RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil's top court ruled Wednesday against a state that sought federal compensation for lands used to create three indigenous reserves, delivering a landmark decision seen as a defeat for groups trying to limit native land claims.
Mato Grosso, a large Brazilian state on the border with Bolivia, had argued the reserves were created in the 1960s on state lands. In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Federal Tribunal disagreed, saying the land was owned by the federal government and it had the right to hand over the territory to the indigenous communities.
Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader from the northern state of Maranhao, called the ruling a "great conquest in a time when rights are being rolled back."
Her comment alluded to claims by indigenous communities that their way of life has increasingly come under fire during the administration of President Michel Temer.
Last month, Temer signed a recommendation to block the demarcation of any land on which indigenous people were not living by 1988, the year of Brazil's latest constitution.
Indigenous advocates rejected the proposal, arguing that many native communities had been violently forced from their lands before that date. They accuse Temer of signing the recommendation to cater to the interests of the powerful agribusiness bloc in Congress who he depends on to stay in power.
"It is conceivable that he will try to promote another similar measure" for the same reason, said Cleber Buzatto, spokesman for the Indigenous Missionary Council.
There are more than 700 requests for the demarcation of indigenous land pending and Temer has not signed one of them during his 16 months in power.