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Tapeba Indians threatened by companies and public policies in Caucaia, Ceara, Brazil.


After centuries of colonial appropriation of its traditional territory, today the Tapeba Indians are confined in an area of only 4 thousand hectares on the outskirts of the municipality of Caucaia, Ceará. Even this small area is now threatened by a variety of economic activities that impact directly on the traditional way of life of this people. They face strong political opposition at the municipal level, since the family Arruda, who has dominated the local political field for decades and politicians have committed resources to prevent the advancement of the process of demarcation of their lands.

According to the anthropologist Henyo Barreto, since 1985 the Tapeba people have struggled to ensure their permanence in the remaining lands of their ancestors. That lands are still considered as Union lands, but have not yet been recognized as indigenous lands. In that fight, they face prejudice and discrimination of local society, which does not recognize them as ethnically differentiated people as well as the State who has put in doubt their indigenous ancestry. In 1988, for example, an inter-ministerial group, assigned to analyze the administrative process that would meet the territorial demands of the people, filed a procedure for considering doubts as to its legitimacy, and requiring additional ethnographic studies. This decision was rejected by local indigenous organizations and Tapeba support groups.

Since then, the Fundacao Nacional do Indio (FUNAI) has repeatedly reaffirmed the legitimacy of the demands of the Tapeba. In 1989, FUNAI reopened the administrative process of demarcation and in 1997 published an Ordinance recognizing part of the area traditionally occupied by the Tapeba as indigenous lands. The administrative decision of FUNAI depended on a presidential decree to be approved, but since that year, it has often been questioned in court by farmers and local politicians. In 2002, for example, then-mayor José Gerardo Arruda obtained the annulment of the order by a writ of mandamus granted by the Superior Tribunal de Justica (STJ), which forced the FUNAI to start a new administrative process with additional studies. Meanwhile, the STJ received new judicial disputes of the demarcation process, causing it to be paralyzed for several years.

At the same time as the legal dispute for the possession of lands continues, the Tapeba Indians have suffered with the installation of several enterprises in its traditional territory: the condo Farm Soledade installation; the Brazilian Technique of Food (TBA) and Cerapeles industries work in their territory; the installation of the garbage chute of urban cleaning company; clay exploitation in Tapeba lands by potters, and the project of transposition of water from the Castanhão Dam to the metropolitan region of Fortaleza, with the use of pipelines and a pipeline system that cuts across the Tapeba lands in Caucaia.

Nevertheless the Tapeba people have gotten support from various civil society organizations and achieved some important political victories. In 2007, a petition circulated on the internet touting support for the struggle of the Tapeba Indians. In August of that year, the Ministerio Publico Federal (MPF) obtained a court ruling that suspended clay exploitation in indigenous lands. In 2011, they performed a public act of protest grid with the support of the Tremembé and Pitaguary Indians, a result of growing links between the indigenous peoples of Ceará.

However, if a few victories were achieved, there were also losses. In June 2012, the Court granted an injunction of repossession that ended with the expulsion of the Tapeba Indians from the village of Sobradinho from their homes and the destruction of the village by shock battalion of the military police.

They remain subject to this type of institutional violence, because they have not yet succeeded in the demarcation of their traditional lands.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Tapeba Indians threatened by companies and public policies in Caucaia, Ceara, Brazil.
State or province:Ceara
Location of conflict:Caucaia
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Water
Manufactured Products
Domestic municipal waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Project area:4000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:1985
Company names or state enterprises:Prefeitura Municipal de Tapeba from Brazil
Governo do Estado do Ceara
Brazilian Technique of Food (TBA) from Brazil
Cerapeles from Brazil
Relevant government actors:Fundacao Nacional do Indio , Ministerio da Justica , Superior Tribunal de Justica , Tribunal de Justica do Ceara

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Tapeba, Tremembé and Pitaguary Indians
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:They have not yet succeeded in the demarcation of their traditional lands.

Sources & Materials

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

INSTITUTO SOCIOAMBIENTAL. Populacoes indigenas do Brasil. Tapeba: Informacoes gerais. Disponivel em: Acesso em: 09 mai. 2009.

MAPA DE CONFLITOS ENVOLVENDO INJUSTICA AMBIENTAL E SAUDE NO BRASIL. Pioneiros na luta dos povos indigenas do Ceara, os indios Tapeba enfrentam o preconceito e as velhas oligarquias cearenses, mas vencem a invisibilidade pela arregimentação de forte corren

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

INDIOS Tapeba realizam protesto contra Eixao das Aguas. Combate Racismo Ambiental, 03 nov. 2011. Disponivel em: Acesso em: 28 jun. 2013.

MOREIRA, Aline. Tapebas bloqueiam rodovia em protesto. O Povo, 03 jul. 2012. Disponivel em: Acesso em: 25 jul. 2013.

RIZZO, Alana. Transposicao do Sao Francisco tem 10 investigacoes do MPF em curso. O Estado de São Paulo, 18 jan. 2012. Disponivel em: Acesso em: 25 jul. 2013.

URGENTE: Agora, em Caucaia, Ceara, manifestacao Tapeba contra Reintegracao de Posse. Combate Racismo Ambiental, 10 jul. 2012. Disponivel em: Acesso em: 25 jul. 2013.

INDIOS realizam manifestacoes amanhã no IBAMA e Semace contra degradacao ambiental e licenciamentos em Terras Indigenas. Combate Racismo Ambiental, 14 set. 2011. Disponivel em: Acesso em: 28 jun. 2013.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Toré dance

Tapeba Indians perform traditional ritual

Manifestation of the TAPEBA People, at KM 14 BR 222, municipality of Caucaia, Ceará

Meta information

Contributor:Diogo Rocha
Last update08/04/2014