Brazil: Joênia Batista de Carvalho

Peace, to us indigenous people, is living with dignity, quietly, with our families, in our community, in our land, free of threats, invasions, destruction, persecutions and death.

— Joênia Batista de Carvalho

Joênia Batista de Carvalho (1974) is part of the Wapicharas, an indigenous ethnic group. She was born in Roraima, a Brazilian state, where indigenous rights still face great resistance to be recognized. She was the first indigenous in the country to become a lawyer. She works at the Indigenous Council of Roraima and is mainly focused on indigenous territorial rights. She seeks for justice for victims of violations: death threats, persecutions, torture and racial discrimination.

Until she was seven years old, Wapichara Joênia Batista de Carvalho lived in many indigenous villages. “My father used to move a lot because he believed a spirit was following him.” One day, her mother got sick of that and decided to settle down. She moved to Boa Vista, capital of Roraima, and enrolled her kids in school. Joênia learned how to read and to use mathematical operations. She also learned how to defend herself. “People used to bother me because I am an indigenous. I would talk back and my mother would tell me to be quiet, but I never lost my pride.” She got into the Roraima Federal University Law School in fifth place. “Most students–whose parents were judges, district attorneys, politicians–asked what I was doing there.” In a state where indigenous people are extremely discriminated, Joênia has not only graduated, but has also made people hear her. Nowadays, she is a national role model recognized by public powers and indigenous people, who were not used to female leaderships up until then. Joênia Batista de Carvalho is the only lawyer at the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), and she provides assistance to 238 communities from all over the state. Her main challenge is to obtain full legal recognition of the indigenous land Raposa do Sol, home of 15,000 people. Currently, it is one of the country's major conflict areas between indigenous people and invaders–gold miners, ranchers, rice growers. “A lot of indigenous people have been killed there.” Joênia (31) faces “constant prejudice, discrimination and death threats.” She does not feel intimidated: she is a mediator between indigenous people and government authorities. She gives countless lectures in Brazil and abroad about her people's situation. She also participates in courses for indigenous leaderships.

Conselho Indígena de Roraima (CIR)