Indigenous education and culture

Image: Leo Zhao


Considerations on the expansion process of the indigenous schooling system in Brazil

The history of school education among indigenous peoples in the territory dominated by the Brazilian State is divided by Ferreira (2018) into 4 phases. Since a new phase does not mean the end of the other, but it is a milestone of the emergence of new trends or guidelines.

The first phase is marked by the arrival of Europeans until the 1910th century, it boils down to catechesis and a policy of cultural assimilation or destruction of indigenous cultures. The second phase takes place when, in XNUMX, with the creation of the Indian Protection Service (SPI), a new approach by the State in relation to indigenous Education emerged, with an alleged concern for the cultural and linguistic diversity of the original peoples, through an approach less inhuman.

In 1967, Funai (National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples) was created in a context of international complaints regarding Brazilian practices regarding indigenous school education by not guaranteeing bilingual education. Thus, this type of teaching was adopted by Funai, but still with integrationist objectives. Funai partners with the US company SIL (Summer Institute of Luinguistics) to create literacy material in indigenous languages ​​and Portuguese. One of the objectives of this institute is the translation of the Bible into all languages, which shows the strong continuity of the evangelizing character.

The third phase occurs with the emergence of alternative initiatives to the State and non-governmental institutions, from the late 1970s. With the emergence of non-governmental indigenous organizations in the late 1970s such as the São Paulo Pro-Indian Commission (CPI/SP); Ecumenical Documentation and Information Center (CEDI); National Association for the Support of the Indigenous People (ANAÍ); Center for Indigenous Work (CTI) In 1974, indigenous assemblies began to be held throughout the country, articulating indigenous leaders who had until then been isolated from the national political scene. Indigenous organizations were also created, such as the UNI (Union of Indigenous Nations) in 1980. In 1979, the “I National Meeting of Indigenous Education” took place, organized by the CPI/SP. The meeting triggered a series of other education meetings for indigenous people in the country.

The fourth phase would be the current one, with the advancement of experiences of indigenous authorship and meetings between indigenous teachers, currently entering a period marked by an unprecedented insertion of indigenous peoples in national cultural and educational bodies.

The history of indigenous school education is permeated by the tension between horizons of genocide, ethnic erasure and destruction, but also emancipatory yearnings whether through integration into Brazilian society, the labor market or the hope that with formal education it would be possible to better resist.

The documentary Schooling the world: white man's last burden brings a reflection from the example of a school in Ladack, in the interior of India, on the erasure of culture and local knowledge in the name of a globalized Eurocentric cultural pattern that is taught by the school, the film shows how large international corporations finance the schooling of isolated communities, with the final result of their separation from their traditional territories, the erasure of their culture and their proletarianization. Scenario reminiscent of the current moment of indigenous education, with the presence of NGOs with international funding. This process of homogenizing different cultures within a single pattern led the Indian philosopher Vandana Shiva to coin the concept of “monocultures of minds”, denouncing the single capitalist thinking that he creates across the globe.

In Brazil, the assimilation and erasure of indigenous and popular traditional cultures are topics under debate in the gym “The Colonial Trick that Produces, Pardo, Mestizo and Other Poverty Categories”. There, Ailton Krenak denounces how in Brazil the category “pardo” is the result of the erasure of the Afro-indigenous cultural matrix and a lowered proletarianization of these populations, defending a movement of cultural recovery as an emancipatory path.

The indigenous recovery movement is an excellent example of the contradictions of the school institution, if on the one hand schooling is historically an instrument of domination, on the other hand it is also a space often claimed or self-constructed by indigenous communities themselves in their struggle projects. In this sense, we have two examples from Bahia, those of the retaking of lands by the Patoxó Hoje Salomão and the Tupinambá de Olivença, both had a space in the school environment for the process of reclaiming their traditional cultures, their collective pride, valuing and sharing of traditional agricultural, botanical, pharmacological, spiritual knowledge, as well as the organization of the movement for the demarcation and resumption of their ancestral territories, had a strategic space in the school.

The history of the Patoxó Hoje Hánhae was recorded in the book The School of Reconquest of the teacher and indigenous leader Maria MA Ribeiro (2021), known as Mestre Maya and the record of educational practices in the Tupinambá de Olivença community by Santana and Cohn (2016).

Indigenous people in Brazilian universities

In a recent lecture at Unicamp, professor Gersem Baniwa, from the University of Brasília (UnB), dealt with many controversial topics, stated that indigenous authorship is still not fully accepted in academia, and defended the need for an indigenous modernization that does not mean assimilation, acculturation and loss of autonomy.

Optimistic, the professor believes that we live in a time when indigenous peoples in Brazil are once again imagining possible futures after a long period of continuous setbacks. He believes that we live in a moment of overcoming historical guardianship, with the rise of indigenous peoples as subjects in national life.

According to the professor, there has been great progress in the access and permanence of indigenous people in Brazilian universities, despite the inadequacy of specific policies. He sees that pedagogical integration remains a major challenge, in the sense that university education today still boils down to indigenous peoples' integration into Brazilian society, in a process of acculturation and whitening, with no place for knowledge and culture yet to be found Indigenous at the university. There are only spaces that are still very incipient such as a rare seminar or discipline on indigenous thought elsewhere, but there is still no real space for indigenous people either in the curriculum or in research programs.

