to ensure the privileged possession of elites by not

recognizing posse as a basis for claims to the land. It based rights to land on access to the

bureaucratic processes of the state. Thus large tracts of land held by large landholders by

title became the purview of the protection of the state when disputes by posseiros tools

place. Sometimes, the title of land was held by multiple people or otherwise

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ambiguously held. This could come down to faulty or loss paperwork in offices of

municipal and state offices, for example. However, the former narrative of a lack of

recognition of posse and the privilege of elites in terms of access and protections of the

state seems to be predominant in this history.

Flexible accumulation, increased precariousness in access to land, diminution of

jobs, etc. varies by and within communities of people. Some non-indigenes defend the

rights of large landholders vehemently in the face of a history of dispossession. For these

people, their self-identification as white/non-indian as a point of pride is that they have

worked, and work without complaint respecting the social and legal order. Unlike, for

example, Indians who complain and try to take what is not theirs in their claiming of land

rights. It is a point of distinction for these Brazilians/non-Indians. Others, who have

been politicized (in the MST movement, e.g.) take pride in their protest occupations of

fazendeiro lands. One of my informants recalled a story of a man, who like many

colonos worked as a posseiro but refused dispossession. The guy took pride in the

material objects he had accumulated for himself in his work in the occupation. However,

he laments/ recalls the ridicule and discontent expressed by his peers and family to his

protest occupation.

Kaiowá reactions to dispossession, occupation/invasion of fazendeiro land, is a

reaction to this shared history with non-indigenes. However, many Kaiowa (especially

those with the least access to the non-indigene world due to not circulating outside

reservations and occupations, lack of education, etc.) continue to seek and rely on changa

(remunerated labor) in day labor despite the increased precariousness of such jobs and

resultant immiseration of their living conditions and means of survival.

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“The Indian Does Not Produce”

In the contest for land, questions of meanings of citizenship and Brazilian identity

shift amidst the economic and political transformations wrought by the relatively recent

influx of finance capital for agro-industry. I attended a public forum in Navirai, MS

hosted by the state’s plantation owners syndicate in which a representative of the group

complained that his ancestors had come to Mato Grosso do Sul to clear the forests for the

country and make the region productive. They were Brazilians who fought to establish

this area as a frontier to advance the country. He complained, to the approbation of many

in attendance, that now the state wants to seize their land to give it to “indios quem não

produzem nada” (indians that do not produce anything). Invoking an identity shared by

descendents of the regions Brazilian pioneers, the syndicate representative set up an

opposition between these descendents as Brazilians, a category distinguished by the

productive activity in opposition to the lazy natives. Such narratives are not new to

settler, colonial contexts.

However, for Brazil, the contours of Brazilianess, the lines drawn between so-

called first occupants and settlers can range from cooperation to inter-mixture and fusion

through the very identity of Brazilian-ness, through the composition of the universalist

national subject. Prior narratives of acculturation sought to delineate ethnic boundaries

as points always in process of becoming transgressed through the supposed onward

march of national progress, and realization of Brazil’s suffusion of three races: white,

Black and Indian.

For example, though Brazil’s 1988 constitution championed already existing

rights for indigenous groups within Brazil, it was part of a multiculturalist shift in

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politics. For example, note the difference between an earlier turn of the 20th century,

positivist national slogan for Brazil “Order and Progress” (burnished on the national flag)

and Lula’s recent slogan of “Brazil: A Country for Everybody.” The former describes an

“imaginary of future transcendence of current reality and the other an imaginary of co-

existence and identity” (Mitchell 2008:2). Previous ideological regimes sought national

unity through the sublimation of racial difference via miscegenation or depicted

“Indians” as the quintessential and original Brazilians (Garfield 2001:36-37). Though, as

an extension of this logic, the state put forth acculturation programs to “civilize” the

Indians due to their so-called primitive state of development. Today, at least in law, such

policies have given way to multiculturalist redress of past wrongs through affirmative

action programs and land return to indigenous and quilombo people. 6 Mitchell rightly

notes, however, that the current multiculturalism (like its homogenizing predecessor)

presents the nation as a panoply of identities while offering scant detail on both the

arrangement of relations between them in the application of newly defined rights. This,

of course, is the problem that the identity-based movements are at pains to resolve.

