“In one part of the court room, in among lawyers, politicians and other activists, sat members of Brazil’s indigenous tribes – some dressed in traditional headgear with tribal paint on their faces.
On the other, a group of rice farmers and their leaders – less distinctive in their clothing but, it seemed, no less determined.
Both groups were there to hear Brazil’s Supreme Court deliver a landmark decision over the rights of the country’s indigenous people.
The court had been asked to rule on whether an indigenous reservation, which stretches over 1.7m hectares (4.2m acres) in the Amazonian state of Roraima, should remain a single unbroken territory.
The area, known as Raposa Serra do Sol, which translates roughly as “land of the fox and hill of the sun”, is home to up to 20,0000 indigenous people and was declared an official indigenous reservation in 2005.
Indian leaders viewed the case as setting a crucial precedent regarding the protection of their rights and ancestral lands, with implications for all of Brazil’s indigenous communities.
Their fear, they said, was that a ruling against them would be a signal to land grabbers, prospectors and loggers that it would be acceptable to invade their territory.
An adverse judgement would also create a set of “islands”, weakening the whole concept of an indigenous community, they said.”
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