About us

About us

Iepé is the term traditionally used by the indigenous groups of the Guianas, to describe a friend and exchange partner in the complex networks maintained between communities.

Iepé – Instituto de Pesquisa e Formação Indígena

Iepé’s mission is to contribute to the cultural, political strengthening and the sustainable development of Amapá and northern Pará’s indigenous communities, strengthening their collective land management, so that their rights as ancestral people be respected.

Iepé was established in 2002 connecting the previous work of its 12 founding members, already involved in academic research and collaboration with indigenous peoples (IP) from Amapá and northern Pará states in the Brazilian Amazon. Throughout the past 17 years, Iepé has gradually widened its focus, range of activities, region of operation and institutional partners. Iepé works in partnership with IP and their representing organizations and with State and federal government agencies. Through those partnerships, Iepé works in defense of indigenous rights, assurance of their well-being and quality of life in the present and in the future, as well as for the conservation of the rainforests where they live and those around them. Iepé have been monitoring and working for the improvement of Brazilian indigenist and environmental policies. We have a indigenist-qualified work team of around 40 people and have received funding by both international cooperation and the Brazilian government. Iepé has three branch offices in the Amapá e Pará states and a main office in São Paulo. We have published a wide set of books and additional material contributing to a new perspective on the indigenous ways of life, their rights and the current challenges they face.

Iepé’s work

Iepé works with the indigenous communities living the in the Brazilian states of Amapá  (Wajãpi,  Karipuna, Palikur, Galibi-Marworno and Galibi Kali´na) and the northern part of Pará (Tiriyó, Katxuyana, Wayana, Aparai, Zo´é, Waiwai, Tunayana, Kahyana, Hixkariyana and Txikiyana), as well as their representing organizations. This groups occupy 10 legally recognized Indigenous Lands and are distributed in 294 villages. Some of this groups also live on neighboring countries, from Guyana, Suriname to French Guiana. These peoples have significant linguistic, cultural and historical aspects in common. This region also contains around 13 registers of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. Additionally, we also support other social groups (such as the Brazil nut extractive communities of Rio Iratapuru, the people in the governmental settlements of Perimetral Norte road and the quilombolas (maroon) of the region of Trombetas.

The indigenous communities of the region, living in legally demarcated lands, with set limits, face the challenge of ensuring the well-being of their current and future generations. To ensure the sustainable use of the existing natural resources in their territories and guard the limits of their lands to prevent invasions became strategic.

Brazilian IP, although holders of their own cultural traditions and world views, and with certain rights protected by the Constitution, have suffered in the current development model, centered in the predatory exploitation of primary resources, and the infrastructure projects that advanced over the Amazon, such as roads and hydroelectric dams. There is a measured increase in all the drivers of deforestation, specially artisanal small scale gold mining (ASGM) increasingly threatening IP, even those located more protected areas of the Amazon. Such scenario is worsened by the current political scenario, with the expansion of the agribusiness caucus in Congress, with a series of legislative measures that intend to restrict or reduce indigenous territorial rights and also executive decisions by the President, substituting IP access to their specific policies with policies oriented for the “poor” or “disadvantaged”. A freeze in the recognition of all territorial rights by the federal government completes a dark scenario for IP at the moment.

In this complex scenario, Iepé is focusing in supporting IP to be able to maintain their ways of life and to have a dignified future, as culturally differentiated groups and intend to contribute to an integrated management of protected areas, involving different Conservation Units (CUs), natural resources extractive reserves and Quilombola Territories (QTs).

Guiana Shield

Iepé’s work is focused directly on 13,274,958 hectares of legally recognized Indigenous Lands (ILs) and indirectly on 22,186,548 hectares of CUs, in the states of Amapá and northern Pará. Iepé works directly in 10 Indigenous Lands, all legally recognized and designated for the exclusive use of indigenous peoples. In Amapá state: Waiapi IL, Uaçá IL, Galibi IL and Juminá IL; in Amapá and Pará states: Parque Indígena do Tumucumaque IL; and in Pará state: Rio Paru d’Este IL, Zo’é IL, Nhamundá-Mapuera IL, Trombetas-Mapuera IL and Kaxuyana-Tunayana IL. The area covered by Iepé’s activities encompasses diverse kinds of CUs, including National Forests, State Forests, Ecological Stations, National Parks, State Parks, Biological Reserves, Extractivist Reserves, and Sustainable Development Reserves.

