January 18, 2009

We Meet the Xavante...at Their Place!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 14—Back to the Carter ranch experience for today's post...

In yet another throwback to the Old West, the native tribes in Brazil have not been treated particularly well. The Xavante (shuh-VON-shee) reservation (400,000 acres) is adjacent to John’s ranch.

PHOTO 1: John Carter meets with Damaio, chief of the Xavante, about some of the projects the tribe has underway.

This branch of the Xavante, distantly related to the Apache, is known as warriors and they have a long and bloody history. They saw their first white man in the 1950s! In recent times, however, they have been shuffled about from place to place. At one time, a few hundred were flown to southern Brazil for relocation—where the combination of stress and an inadequate immune system led to the death of some 25% of the relocated group.

PHOTO 2: Our group listens as John and the chief talk.

After some initial tenuous and tense situations (some stories for another time and place!), John has established a peaceful coexistence with the tribe. John is helping the tribe by giving them the occasional animal, teaching them to ride horses (mules, actually) and generally helping them gain skills in managing crops, cattle and land.

What does this have to do with our trip? The dynamic between the Indians, the squatters, the invaders and the landowners is complex—and is yet one more factor in the land use issue. The opportunity to manage land, crops and cattle is helping restore some pride and confidence in a people who have been displaced and distressed for decades. And this intricate equation of competing interests is at the very heart of the land use issues in Brazil.

PHOTO 3: John Carter has given the Xavante some cows to help them start a herd.

Very few white people have ever entered the reservation—but John Carter was gracious enough to provide the opportunity of a lifetime for our group. After a long drive on a rough and tumble federal “highway”—and a several km drive after entering the reservation—we came upon a clearing with a few thatched roof huts. And suddenly we were transported into a world that only a handful of people have ever seen.

We stood by respectfully as John spoke with the chief, Damaio, about the tasks that needed to be completed—fence repair, etc. Through John, the chief welcomed us and hoped we would pay attention to the plight of the Xavante and share their story.

Clearly there was a mutual respect between John and the chief. Each time John visits the reservation, he goes away with a “wish” list from the chief. Interestingly, today’s list included ten dictionaries for the Indian school which was recently established. As we bid our goodbyes to the tribe, we offered some small gifts from the states to the chief and several members of the tribe shook our hands in friendship.

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