Gersem Baniwa estimates that there are currently around 100 indigenous people in higher education, with 16 trained doctors and 12 tenured professors in public universities. He believes that this new generation will mark a change in the role that is reserved for indigenous people in Brazilian culture.

Earlier this year, Jorge Figueiredo Alves, a Unicamp student and first cousin of Professor Gerson, committed suicide. The suicide rate among indigenous people is three times the national average. Also in the first semester of this year, Lucas Souza, a student of the master's degree in philosophy at USP, who entered the undergraduate degree in philosophy in the same generation as me in my first attempt to attend the university, committed suicide. Showing how the reality of the poor, black and peripheral student, the indigenous, continues to be extremely hard, massacring us and stealing the meaning of life even from our best companions.

Also at Unicamp, on 12/05/2023, the Extension and Culture Seminar: Houses of Ancestral Knowledge took place, marking the continuity of the project to expand the institutional space reserved for indigenous peoples within this university, even if it still lacks sufficient resources. The visual artist Daiara Tukano gave an emotional speech, told the story of indigenous children separated from their people and raised in seminars, with many killed in this process, in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, defended the insertion of the teaching of indigenous history and culture and Africana as a mandatory subject in Unicamp's undergraduate degrees, passing a petition in this regard.

Naldo Yupurí Tukano, linguistics student and member of the Collective of Indigenous Students at Unicamp, spoke about the process and the difficulties of joint construction with the more than 40 indigenous peoples who are present at the University. He also disclosed the group of indigenous philosophy studies that met every Monday morning at the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences (IFCH) to read the book the fall of the sky by Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, the group of self-organized students meets a demand for debate on Amerindian thought that is still completely absent in the disciplines of the philosophy department at Unicamp.

The Opera O Guarani

In the month of May of this 2023, an exhibition season of the Opera was held The Guarani by Carlos Gomes at the Municipal Theater of São Paulo. Ailton Krenak carried out the general conception and Denilson Baniwa worked on the artistic and scenographic co-direction. It was the first time that opera was staged with a Guarani on stage as one of the performers. The main characters, Peri, the Guarani native and Ceci, the daughter of a Portuguese man, have indigenous doubles in the scene. At certain moments there is a Guarani choir and scenes staged by indigenous people with no continuous connection with the rest of the opera, the indigenous choir appears as a rupture in the lyrical music and its orchestra.

There is a scene that suggests a certain tension, at the moment of Peri's conversion to Christianity, in which the image of Our Lady is replaced by the figure of Peri's indigenous double pointing his bow and arrow at his white double. The opera follows the original libel by Antonio Scalvini and Carlo D'Ormeville and the colonial story that praises the indigenous genocide remains the same. Almost all lyrical singers and musicians performing opera are white. The opera bothered because it served as a political stage for the indigenous people who, at the end of the opera, always raised their banners by way of demarcation.

This staging of The Guarani, together with other milestones, such as the expansion of indigenous participation in universities and the founding of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, mark this juncture of entry of indigenous participation in what was called “high culture” and in the State. If these facts are a historical novelty, the indigenous presence remains subordinate, subjects submitted to the background. The advance in the congress of the Temporal Mark vote, not only interrupting the process of demarcation of indigenous lands, but also putting at risk already demarcated territories, shows the still very narrow limits of the advance of indigenous influence in concrete power for the Brazilian State. Any illusion in these advances dissolves like sugar in the rain, to use the expression of the excellent analysis by Silvia Adoue (2023).

No trail launch of Sustainability at Unicamp on 10/03/2023, Ailton Krenak faced the advance of indigenous figures at the university and in spaces of representation with skepticism, wondering if it would be the right thing to do, citing as an example the process in the USA where indigenous peoples would have lost their territories and cultures but would have gained recognition and money, seeing that indigenous peoples would be facing similar dilemmas here in Brazil today. It remains to be seen whether these new openings to indigenous culture will serve only for assimilation and acculturation, or will potentiate new and unexpected cycles of ascension of struggles and resistance.

*Gabriel de Araujo Silva is a philosophy student at Unicamp.


ADOUE, Silvia. Like sugar in the rain. Invisible Quilombo, 29/05/2023. Available in:

BANIWA, Gersen. Speaks at the Rouanet Institute colloquium, Mesa 4, Indigenous emancipation policies, 14/04/2023. Available in:

FERREIRA, Mariana. KL Indigenous school education: a critical diagnosis of the situation in Brazil. In: SILVA, AL and FERREIRA, ML (eds.). Anthropology, History and Education: the indigenous question and the school. MARI/FAPESP/GLOBAL. 2000.

KRENAK, Ailton. The Colonial Trick that Produces, Pardo, Mestizo and other categories of Poverty. Tamuya TV, available at:

KRENAK, Ailton. Launch of the Sustainability Trail at Unicamp. Available in:

RIBEIRO, Maria Muniz de Andrade. The school of the Reconquest. Bahia, Web of Peoples, 2021.

SANTANA, JV; COHN, C. (2016). Ways of being in culture at and through school: the case of the Tupinambá Indians of Olivença/BA. Anthropologicas, 27(1): 218-244.

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