A New Partnership With an Old Friend: Strengthening Indigenous Advocacy in Brazil

Twenty-five years ago, I traveled to Brazil to reach out to public interest lawyers and invite them to connect to ELAW. I met the founders of the (then) new organization Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). ELAW has worked with terrific lawyers at ISA ever since. In 1996, ISA sponsored the first ever indigenous lawyer in Brazil, Paulo Pankararu, to come to Oregon and work in our office.

L to R: Hector Huertas, Kuna Yala; Ochieng Odhiambo, Kenya; and Paulo Pankararu, Pankararu territory; in Eugene, Oregon,1996.

Last week, I was privileged to accompany Paulo on a new and critically important phase of his work and leadership. We are working together, along with Instituto Pro Bono (an NGO in Sao Paulo that is leveraging additional legal services from some of Brazil’s biggest law firms to support indigenous communities) to help indigenous attorneys across Brazil represent their communities and protect indigenous lands.

Paulo Pankararu, Brasília, 2020

One participant in our 3-day workshop said, “The name Paulo Pankararu has been a point of reference for me in my career.” Others acknowledged the strength and audacity it required for Paulo to become the first indigenous Brazilian to earn a law degree, before affirmative action laws streamlined access to education.

Congresswoman Wapichana (right) acknowledges the work of Luiz Enrique Eloy Amado, an ELAW partner and a lawyer with Brazil’s national indigenous association (APIB)

Now there are roughly 90 indigenous lawyers in Brazil. Fifteen of them will receive mentorship and legal education in rights-based representation from Paulo and other experts in Brazil over the next year.
During this first workshop, Paulo talked about the history and legal milestones of indigenous advocacy in Brazil. Brazil’s only indigenous Congresswoman (attorney) Joênia Wapichana gave an inspirational talk about the importance of protecting indigenous Brazilians and their lands. Other respected Brazilian professionals came to offer support, legal services, office space in the capital, and solidarity.

Six of the lawyers (five from the Amazon region) will travel to the U.S. for ELAW Fellowships in June, to continue their learning and share their experiences.
We are excited to be part of this project to help indigenous lawyer partners protect land and resources in Brazil. Stay tuned!

‌Lori Maddox
Associate Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide