Brazil's indigenous population nearly doubled in a decade, Census preview shows

Expert sees increase in indigenous self-recognition and says impact can be positive on public policies

Translated by: Lucas Peresin

Brasil de Fato | Lábrea (AM) |
Indigenous-specific questions began to be asked in the Brazilian Census only from 2010 on - Foto: Giorgia Prates

The Brazilian Demographic Census already records more than 1.65 million indigenous people in Brazil, almost double the number recorded in the last survey in 2010, when 896,000 people declared themselves to be indigenous.

The most recent number was released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) this Monday (3). The agency informed that the data are preliminary and may increase.

::  ::

The preview includes data collection in the Yanomami Indigenous Land, where the population faces a humanitarian crisis caused by illegal mining.

Census takers found it difficult to access remote locations with a strong presence of illegal miners, even with the ongoing operation conducted by the federal government to expel the invaders.

The effect of indigenous self-recognition on public policies

The indigenous policy researcher and professor at the federal universities of Pará (UFPA) and Viçosa (UFV), Leonardo Barros, says that the significant growth of the indigenous population was already expected. According to him, one of the explanations is the average birth rate in indigenous communities, which is higher than that recorded among non-indigenous people.

"The second factor is an intense process of self-recognition of indigenous peoples that has been increasing over the last 20 years, as a result of the expansion of the political participation of these peoples and their politicization. This meant that, mainly in the Northeast region of Brazil, but also in other indigenous regions that did not recognize themselves as such, they began to designate themselves as indigenous", Barros explains.

::  ::

The researcher says that the new data bring subsidies for the creation of new public policies in favor of these peoples. This year, the Lula administration (Workers' Party) created the first Ministry of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil, commanded by leaders recognized as legitimate by indigenous organizations.

"I believe that the urgent need to develop policies related to education, health and basic sanitation will become more visible, in addition to the already traditional policies, such as the demarcation of indigenous lands. Other elements may emerge from these numbers, such as, for example, a better understanding of the phenomenon of indigenous people who find themselves in urban situations", estimates the UFPA professor. 

Increase in 2000 surprised IBGE

The Brazilian Census has been collecting data based on color or race since 1991. In 2000, the population of indigenous peoples exceeded IBGE expectations by jumping from 294,000 to 734,000 people in nine years.

At the time, the institute assessed that the significant increase was not only related to the increase in the birth rate, but also to a possible growth in the self-recognition of these populations, mainly in urban areas of Brazil. 

Indigenous-specific questions related to people or language were first introduced in the 2010 Census. In the same year, the questionnaire also included the location of the household - inside or outside indigenous lands recognized by the federal government.

Edited by: Thalita Pires