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Gamella struggle against land grabbing, Maranhão, Brazil

After decades of public inaction, the Akroá-Gamella community in 2013 decided to organize and occupy farms located on grabbed ancestral territory. While this allowed them to revive their indigenous identity, they also encountered threats and violence.


The indigenous group of the Akroá-Gamella has historically inhabited the Baixo Pindaré region in the north of Maranhão, today consisting of the municipalities of Codó, Viana, Matinha, Penalva and Cajari. Violent confrontations with colonizers date back to the early 19th century, but the group, after ongoing resistance, managed to maintain an area of about 14,000 hectares until the 1970s, when a new law (Law No. 2979 from June 15, 1969) again permitted the usurpation of indigenous land and initiated a process of land grabbing. Until the 1980s, most of the indigenous land had become partitioned and fenced off by ranchers, loggers and land speculators [1][2].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Gamella struggle against land grabbing, Maranhão, Brazil
State or province:Maranhão
Location of conflict:Viana
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Land acquisition conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Land
Sand, gravel
Project Details and Actors
Project details

People from the Akroá-Gamella group currently live in six villages near the town of Viana - Taquaritiua, Centro do Antero, Nova Vila, Tabocal, Ribeirão and Cajueiro-Piraí – in an area of 500 hectares, counting about 1,500 people [3][4]. According to colonial documents from 1759, they have historically owned an area of 14,000 hectares, which corresponds to the area claimed back today [4][8].

Project area:14,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:~ 1,500
Start of the conflict:1969
Company names or state enterprises:Cia Energetica Do Maranhao (Cemar) from Brazil - Built transmission line without consultation of indigenous community
Relevant government actors:Municipal, State and Federal Government
Ministério Público Estadual (MPE)
Secretaria de Estado de Segurança Pública (SSP)
Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI)
Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (INCRA)
Secretaria Especial de Saúde Indígena (Sesai)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Akroá-Gamella community
Mobilização Nacional Indígena
Survival International
Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI) – Maranhão
Movimento Quilombola do Maranhão (Moquibom)
Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT)
Movimento Interestadual de Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu (Miqcb)
Comissão de Direitos Humanos da Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB/MA)
Teia de Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais do Maranhão
Sociedade para Povos Ameaçados
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Akroá-Gamella group
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Threats to use arms
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Fires, Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:The Akroá-Gamella community demands the government to respect their rights as guaranteed to indigenous people in article 231 of the Federal Constitution 1988, including territorial rights, the right to maintain their way of life, and effective, particular rights to health and education [4].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The indigenous community has been fighting for social and environmental justice, but the struggle is ongoing.

As Kum ‘Tum Akroá Gamella in a recent text formulates, this struggle is a multilayered one that seeks to redefine the community’s connection to earth, reappraise ancient knowledge, and oppose the privatization of land. - “When we tear down the barbed wire fence, we tear it down because it was not always there; rather, one day they put it there. When we talk about tearing down the fence inside of us, we are talking about prejudice, racism, violence and patriarchy. It is from this ancestry, from this reconnection with the energy of the earth, that we must carry out the struggle.” [2] … “The earth does not belong to us. It is us who belong to the earth.” [2]

As Kum ‘Tum further notes, in this struggle, silence was an indigenous resistance strategy in order to continue to exist. The recent struggle for recognition and territorial right thus comes as part of a conscious collective search for indigenous identity that for a long time has been silenced by state violence and colonization [2].
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

ILO Convention No. 169
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Santos, R. (2018): Povo Akroá Gamella: do escondimento à luta política descolonizada. CIMI, Relatório – Violência contra os Povos Indígenas no Brasil, pp. 20-23.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[4] Santiago, C. (2020): Terra e identidade: a luta dos Akroá Gamella no Maranhão. Núcleo Piratininga de Comunicação, 30.04.2020. (Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020)
[click to view]

[6] NaBaixadaBlog (2016): Indígenas ocupam MA, no povoado GAMELA, entre Viana e Matinha. 20.06.2016. (Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020)
[click to view]

[2] Tum, K. (2018): Brazil: I am Kum’tum, I am of the Akroá-Gamela People. World Rainforest Movement / Intercontinental Cry, 20.12.2018. (Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020)
[click to view]

“É um atentado contra o direito de existência de um povo”, afirma liderança Gamela - Interview with Inaldo Kum’tum Akroá Gamella in Justificando (2017)
[click to view]

[3] Felipe, S. (2019)): ‘Por que esse homem ainda tá vivo?' The Intercept Brasil, 27.05.2019. (Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020)
[click to view]

[9] (2017): Indígenas ocupam prédio do INCRA e fazem manifestação em São Luiz. 24.11.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020)
[click to view]

[5] Diniz, R. (2015): A força do povo Gamela: “Pensavam que nós éramos matutos, mas nós somos índios. CIMI, 05.05.2015. (Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020)
[click to view]

[7] Survival (2017): Horrific: Ranchers attack and mutilate Indians who demanded their land back. 04.05.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020)
[click to view]

[8] Sposati, R. (2017): “Eles são mesmo índios?”, a pergunta por trás do ataque aos Gamela. Repórter Brasil, 26.06.2017. (Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video: "O conflito em Viana" (TV Impacrial, 2017)
[click to view]

Video: "A vida dos Akroá-Gamella dois anos depois do massacre" (The Intercerpt Brasil, 2019)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Max Stoisser
Last update07/09/2020
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