Indigenous peoples in Brazil – like those in other settler-colonial societies – have been moving from the interior to the cities for decades. The main drivers of migration are often identical to those found abroad: Underserved and often remote communities lacking in infrastructure and opportunities make the prospect of a better life in Brazil’s growing urban centres look increasingly certain with each new generation. Whether by choice or lack of options, the decision to begin a new chapter in the city can be a shock and many Indigenous migrants encounter systemic discrimination, a lack of affordable housing and the intense pressure to abandon their traditional customs and language in a place where, in the eyes of many, they simply don’t exist.
The city of Manaus, a commercial and industrial hub of over two million people, was built on the site of one of the largest pre-Colombian Indigenous communities in the Amazon. Nowadays, aside from its nearly thirty thousand strong Indigenous population, there is very little reminding the city of its Indigenous heritage. As elsewhere, politicians tend to use Indigenous people and their culture as props for votes and influence while ignoring longstanding concerns and injustices. The pandemic and its consequences are simply the latest in a long line of injustices that have threatened Indigenous lives and way of life in Manaus.
"It wasn't the village that came to the city, it was the city that came to the village," says Marcivana Sateré-Mawé, head of COPIME, an association of Indigenous communities in Manaus united in fighting for recognition of their rights as promised in Brazil’s constitution: "Just because I wear jeans and have a cellphone doesn't make me any less Indigenous.”