The Guiana Shield comprises the area delimited to the South by the Amazon River, to the North and West by the Orinoco and Rio Negro and to the East by the Atlantic Coast. The area of the present proposal is focused mainly on the south eastern portion of this region, comprising the state of Amapá, the north of Pará state and portions of the states of Amazonas and Roraima. The Guiana Shield is home to more than 25% of the world’s tropical rainforests. Recent studies have shown that it is one of the regions of the world with mega-biodiversity. It is estimated that 80 to 90% of the ecosystems of this region are still in good conditions. This region today has one of the highest percentages of protected area anywhere in Brazil, due both to the existence of (CUs) and official recognized Indigenous Lands (ILs). In Amapá alone, 72.06% of the overall territory of the state is covered by these two types of protection. The northern section of the Amazon River in the state of Pará presents an even higher percentage. Other protected areas are included in this scenario, such as the Amazonian National Park of French Guiana, which covers 39.19% of the entire French overseas department.

As well as being globally recognized for its extremely high biodiversity, as shown in diverse scientific studies, the region also contains a remarkable sociodiversity that remains little known and seldom divulged. This region of Amazonia is very difficult to access and most of the time is recalled solely for its CUs, forests and biodiversity, as though uninhabited by people who, with their traditional mode of occupation and use, not only knew how to keep this region preserved, but also contributed to enriching its biodiversity. Iepé works to ensure that these indigenous peoples can maintain their traditional modes of life, systems of knowledge, languages and forms of territorial occupation, allowing them to decide on their own future.

Indigenous LandsArea in haPopulationVilages
Parque do Tumucumaque and Rio Paru d’Este4.266.8523.73757
Nhamundá – Mapuera and Trombetas – Mapuera5.019.940318623
Katxuyana – Tunayana2.184.12071320
Zo’é678.57531044
Wajãpi607.0171.40093

Uaçá, Juminã and Galibi

518.4547.50057

Total

13.274.958

16.846

294

Zo’é

The Zo’é, speakers of a Tupi-Guarani language, have been in contact with support organizations for only the past three decades. During the 1980’s they were contacted by the New Tribes Mission, which attracted the whole population to a base in the southern portion of their territory, where they stayed until 1991. From that point on, FUNAI took assumed responsibility for assisting them, with a post in Kejã, in the middle of the territory. Territorial protection initiatives were intermittent until 2009, when FUNAI was restructured and a specific policy was established for recently contacted peoples through the General Coordination of Isolated and Recently Contacted Peoples (CGIIRC). The Cuminapanema Environmental Protection Front – FPEC, created in 2011, follows the new FUNAI directives, promoting the cultural and territorial integrity of the Zo’é people, whose population has almost doubled in the last 20 years.

 

The Zo’é Indigenous Territory was officially demarcated in 2000 and ratified in 2009 and remained well-protected until recently. The last few years have seen conflicts with small-scale illegal gold miners settled near the western boundary of the Territory, and recently, the southern area was invaded by Brazil nut harvesters. All mining prospecting applications in the Territory were canceled following a judicial request by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, but there are still valid applications in the surrounding conservation areas.

The Zo’é are subdivided into four local groups, occupying specific territories where their old and recent villages and camps are. Different extended families occupy clustered villages, with their composition constantly changing due to matrimonial alliances and partnerships made to occupy new areas.

In the past number of years, the Zo’é have started several new settlements, currently 47 in total. When FUNAI first arrived, there were only 4. The new settlements are small villages, occupied by a few families circulating between different settlements. This remarkable process of dispersion is due to a number of factors, including the logistics support they have received from FUNAI as well as other partners. Access to transportation and communications equipment has meant that families feel safer traveling and settling in villages far from the FPEC-Funai station. In addition, workshops and training activities carried out by Iepé and Funai staff have mobilized the Zo’é to travel through areas where they previously feared the presence of enemies. Now that they are confident in going where their ancestors once did, they have opened new paths and camps, some of them soon turned into villages. Territorial dispersion means better monitoring and territorial control, and also promotes further occupation of areas rich in natural resources, such as the larger rivers margins, which the Zo’é had not previously occupied so intensively.

Trombetas

The Kaxuyana-Tunayana, Nhamundá-Mapuera and Trombetas-Mapuera Indigenous Territories are located in northwest of Pará state, bordering Amazonas and Roraima states.  Predominantly inhabited by indigenous peoples who speak several Karib languages, these territories are home to a much greater sociodiversity of indigenous peoples than officially recognized since the 1960s, when they were known as just the Waiwai, Hexkaryana and Katxuyana. The three territories also host peoples in voluntary isolation who, since the increasing contact, have chosen to remain so. Considering the social and cultural dynamism of these peoples’ interactions both in the present and the past, and also inspired by their common background, indigenous leaders and spokespeople from the three territories and nearby territories (Waimiri-Atroari and Wai Wai Territories) are currently calling them together as the “Wayamu Territory”.  Wayamu is a word for tortoise in many local languages, and the greater territory resembles the shell of a tortoise, an animal that also evokes resistance and longevity, so aspired by the peoples gathered in this wider territory.