“The Space to Be Ourselves”

Kaiowa informants, teachers (professors) and sugarcane cutters alike, complained

of not having the “space” to enact traditional Kaiowa social organization. The crowding

onto reservations, they said, was the underlying source of conflict because Kaiowa

traditionally live far apart from each other, grouped according to family units. Living

close together creates conflicts because of the proximity of other groups, jealousies, and

rivalries. Having the proper amount of space would diffuse these tensions.
Quilombos are communities of descendents of escaped slaves. Mato Grosso do Sul has one of the largest
concentrations of quilombo communities in Brazil (Clavelin 2006). Also of note, MST (Movimento dos
Sem Terra or the landless movement) members have also won land claims in the state.

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In public events that I attended on indigenous reservations, sharing space between

different factions posed a challenge to even organizers. Who attended an event, whether

an Aty Guassu sponsored by non-governmental organizations, or public services

workshops hosted by municipal government, served as a marker of political rivalries and

factionalism. Shared space, or sharing space, underlies the urgency of reclaiming space.

The origins and intensifications of rivalries, factionalism and conflict, emerge from

different historically emergent changes in policies, administration, organization of

production and exchange. Though, the recourse to an invoked past of social harmony

rough by a former, enlarged map of Kaiowa territory in which they were allowed to

achieve that harmony by being allowed to “be” Kaiowa. The being is dissociable, from

the spatial organization in which it occurs.

Indeed violence on the Bororo reservation outside of Dourados city has become

so notorious that many consider it unsafe to leave their homes at night. While

interviewing two professors that live on the reservation, we were forced to cut the

interview short in order for them to arrive home before nightfall. Stories of violence

include tales of youth gangs that rob and maim without reason, including beheading

victims. The general sense that Kaiowa youth were out of control was pervasive.

Kaiowa professors complained that youth lack proper upbringing and orientation because

their parents are always far away cutting cane and working in the city. There is no one

teaching them the proper way of being Kaiowa. Land, they said, was the solution, as it

would allow them to be self-sufficient and close to home.

A thirty two year old cane cutter, who had cut cane full time since aged thirteen,

complained of the increasing scarcity of work cutting cane due to mechanization.

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Pressed to offer an ideal solution, he wanted more work (remunerated labor). More land,

for him, would offer greater security. However, the land would not provide what he

needed to buy materials for his house, for example.

Curiously, Kaiowa imagine a future of land return that would allow them to return

to a past mode of life. Yet, for those favoring land return, there is little factoring on how

previous modes (so called traditional) of production would allow access to contemporary

material goods like cell phones and mopeds.

Pereira (2004b) described lines of difference over land and being Kaiowa

between, for example, evangelicals and so-called traditional believers, as well as

generational differences. While most Kaiowá describe the current problems facing the

Kaiowá in terms of “crisis,” there are cleavages in accounts of the cause and solutions.

Older shamans and representatives of indigenous organizations claim a need for a return

to “traditional” forms of religious worship and social organizations. These people push

for the return of lands taken in colonization as a way of recovering previous forms of

social organization and a return of social order and stability. In their rhetoric they

explicitly reject "white" influences and consider such influences at the root of the

contemporary crisis (275). Young leaders and Pentecostals also consider these influences

as prejudicial and invoke an idealized past. However, these groups consider such a past

unrecoverable and irredeemably lost. Thus, they see themselves as mediators to new

forms of integration with the national society that offer solutions that both move the

community forward (i.e., attributing failure to the traditional leaders) while at the same

time holding over translated forms of previous cultural norms and values towards

progress (298). The idea is that land recovery is but one piece to a larger solution of

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integration as Kaiowá into the national society.

****No conclusion yet****