Foto: Beto Ricardo, 2002

Xingu

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The Park

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The Indigenous Park of the Xingu (PIX) is located in the northeastern part of the State of Mato Grosso, in the southern part of the Brazilian Amazon. Over its 2,642,003 hectares, the local landscape displays a great biodiversity, in a region of ecological transition, from the savannas and dryer, semideciduous forests to the south to the Amazonian ombrophyllous forest to the north, including dense forests, fields, floodland forests, terra firme forests, and forests on archaeological black earth. The climate alternates between a rainy season, from November to April, when the rivers are high and the fish scarce, and a period of drought in the other months, the time of the tracajá turtle and the great inter-village ceremonies.

To the south of the Park are the feeder rivers of the Xingu, which make up a basin comprised of the Von den Steinen, Jatobá, Ronuro, Batovi, Kurisevo and Kuluene rivers; the first being the principal feeder river of the Xingu, where it meets with the  Batovi-Ronuro.

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The administrative demarcation of the Park was ratified in 1961, with an area that overlapped with the Mato Grosso municipalities of Canarana, Paranatinga, São Félix do Araguaia, São José do Xingu, Gaúcha do Norte, Feliz Natal, Querência, União do Sul, Nova Ubiratã and Marcelândia.The idea of creating the Park took shape during a roundtable discussion organized by the Vice-President of the Republic in 1952, out of which a pre-project was formulated for a Park which was much larger than what finally was created. Although the legislative and executive powers of Mato Grosso were represented in this discussion, as well as the governor of the state, the state began to concede lands inside the perimeter of the area destined for the Park, to colonizing companies. Thus, when the Xingu National Park was finally created, by Decree nº 50.455, of April 14, 1961, signed by President Jânio Quadros, its area corresponded to only a quarter of the surface area initially proposed. The Park was regulated by Decree nº 51.084, of July 31,1961; adjustments were made on it by Decrees nº 63.082, of August 6,1968, and nº 68.909, of July 13,1971, and the demarcation of the actual perimeter was finally done in 1978.

The hybrid category of  “National Park” was due to the twin objectives of protecting the environment and the indigenous populations which guided its creation, the Park being an area which was subordinate to both the official indigenist agency and the environmental agency. It was only with the creation of the Funai (in 1967, substituting the SPI – Indian Protection Service) that the “National Park” came to be designated as an “Indigenous Park”, thus going back to its original objective of protecting native sociodiversity.

Taking into account the peoples who live there, one can divide the Indigenous Park of the Xingu in three parts: one to the north (known as the Lower Xingu), one in the central region (the so-called Middle Xingu) and another to the south (the Upper Xingu). In the southern part are the feeder rivers of the Xingu; the central region of the Morená (where the  Ronuro, Batovi and Kuluene rivers converge, identified by the peoples of the Upper Xingu as the place of creation of the world and beginning of the Xingu) to (Big Island) Ilha Grande; following the course of the Xingu, one gets to the northern part of the Park (the map to the left indicates the location of all the villages and posts).

In the south, covering the culture area of the Upper Xingu, the peoples there are culturally very similar, and receive assistance from the Leonardo Villas Boas Indigenous Post. On the Middle Xingu, there are the Trumai, the Ikpeng and the Kaiabi, who receive assistance from the Pavuru Post. To the north are the Suyá, Yudjá and Kaiabi, assisted by the  Diauarum Post. Each Post provides for the logistics of projects and activities developed in the Park, such as education and health; on all of them there is a UBS (Basic Health Unit), where indigenous health agents and employees of the Unifesp (Federal University of São Paulo), work together, through an accord with the National Health Foundation. There are yet eleven Vigilance Posts on the borders of the territory, on the banks of the main feeder rivers of the Xingu.

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In the 1980s, the first invasions by hunters and fishermen took place in the territory of the Park. At the end of the 1990s, the forest fires on cattle ranches located to the northeast of the Park threatened to affect the Park and the advance of lumbermen to the west began to approach the physical borders defined by the demarcation. Moreover, the occupation of the area around the Park began to pollute the headwaters of the rivers which supply water to the Park and which lie outside the demarcated area. In this process, there has been an ever-increasing perception among the inhabitants of the Park that what is on its way is an uncomfortable “embrace”: the Park is being surrounded by a process of occupation in the area surrounding it and it is already looking like an “island” of forests in the midst of pasture and intensive agriculture in the region of the Xingu.

Among the actual problems confronted by the inhabitants of the Park, the greatest perhaps result from this process of predatory occupation in the area surrounding the Park. The “area surrounding the Park” covers the region of the state of  Mato Grosso which extends around the principal feeder rivers of the Xingu, from their headwaters. Running parallel to the Xingu, two major highways function as axes for occupation: to the west of the Park, the Cuiabá-Santarém (BR-163) highway; and to the east, BR-158. Under these adverse regional conditions, the natural resources and the sociodiversity of the Park are threatened along the nearly 900 kilometers of its perimeter.

During the 1990s, the Indians’ concerns over these threats stimulated a significant number of new territorial lawsuits. Two of these, which the Indians won, resulted in the Wawi and Batovi Indigenous Lands, of the Suyá and the Wauja respectively, which were ratified in 1998. With these new areas, the total land area of the Park became 2,797,491 hectares.

Continuing with this process, the Ikpeng have been organizing to regain part of their traditional territory in the region of the Jatobá River, which was left outside the demarcated area. The Wauja are also negotiating for the region called Kamukuaká, which is considered sacred and is located on a ranch next to the Park, and which they would like to see transformed into an area of environmental preservation.

The question of monitoring the territory is most certainly high on the list of political questions in the Park, being discussed both in meetings of leaders and assemblies of the Atix (Xingu Indigenous Land Association) and in meetings with the Funai and federal and state environmental agencies (Ibama and the State Environmental Foundation - Fema). Towards these ends, an infra-structure of the eleven vigilance posts mentioned above has been set up to protect the areas that allow direct access to the Park, such as the intersection of the main rivers with the borders of the Park and the point where highway BR-080 borders on these limits.

Nevertheless, the system of posts in itself is not sufficient to confront the situations created by the area surrounding the Park and is thus being complemented by other actions, being developed in the context of the Borders Project, coordinated through a partnership between the Atix and ISA. The project includes the mapping of the advance of deforestation, through satellite photos, and the identification in locus of new vectors of occupation in the area surrounding the Park. It also includes a training program for the Heads of the Posts, the restoration and maintenance of the boundary marks that establish the physical limits of the territory and a geo-referenced databank of all the ranchers whose properties border on the Park. This work makes it possible for the Indians to follow the situation up close as to what is happening inside the borders of the Park and mobilize their communities against external threats, both in inter-village discussions, and with the public agencies responsible (Funai, Ibama and the state government).