Landmark vote on indigenous lands postponed again

Photo: Brastock /

Brazil’s Supreme Court was due to pick up a trial later in June which will determine whether there should be a cutoff date for the demarcation of Brazilian indigenous lands. But Chief Justice Luiz Fux has removed the case from the court’s agenda for June 23, once again indefinitely postponing the trial of a case which first reached the high court in 2017.

The case, which opposes the Xokleng indigenous people and the state of Santa Catarina, is a landmark dispute which would have widespread repercussions for indigenous land rights. If it goes against Brazil’s indigenous peoples and in favor of rural landowners, indigenous groups will only be allowed to lay claim to territory they occupied as of October 5, 1988 (the date the Brazilian Constitution was enacted).  

So far, the vote is tied at 1-1, with the case’s rapporteur Justice Edson Fachin having voted for the pro-indigenous understanding last year, and Justice Kássio Nunes Marques — appointed to the Supreme Court by President Jair Bolsonaro in 2020 — voting in favor of a cutoff date for demarcations. Nine justices are still to vote.

But even if the court concludes the vote before the end of the year and sides with native peoples, the battle is far from won. President Bolsonaro makes no secret of the fact that he opposes the demarcation of any new indigenous territories and has threatened to disregard the court’s ruling if it does not go his way.“If [the pro-indigenous understanding prevails], I have two alternatives: I hand over the keys [of government] to the Supreme Court or I don’t comply with the decision,” Mr. Bolsonaro said last week, portending further institutional clashes.