Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Joênia Wapichana was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
By ensuring documentation, education, and legal representation, Joênia is strengthening the justice system for indigenous people to participate as full citizens. Her work began in 2001 with a program to teach indigenous representatives the scope of their rights relating to a range of issues—education, health care, and environmental and territorial issues. Through this work, Joênia saw that absent or incomplete civic documentation for indigenous people posed a significant problem and provided a basis for discrimination. Lacking basic documents, indigenous people were largely overlooked by public officials. To combat this problem, Joênia brings basic civic documentation, previously available only to indigenous people living in cities, to communities in rural areas. Joênia uses the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), a representative body, to strengthen the indigenous voice in the workings of state and federal government. CIR also extends judicial assistance, allowing the victims of persecution, torture, racial discrimination, and other violations to pursue their cases through legal channels. Joênia teaches community members to assume active roles in the defense of these cases and preventing them from being treated as second-class citizens in the legal system. While building long-term local capacity, Joênia acts as a bridge between the indigenous community and government authorities, reporting rights violations and advancing protections.