As a child, Samara Pataxó wanted to be a teacher. “I had the intention of growing up and being a professional who would add [in the fight]”, she says. It was like that until high school, when, after a period as a Young Apprentice at the office of the National Indian Foundation (Funai), she decided to become a lawyer.
“I saw that not only my village, but others, faced similar problems: lack of public policies, lack of demarcation. That's when I chose a course that I could help my people”.
But the dedication to the fight for the rights of their own began much earlier. At the age of ten, he witnessed the demarcation of the Coroa Vermelha Indigenous Land (BA), in an incomplete process that left out several sections of traditional occupation and consolidated within it the importance of the struggle to defend the territory. From an early age, he observed the performance of his grandfather, Manuel Siriri, a fundamental leader in the organization of the indigenous community of Coroa Vermelha.
But it is to the basic school, which she attended within the territory, that she attributes her training to the indigenous movement.
“My grandparents, my parents, did not have access to school, to education. But I'm lucky enough to grow up in a generation where that situation has become different,” he says. “We have in the indigenous school teaching the mother tongue, strengthening the culture, our identity. There is a whole preparation of the indigenous child for him to be an adult who will be in the fight. And that was my training.”
Even before graduating, Samara already participated in community meetings, helped leaders to prepare documents and complaints and acted in legal advice to grassroots organizations. “My internship was in the fight”, she says. A clear contrast to the university experience, where indigenous issues were barely addressed.
“[With] the quota system, you start to have indigenous people, black people, quilombolas, at the university. But the type of teaching is the same, the teachers are the same,” he explains.
The university course was a challenge. Not only was she living 700 kilometers from her home in Salvador, but she still needed to work hard to include an indigenous right perspective in class discussions. But, understanding her presence at the university as a fighting strategy built long before, by everyone who believed in her, she went ahead and completed the course.
Another of Samara's inspirations for studying law has a name and surname: Joenia Wapichana, now a federal deputy for the Roraima Network, the first indigenous woman to be elected to Congress. At the time, Joenia was beginning to gain relevance on the national scene as she was the first indigenous lawyer to present an oral argument before the Federal Supreme Court (STF), in the case of the Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Land (RR).
“Having indigenous women as a reference is very important. These women who end up taking on certain roles, being pioneers in certain places, they open paths for other women,” she explains. “I get feedback daily from other young indigenous women. Just as I had Joenia as an inspiration, these young girls have me.”
In 2021, Samara was able to follow in the footsteps of the parliamentarian, making the first oral support of her life in the STF, during the trial that will define the understanding of the thesis of the “time frame” of demarcations. “It was a mega-responsibility. How was I going to synthesize such an important defense in five minutes? What [would] be my contributions on this topic?”, she recalls.
Despite her nervousness, she criticized the time frame brilliantly and was highly praised on social media. “There is no way to build a thesis on Indigenous Lands without considering the lives of indigenous peoples,” she stressed in her support. “And there is no way to talk about life without the protection of our territories”.
The trial was one of the highlights of an intense trajectory of action in the indigenous movement. In recent years, Samara has worked at the local, regional and national levels, working in the United Movement of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Bahia (Mupoiba), in the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo (Apoinme) and in the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples from Brazil (Apib). Now, he continues the battle for indigenous rights in new trenches, advising and implementing a diversity hub in the Superior Electoral Court (TSE).
“It is a great responsibility [to occupy these spaces]. In addition to bringing the weight of indigenous representation, we also have to go through a trial by the people who are in the justice system, [about] whether we are really capable,” he concludes.
“What moves me is to value those who fought for me to be here, but also to know that what I do is important and representative for people who want to make a difference”.
#ElasQueLutam, the ISA series about indigenous, riverside, quilombola women and what drives them. Follow on Instagram!