These peoples’ experience with outside society goes back to the early 1950s, with the arrival of religious missions to the area, which sought to gather as many people as possible to live in a central village, rather than spread out in scattered villages, as they had been. Since then, and for the following three decades, an impressive demographic void dominated the region, making it widely uninhabited while a few base villages were becoming overpopulated for local standards. This is what happened with Kanashen village, founded by missionaries of the Unevangelized Fields Mission in the south of what was then British Guyana. The same occurred in the  Wayamu Territory, with the establishment of three base villages of religious missions: Kassawá in the Nhamundá-Mapuera Indigenous Territory, and Jatapuzinho and Mapuera in the Trombetas-Mapuera Indigenous Territory. Since the start of the territorial demarcation process in the region in the 1980s, the scattered territorial occupation mode along the main river courses has resumed. The first ratified Indigenous Territory was Nhamunda-Mapuera, in 1989. Although the delimitation studies for the Trombetas-Mapuera Indigenous Territory began in the 1980s, the process lasted for decades, and it was only ratified in in 2009. On the other hand, the Kaxuyana-Tunayana Indigenous Territory awaits ratification, as its Ordinance Declaration was only issued in 2018 by the Ministry of Justice.

The indigenous peoples living in this territory are once again spread out through small villages scattered along the rivers, connected to different degrees by kinship links, and marital, trade and ritual interchanges. Their livelihoods are based on hunting, fishing, gathering and farming, as well as trade with the nearby cities of local products (mostly cassava flour, Brazil nuts, pepper, plant oils and handcrafts), in exchange for money or industrialized goods. Besides that, a number of people receive benefits from the government (pensions, maternity support, scholarships, welfare, among others) and income as indigenous health agents (AIS), indigenous sanitary agents (AISAN) and indigenous teachers. Some young adults of from the Indigenous Territories have graduated or are attending universities close to the region or elsewhere.

Tumucumaque

The Tumucumaque Park Indigenous Territory and Rio Paru d’Este Indigenous Territory are contiguous and form one unit. They are mostly located in the state of Pará with a small strip in the state of Amapá, on the frontier between Brazil, Suriname and French Guyana. Its largest populations are the peoples officially recognized as Tiriyó, Katxuyana and Txikiyana in the West, and Wayana and Aparai in the East (see the table above for the diverse yanas they recognize themselves, beyond the five mentioned here).

Their experience of living together with non-indigenous society began in the early 1950s/1960s in what became known as “Mission/Brazilian Air Force/Indians” model.  In this model, advanced military posts were located close to villages with missionary bases, as a strategy to protect the northern Brazilian border and integrate indigenous peoples into national society. Thus, starting in the 1960s a post was installed in the upper reaches of the Paru d’Este river, with an air force base and a Franciscan mission charged with gathering several groups from the surrounding areas, who have since become known only as the Tiriyó. They also brought in 1969 some Katxuyana, Kahyana, Txiyana and other families from the Trombetas basin, in the West. In the middle reaches of the Paru d’Este river, a FUNAI post was installed in the 1960s by Funai near the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) base, close to the Aparai and Wayana. Between the 1950s and 1980s, these villages served as assistance bases, the only places where there were healthcare facilities, schools, and airstrips, which have increasingly become indispensable elements in the life of those peoples.

The demarcation process for both territories was completed in 1997, with the ratification of both Indigenous Territories: Tumucumaque Park and Rio Paru d’Este. Government actions were taken to regularize and then protect the territories, and new villages were created inside their boundaries. There are currently around 57 villages, 34 on the Western side and 23 on the Eastern side of the complex.

 Each village is home to a variable number of people, usually related by kinship and neighborhood ties with its founder, recognized, in indigenous languages, as the “place owner”. A recently founded village may host a single family nucleus in charge of carrying out activities such as hunting, fishing, gathering and coivara farming. Nevertheless, these families tend to grow with time, mostly due to the arrival of sons-in-law, other relatives and new births. Activities are carried out by families according to a seasonal calendar, divided into two central seasons: the rainy “winter” (January to June) and dry “summer” (July to December). In summer, they practice slash and burning of the capoeira shrublands and plant some of the main cultivated species. There are some ongoing initiatives to trade honey and handcrafts, but the main sources of financial income are government benefits (pensions, maternity-support, family welfare support, among others) and the salaries of indigenous healthcare agents (AIS) and indigenous teachers.

