New Generation of Indigenous Attorneys in the Brazilian Amazon

Left to right: Paulo Celso de Oliveira (Pankararu), Nadia de Matos Barros, Eliésio da Silva Vargas (Marubo), Maria Judite da Silva Balerio (Guajajara), and Felipe Martins Cândido (Apurinã).

The Brazilian Amazon and its people face existential threats from illegal settlers, short-sighted destruction of natural resources, climate change, and more. “The ancestral knowledge of our people holds the promise of a more sustainable future and a rich contribution to humanity,” says Paulo Celso de Oliveira (Pankararu), one of four ELAW Fellows who arrived from Brazil earlier this week.

Each of these attorneys represents Indigenous communities in local and regional efforts to protect sacred lands, defend human rights, and ensure a healthy environment for future generations.

Paulo, Maria Judite da Silva Balerio (Guajajara), Eliésio da Silva Vargas (Marubo), and Felipe Martins Cândido (Apurinã) belong to a network of Indigenous attorneys across the Brazilian Amazon.

They will share their work on Saturday, March 4 at a panel at the University of Oregon Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC): “Protecting Indigenous Lands in Brazil” (9 am, UO Law School, Room 282).

The ELAW Fellows are joined by Nadia de Matos Barros, a lawyer and Associate Director at Instituto Pro Bono where she heads projects to strengthen the work of Indigenous peoples’ lawyers and supports pro bono climate litigation. We are also pleased to welcome ELAW Attorney Letícia Soares Peixoto Aleixo who is here from Brazil to accompany our visitors.

The ELAW Fellows are working with ELAW’s Law, Science, and Defending Defenders Teams and learning about our region’s Indigenous communities. They will travel to Portland to meet with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) and visit the spectacular Oregon Coast.

Meet the inspiring Brazilian ELAW Fellows:

Paulo Celso de Oliveira (Pankararu) is the first ever Indigenous lawyer in Brazil. He received his law degree in 1994 and traveled to Eugene for an ELAW Fellowship in 1996. Paulo is a mentor to Indigenous attorneys across Brazil. “I am seeing more young people working to defend the Amazon,” he said. “The challenges still exist but now there is a network of lawyers that are engaged.” Paulo is a partner at Dora, Azambuja e Oliveira – Advocacia em Direitos Humanos (Advocacy for Human Rights). He serves on the Board of Instituto Pro Bono, a São Paulo based NGO founded in 2001 to fight inequality in access to justice and foster pro bono practices in Brazil.

Maria Judite da Silva Balerio (Guajajara) is a lawyer from the state of Maranhão, in northeast Brazil. She serves as a legal assistant to the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of Maranhão (COAPIMA), where she is responsible for reporting murders of Indigenous leaders. She also works with the largest regional Indigenous peoples’ organization in Brazil, Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB).

Eliésio da Silva Vargas (Marubo) is from the state of Amazonas, in northwest Brazil. He is an attorney for the Union of Indigenous Peoples of Vale do Javari (UNIVAJA), headquartered in Atalaia do Norte. The Indigenous land “Vale do Javari” has the highest concentration of isolated Indigenous peoples in the world.

Felipe Martins Cândido (Apurinã) is a lawyer working with Indigenous peoples in the states of Amazonas and Acre. His work is focused on the Apurinã’s Indigenous Peoples Organization near the lower Purus River in Acre, in the city of Boca do Acre.

The ELAW Fellows will share their work on Saturday, March 4 at a panel at the University of Oregon Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC): “Protecting Indigenous Lands in Brazil” (9 am, UO Law School, Room 282). Find the full conference schedule here.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director & Fellows Program Coordinator
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide