Indigenous women and the patriarchy of conquest

By Debora Diniz, a Brazilian anthropologist and researcher at Brown University,
Giselle Carino, an Argentinean political scientist and director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR)

The word “poop” emerged from the sewers and became news in Brazil when President Bolsonaro positioned it as an environmental threat. First, he suggested disciplining one’s intestines: one should only defecate “every two days” as a means to protect the environment. Then, pressured by what many see as an attack on indigenous territories through his environmental policies, he mocked indigenous communities by stating that their “petrified poop” would render the land useless for economic exploitation. This nonsense is an authoritarian amusement of power, the “political ridiculousness” described by Marcia Tiburi: he mentioned the unmentionable in the public sphere, and his environmental policies promote deforestation and the dispossession of indigenous lands.

Bolsonaro’s vulgar maneuver is also spontaneous discourse because he views indigenous nations as human waste. The repetition of “poop” when talking about the environment is an ideological metonymy to dehumanize indigenous lives. But, since political life is chaotic, historical events can be simplified and seen as the “cause and consequence” of the abuses of power. During the same week that Bolsonaro reveled in his scatological vocabulary, 2,000 indigenous women from 120 groups met in Brasilia for the first march of indigenous women in Brazil’s history—Territory: our body, our spirit. They joined forces with 100,000 other rural women workers known as the Margarida’s March, the largest permanent movement of Latin American women. Ro’Otsitsina Xavante, who does not see herself as the leader of the indigenous women’s movement but rather as a spokeswoman said, “we want to join the Margaridas to show that we have an alliance.”

The alliance will jumpstart an effort to unravel the historic patriarchy that never ceased to exist in Latin America: indigenous and rural women are among the main victims of what Rita Segato calls “patriarchal crimes.” By joining the Margarida’s March, indigenous women are defying the patriarchal arrogance that describes them as a residue of history, while also defying the restrictive cultural rules of their participation in the “white world.” During the march, indigenous women chose to occupy a symbol of white power—the government building where indigenous health policies are elaborated. The occupation was a gesture designed to show how the indigenous massacre took place in Latin America: by the spread of disease and by the exploitation of the environment.

The violations imposed on indigenous bodies is an extension of the expropriation of indigenous territories to advance capitalism. Indigenous lands are described as “unexplored territories” and their conquest aligns with the patriarchal order of power. The expression “colonization of power” is found in Latin American critical theory to describe how the intersection between capitalism and racism is entrenched in political power throughout the region. Rita Segato prefers to call it the “conquestiality of power,” an endless male mandate for the feudalization of indigenous territories based on racism and patriarchy. It is through this framework of colonial predatory power that fascist leaders shape the war against women and the environment: the crimes of the patriarchy were already established as a hallmark of power before the spread of the misogynist world order.

If the patriarchy of “conquestiality” was perpetrated through possession and arrogance, so was the installation of the Catholic-evangelical and military order of our countries. Indigenous and rural women have suffered this permanent looting of life, as seen in the alarming rates of domestic violence and femicide in countries as diverse as Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil. If indigenous and rural women rise up and shout “we are united and we will not be silenced,” it is up to women in the “white world” to listen and request participation in the alliance. According to Segato, all forms of power gravitate around the issue of gender. This is exactly where unexpected narratives about the perversion of patriarchal and racist power will emerge to transform politics.

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