Wajãpi

The Wajãpi Indigenous Territory is in a mountainous area, covered in thick tropical forest, currently inhabited by close to 1,450 Wajãpi, spread across 95 villages. This indigenous group was officially contacted by Funai in 1973, when the Perimetral Norte highway (BR 210) construction began, cutting across their territory. Their population had dwindled to around 150 individuals, after being almost annihilated by the epidemics brought by illegal small-scale gold miners that had arrived in the region before Funai.

To provide assistance to the survivors and liberate the area where the road would be constructed, Funai gathered the families from different regions in a single assistance base near the BR 210 highway. Until the end of the 1980s, new gold mining groups were still arriving in the region, but slowly the different Wajãpi local groups decided to return to their traditionally occupied areas and mobilized to expel the miners. The process of territorial recognition of the Wajãpi Indigenous Territory started with the demarcation of the area in 1980, but was only completed in 1996, with the ratification of its physical limits. During the process, the Wajãpi decided to return and strengthen their traditional pattern of territorial occupation, based on the dispersion of small groups and periodic changing of dwelling and farming places.

In the Social Environmental Management Plan of the Wajãpi Indigenous Territory, published in 2017, the Wajãpi reaffirm this previous decision, as they explain how their territorial mobility allows for the renovation of the forest resources that are necessary to their well-being and, at the same time, enables them to monitor the borders of their territory. However, the concentration of public assistance services like healthcare and school education in some areas near the highway, contributes to the sedentarization and concentration of families along the road, with negative social and environmental impacts. To face such problems, the Wajãpi have been trying to negotiate with government institutions and to influence public policies through their representative organizations, as well as through the work of 27 social environmental indigenous agents based in a number of villages.

Wajãpi livelihoods consist of farming, hunting, fishing and gathering, although some of their work instruments and goods are acquired with income from indigenous teachers, healthcare agents and other community agents hired by the government, pensions and other social benefits or small-scale commerce of handcrafts or agroforestry products. Currently there is Elementary and Secondary education in the Wajãpi Indigenous Territory, where the Wajãpi practice a differentiated, intercultural bilingual education. The Wajãpi language belongs to the Tupi-Guarani branch and it is spoken by the whole population, who also speak Portuguese for the most part.

Oiapoque

In Oiapoque, the indigenous population is close to eight thousand individuals, from four different peoples: Galibi Kali’na, Palikur Arukwayene, Galibi Marworno and Karipuna. They live in 55 villages distributed across three legally recognized Indigenous Territories (Uaçá Indigenous Territory, Juminã Indigenous Territory and Galibi Indigenous Territory), in a continuous area of 518,454 hectares along the border with French Guiana. They are ethnically different peoples, but they recognize themselves as “Oiapoque indigenous peoples”. They speak Parikwaki (Palikur Arukwayene), Galibi Kali’na (Galibi Kali’na) and Kheuól (Karipuna and Galibi Marworno), besides the Portuguese and French they have learned from the different populations that crossed through this region since the Sixteenth century.

Each group has their historical specificities, particular cosmology and unique social organization. Each people occupy a different region, associated to a river basin: the Palikur along the Urukawá River, the Galibi Kali’na along the Oiapoque River, the Karipuna along the Curipi River and the Galibi Marworno along the Uacá River. Besides the four main rivers, there are rocky plateaus, dry land tropical forests, mangroves and seasonally flooded savannahs forming countless islands, where villages and crops are settled. Firm land is more abundant on the West side, where the BR-156 highway was built, crossing the Uaçá Indigenous Territory. By the side of the road several villages were built as a territorial protection strategy to avoid invasions. There are also annual indigenous expeditions for territorial monitoring and boundary clearing, during which several violations are identified and informed to law enforcement agencies.

Oiapoque Indigenous peoples are known for their manioc flour and its byproducts. Their crops, terrains and home gardens are rich in biodiversity and the maiuhi (collective work) system is maintained. In addition, they have vast knowledge of fishing resources and skills, as fish form the base of their diet, together with gathering and hunting. The excess production of flour, assai and other agrobiodiversity products are sold in the neighboring cities of Oiapoque and Saint Georges, in French Guiana. In Oiapoque one can find the Kuahi Indigenous Museum, in which exhibitions and events are held and their handcrafts are sold. In the 1970s, the four indigenous groups started a collective organizing process, holding large annual assemblies, where they discuss common issues, come to decisions and forward demands to the authorities. Together, they have elaborated the Oiapoque Indigenous Peoples and Organization Life Plan (2009), a Territorial and Environmental Management Program (2012) and the Oiapoque Indigenous Peoples Consultation Protocol (2019).