Indigenous Communities And Their Fight For Basic Services
2,000 Brazilian families, representing 14 different indigenous groups live in the Nova Vida community, without formal access to water, electricity, health care, or education. They also lack legal rights to the land on which they have formed their community, even though part of it is a traditional burial ground. The families have come together to fight for their rights, gain title to their land and access to basic services as required under Brazilian law.
In the northern Brazilian city of Manaus sits an informal settlement of 2,000 families belonging to 14 different indigenous groups. It is called Nova Vida, or “New Life.” But building a new life here has proven difficult, as the community is fighting to obtain titles to the land and, subsequently, access to the basic services such as water and electricity as well as schools and health care facilities. Through the Home Equals campaign, Habitat and our partners will be seeking policy and systems changes that help communities much like Nova Vida access basic services and tenure security through empowered participation in processes that give them real input into solutions
Raising their voices in support of a new life
Part of Nova Vida is built on an old burial ground called Cemitério dos Índios, or indigenous cemetery. The families in the community live in extremely precarious conditions, without access to public services such as water, sanitation, and electricity. In addition, the nearest health center does not serve them because they are not recognized as formal residents of the region. And to make matters worse, there is no school nearby.
The families of Nova Vida are not attended to by the National Indigenous Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio), nor by the municipal and state public authorities, since the entities claim that they lost indigenous rights after having left their natal villages and moved to an urban area. Families are left totally excluded from any type of assistance and public aid normally provided to indigenous groups.
In addition, three years ago the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office began threatening to evict them, alleging that there is an archaeological site in the area. Today, the community is fighting not to be evicted because the archaeological site is an indigenous cemetery, and therefore, because of their beliefs and culture, they have the right to the land they are occupying.
The Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (Instituto do Patrimonio Histórico e Artístico Nacional) has indicated that it is ceding the area to the community, but despite this, the legal process is still ongoing. The 2,000 families are currently protected by a precautionary measure of the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court, but it has an expiration date.
The community united against threats of eviction and has struggled to fight for what is now their land. This struggle has been carried out mainly by the women of the community, and their main causes are the legalization of the houses, the paving of the streets, and ensuring access to water and sanitation. “It is women who are in the fight. We are the ones that go to the meetings. In the protests we do, women are in the front line, often with their children,” says Sol, a 43-year-old Nova Vida resident, and mother of a 9-year-old boy. She is married to Hellen, another community leader.
Access To Water in Indigenous Communities
Access to clean water is an urgent need in the community. Before, there was only one remote water point in the community used by 300 families, who formed huge lines to fill buckets at this point and take them home. Today, the community has organized itself and brought water to families’ homes through pipes from these points, but it often comes out turbid or dirty, so families are forced to buy water for drinking and cooking.
Those who cannot afford to buy it end up getting sick. In addition, the amount of water that reaches the community is often insufficient, and families have nowhere to store it. The houses located in the upper part of the community receive less water because the pressure is very low there.
Sol is an artisan and also works as a hospital cleaner. Her biggest dream is to study nursing and specialize in indigenous health to help the people in her community. She explains that today it is very difficult to have access to health and education in traditional indigenous villages. Many families leave the villages, even if they don’t want to, in pursuit of better living conditions for their children and hope for a better future…but living in the city means the risk of losing community and traditions.
Another neighbor is Hilda, 56, (below) who is an indigenous woman of the Piratapuia ethnic group. She has lived in the Nova Vida community for 5 years with her husband and stepson. Hilda and her husband have odd jobs and at the end of the month, they have very little left to put toward the construction of their house.
Hilda (above) also participates in the group of women artisans in the community who sell the products they make. She was born in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, the municipality in the state of Amazonas with the largest concentration of indigenous communities in Brazil. Raised by her grandparents, she never knew her parents. She studied up to 4th grade. She worked as a nanny for families when she was still a teenager and later moved to Manaus, the state capital.Hilda was living in a rented house when she learned that the community was being formed on an old Indian burial ground. They said that anyone interested in living in the community had to be willing to fight for their rights. She put her name on the list and moved into the community. And since then, she has been fighting with her neighbors against evictions and for access to basic public services.
She says the place is considered sacred by the indigenous people and was used as a home. Not a single tree was felled. Hilda’s biggest dream is to get title to the community and for everyone to be able to live in their homes without fear of eviction.
In April 2023, Nova Vida residents celebrated an important advocacy win. After years of negotiating with governments for tenure security, families and civil society partners convinced the Museum of the Amazon to collect and safeguard the archeological material. The Federal Public Ministry and the Heritage Institute agreed with the measure, that will finally allow families to remain in the area. “The area received the Reporting Mission in 2021; and this helped to bring strategic stakeholders to the table, to find the best way to overcome local challenges and address families’ needs”, said Adnamar Mota, Habitat Brazil advocacy assistant in Manaus.