Márcio José Brando Santilli
Brasília, Distrito Federal, Brazil
Fellow Since 1989
This profile was prepared when Márcio José Brando Santilli was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Nucleus of Indigenous Rights, a national coalition of Indian rights group was founded by Santilli in 1988 and works as a political and legal consultant to organizations under its umbrella.Nearly two years after its ratification, the Constitution lacks regulatory and complementary legislation to turn its precepts to law. The Nucleus and related groups have managed Senate approval of pertinent regulatory laws, which now need approval by the Chamber of Deputies. Gold prospectors, homesteaders, ranchers and timberers continue to stream onto Indian lands, an army project marches forward to "settle" Brazil's northern Amazon borders with Colombia and Venezuela, and Indians remain at odds with the federal agency charged with protecting their interests."We have no reason to feel cheerful before a situation so grave," Santilli says. "But, also, the situation has been grave for a long time, and we feel our work has favored creating a consciousness that permits the situation to get better."Democratization and ecological movements to save the Amazon have advanced Indian's cause in Brazil. At the same time, indigenous peoples worldwide are gaining allies in their struggle for cultural survival.Pressure from in and out of Brazil has forced official attention to bear especially on the Yanomani, the largest tribe in Latin America.Santilli considers them the pivotal point in Brazilian Indian's fight to survive. He says the new government needs to move faster to stop invasions of Yanomani land and consequent contamination with diseases and exploitation of their resources."Our biggest problem today is the push by business and exploration projects for Indians to sell their resources, especially wood and minerals," Santilli says. "In the face of economic crisis and the failure of the (the government Indian agency) to act on their behalf, Indians sometimes have no alternative but to sell wood and minerals in their territory without consciousness of the medium- and long-range consequences."We need to have alternative economic projects for the main groups, supported by the Indians themselves, the government and institutions."Santilli considers the Union of Indigenous Nations the most important voice for Indian rights in Brazil. He carries its messages into the predominantly non-Indian realms of law and politics."I don't think Indians want isolation in relation to the rest of society. I think they want to assure by the law the right to their territories and to relate to the rest of society, including other indigenous societies, preserving their own cultural identity," Santilli says. "I think that could happen, maybe not among groups whose numbers have been so dramatically reduced, but among other, stronger groups better able to resist. We hope at least the larger groups can keep their land and relate in society keeping their cultural identity."