Tuesday, November 23, 2004

In a Land Torn by Violence, Too Many Troubling Deaths

RIOSUCIO, Colombia - At 15, Leida Salazar had just learned to ride a bike, eagerly watched after her smaller siblings and was among the extroverts in a throng of giddy indigenous girls. But a year ago, she fashioned a noose out of a wraparound skirt, hoisted it over the wood-beam rafter of her home and hanged herself.

A note she left for her father voiced anguished fears that Colombia's drug-fueled guerrilla war would engulf her family, refugees to this poverty-stricken village along with dozens of others. But the death of the outwardly happy girl continues to confound her parents and the leaders of a once-sheltered indigenous tribe, the Embera, who never before knew suicide.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Using Courts in Brazil to Strengthen an Indian Identity


ON all her official papers, she is known as Joênia Batista de Carvalho. But that is not the real name of the first Indian woman to become a lawyer in Brazil, just a name a clerk randomly selected when her parents were first brought from their Amazon village to have their births registered.

Whether her preoccupation with issues of cultural identity and autonomy stems from that incident, Ms. Batista is not sure. Still, when she went to the United States earlier this year to receive a Reebok Prize for her human rights work, she chose to accept the award as Joênia Wapixana, using the name of the tribe to which she belongs.

"Everything I do is aimed at focusing attention on our community, so that others, outside, can see who we really are," explained Ms. Batista, staff attorney for the Roraima Indigenous Council here in Brazil's northernmost state. "Why have we as a people been able to continue to exist? Because we know where we come from. By having roots, you can see the direction in which you want to go."