The President-elect of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has nominated Sônia Guajajara to spearhead the new Ministry of Indigenous People which will oversee all policies regarding indigenous people, ranging from land demarcation to health care. Among the Brazilian indigenous tribes, Sônia Guajajara is widely regarded as the leader and chief advocate for the Amazon Guajajara. She was also named on Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in its annual list of the world’s most influential people in 2011.
It was during his presidential campaign when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promised to establish an Indigenous cabinet department and on the 1st of January 2023, Lula Da Silva returned to power after having previously served as President of Brazil from 2003 to 2010 when he had also promised to create this department. The appointment of Sonia Guajajara as the first minister and the creation of the indigenous ministry is a complete turn taken by the government of Brazil.
A former president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who lost his election in October, is a fierce opponent of Indigenous rights, as well as a racist. During his speech in Brazil’s Congress in 1998, he praised the US Cavalry for destroying its Indian population and expressed regret that Brazil has not done the same thing. Jair Bolsonaro promised to develop the Amazon and his defanging of environmental law enforcement led to a surge of illegal loggers, miners, and land robbers into Native territory in Brazil.
Guajajara has a long history in the Brazilian Indigenous rights movement and some of her awards and recognitions include the Order of Cultural Merit Award, awarded by the Ministry of Culture in 2015; the Honor of Merit medal from the government of Maranhão State in 2015; the João Canuto Award for the Human Rights of the Amazon and Freedom, awarded by the Human Rights Movement in 2019; and the Packard Award, awarded by the World Commission for Protected Areas of The International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2019.
In Brazil, she leads an organization that represents around 300 indigenous ethnic groups. A member of the Amazon Guajajara tribe, Sonia Guajajara is the leader of the main group of Brazil’s indigenous tribes.