Not only preaching makes the mission
The presence of Christian religious missions among indigenous peoples in this country is, as widely known, an ancient reality, which started with the Portuguese colonization of Brazil. The present scenery in which this presence occurs is rather complex and involves a very heterogeneous set of missionaries.
The teaching of Christian principles to indigenous peoples is not an exclusive concern of the Catholic Church, but also of a myriad of protestant religious agencies. Those, on their turn, reproduce their characteristics of relatively independent religious agents in the context of the mission, multiplying into various churches and denominations, with differences in terms of their theology and ways of acting and converting.
The participation of the Catholic Church does not hide its diversity either. Apart from the work each religious order and congregation carries out, each one with their own charisma and missionary project, there is a widespread presence of missionaries who are directly committed to the pastoral plan of the ecclesiastic hierarchy in the country. The latter are mostly connected to the Missionary Indigenous Council (CIMI), attached to the Brazilian National Bishop Council (CNBB). The CIMI was created to coordinate the missionary actions in a national context and fine tune it with contemporary concerns of the Catholic Church.
As opposed to the missionaries who belong to orders and congregations, the 400 CIMI missionaries, distributed in 112 teams, are more distant from the religious proselytism and concentrate their efforts towards indigenous politics, carrying out some work in the areas of health, education, native Brazilians' movements, legal assistance, etc.
In the last years, some projects for the creation of economical alternatives have been developed, as for example, the territory occupation and self-support project among the Mura tribe, whose goal is the production and commercialization of local fruit, or the project of development and dissemination of apiary and fruit industrialization techniques among indigenous and non-indigenous communities in the state of Amazonas. Both projects are supported by PDA - subprograms from the Brazilian Tropical Forest Protection Plan (PPG-7).
In the 90's, the importance of this discussion made the organ build up the National Self-Support Articulation (Anas), which joins missionaries and assistants in a common forum for a deeper discussion on the topic and for support to the missionary teams and indigenous organizations. CIMI's work with self-support of indigenous groups is carried out in a peculiar way: their projects elaboration is oriented by a clear anti-capitalist and anti-liberal spirit, in a way that avoids the formulation of proposals that carry any traces of a business enterprise or profit making. Roughly speaking, the self-support proposals devised by CIMI aim at a low impact over the socio-economical conditions of the indigenous groups they benefit. These proposals also point out the community sense within these activities.
Still on Catholic organizations, it can't be ignored that in some places, CIMI directly participates, through the local diocesan indigenous pastoral, in the management of the Special Indigenous Sanitary Districts, along with indigenous organizations and NGOs. It is the case of Boa Vista diocese, in the state of Roraima, whose missionaries work in partnership with CIR, and the São Gabriel da Cachoeira diocese, in the Amazon northwest, which works along with Foirn and the municipality representatives.
The action of protestant missionaries is even more complex. Besides hundreds of groups which are often said to carry on practices of sheer disrespect to cultural diversity, imposing strange values, cults and cosmologies to Native Brazilians, there are also groups of protestant missionaries directly involved in indigenous politics. Most of the activities these groups, which are not religious exactly, engage in are related to education and health. Their work on linguistic and grammatical systematization is widely known, and its results are used not only for the translation of the Bible to the native tongue but also to structure indigenous schools and literacy groups.
The work with health care is frequent in many protestant missions, many times filling the gap left by the government. In some places, this health care work is the most important way to legitimate the mission's presence among the Native Brazilians and to justify their getting into isolated indigenous areas.
The most important protestant groups in this scenery are the Evangelical Missionary Work Group (GMTE) and the Indigenous Peoples Mission Council (Comin). These two missionary agencies are very close to each other. Although they are explicitly committed to evangelization, both emphasize the missionary involvement in education, health and Native Brazilian movements. Sometimes they work in partnerships with NGOs and CIMI catholic missionaries. Their joined participation occurred for example in the Popular, African-American and Indigenous Resistance Commitee, and in the '500th Anniversary Indigenous March', an event that proposed a 'counter-celebration' of the official events realized by the government and the Catholic Church.