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Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled against efforts to strip back Indigenous land rights, a verdict that many Indigenous communities and advocates hailed as a historic victory for the country’s original inhabitants, the Guardian reported.
The case centered on a lawsuit brought by the Santa Catarina state – with backing from farmers and agribusiness groups – seeking to block an Indigenous group from expanding the size of its territorial claim.
The state based its argument on the legal theory that Indigenous people should have either physically occupied the land or initiated legal actions to regain territory when Brazil’s Constitution took effect on Oct. 5, 1988, according to the Associated Press.
Dubbed the “time-limit trick,” Indigenous groups and advocates countered that this theory could be used to dismiss any number of legitimate claims for delimitation of native lands. They added that the timeline was unjust as it failed to consider the forced expulsions and displacement of Indigenous communities, notably during the two-decade military dictatorship in Brazil.
In its ruling, nine of 11 judges rejected the Brazilian state’s argument, saying that areas occupied by the Indigenous people or linked to their ancestry and tradition “have constitutional protection, even if they are not demarcated.”
The verdict was welcomed by advocates and Indigenous leaders, including Brazil’s Minister for Indigenous Peoples, Sônia Guajajara, who called it “a great achievement” resulting from years of struggle and protests.
Opponents meanwhile lamented its impact on business.
Legal observers said the court’s ruling will impact hundreds of administrative procedures and legislative efforts that affect Indigenous lands.
Official data shows that Indigenous lands are about 14 percent of Brazil’s territory. Still, the process to officially establish Indigenous territory could take decades.