Indigene policies in Brazil: the example of the Pataxó and Maxakali communities

Júlio C.M. Matias (Universität Hamburg)

About 516 years ago, when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, there used to live at least 5 million natives, which spoke between 1.200 and 1.500 indigene languages. Today, this population is decreased to 700.000 Indians, distributed in about 222 ethnic groups in the whole country, and around 180 original languages are still spoken. The disappearance of most of indigene languages is, on the one hand, a consequence of the extermination of peoples through violence, forced work and deceases during over three centuries of colonization. On the other hand, the implementation of Jesuit schools, where Indians were imposed the learning of Portuguese, had not only impact in language shifting, but also in the identity of indigene peoples, as far as until the first six decades of the 20th century many tried to hide their origins in order to avoid being stigmatized within the Brazilian society. Nonetheless, several indigene communities could manage to avoid contact with non-indians, declining to learn Portuguese as a sign of resistance and culture preservation. In the last 20 years, a new conscience has arised among Indians who experienced language shift in an attempt to rescue the lost languages. In this sense, the school, which once served oppressing and erasing their cultural heritage, receives a positive function in indigenes communities. In this presentation I will provide an overview of education projects in two indigenes communities: the Pataxó, from south Bahia, who established contact and experienced language shift, and the Maxakali, from the north of Minas Gerais, who avoided contact and whose community could by far preserve their language. How does indigene school education differs from non-indigene school education? How can both of them be integrated? How do indigene folks try to reverse the negative effects non-indian schools had in their culture? Is preservation of oral tradition compatible with the introduction of a writing system through school? How do they work?  What do they intend to achieve?  Which organs are responsible for them? Which endeavors have been undertaken towards language shifts on the one side and to promote contact on the other side? These questions shall be discussed taking the as example university projects which were developed among the Pataxó and the Maxakali community.

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