Ailton (Krenak) Alves Lacerda

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 1987

Ailton Alves Lacerda is at the center of the complex and loose movement of Brazil's indigenous peoples. He is himself a Krenak Indian. Although he grew up in mainstream Brazilian society, he has had to make a specific effort to reach out to the 180-odd tribal groupings that constitute the divided indigenous community.

With enormous dedication, Krenak has succeeded over the last seven or eight years in providing the skillful indigenous leadership that outside anthropologists could not. He has played a major role in the development of the several Indian organizations that emerged over the last years. He has had to be somewhat self-effacing, but the several people with whom we work who are intimately involved in the Indian rights movement all attest to Krenak's respected, central role and to the fact that it has been a practical, creative one.

Krenak is an intelligent strategist and serves as a bridge between his people and the rest of Brazilian society. He is trying to help Brazil's remaining indigenous communities to survive and become economically independent in ways that are culturally and environmentally sustainable.

Although uncertainty still reigns in Brasilia, it appears as if the new constitution will put the country's indigenous people on a new and much more favorable footing. Foremost, they will probably have very significant lands allotted to them.

A second major change that seems quite likely would give Indians for the first time the full rights of a citizen to enter into contracts (although they will probably not be permitted to contract to sell lands guaranteed to the tribe). The implications of this change are also enormous.

Krenak, working with his colleagues, needs time to think through and organize a consensus on a new strategy and plan of action to deal with this new situation.

One example of Krenak's creative organizational leadership is the Nucleo De Cultura Indigena, local Indian organizations scattered around the country. This is a step specifically designed to help develop local leadership and organizing skills -- the sending down of self-governance from the initial organizations Krenak helped to create over the last years.

Given the highly personalized nature of traditional relationships within these indigenous communities, the demands on Krenak are enormous and will continue to grow as these new institutions begin to take hold and as the constitutional changes create important changes in their working environment. Ashoka's help is critical in freeing Krenak's time to pursue his vision.