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National Indian Foundation (FUNAI)

National Indian Foundation (FUNAI)

Successor to the Indian Protection Service (or SPI), the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional ao Índio—FUNAI) is the governmental agency charged with the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and the demarcation of their lands. The agency was established in 1967 at the urging of the minister of the interior, General Albuquerque Lima, in response to allegations of administrative corruption among officials of the SPI and findings of an investigative commission led by Attorney General Jader Figueiredo (Figueiredo Report [1968]). Although founded to rectify the corruption and misdeeds of the SPI, FUNAI itself has had a checkered history, with instances of corruption, neglect of its responsibility to demarcate indigenous lands, failure to protect the interests of those whom the agency is purported to defend, and economic exploitation. For example, since its establishment, the agency has been involved in numerous scandals invoking illegal mineral and timber extraction. One reason for these problems is that, prior to the Constitution of 1988, FUNAI was subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior, an administrative status that often conflicted with the agency's legal objectives. To repair the agency's ambiguous structural position, the new constitution transferred its supervision to the Ministry of Justice.

In 1986, following a period of administrative chaos during which FUNAI had five different presidents in a one-year period, the agency underwent reorganization. Its form as a centrally administered agency with headquarters in Brasilía and multiple regional delegacias, was decentralized such that greater regional administrative power was localized in five superintendencias (Curitiba, Cuiabá, Recife, Belém, Manaus)—a change that enabled regional political and economic interests to have greater sway in questions related to indigenous peoples. Moreover, because it provided a space for local economic interests to reassert themselves in decisions related to indigenous peoples, such as use of land, decentralization effectively offset the benefits of FUNAI's changed administrative status within the Ministry of Justice under the new constitution. In addition FUNAI was made responsible for coordinating services provided by other ministries (for example, Education, Health, and Welfare) rather than for offering these services itself, as previously.

The first decade of the twenty-first century has been marked by tenuous relations between Indigenous groups and FUNAI, especially after the Foundation's president, Mércio Pereira Gomes, announced to the press in January 2006 that indigenous people have too much land in Brazil, suggesting that Supreme Court needed to define limits.

See alsoBrazil, Organizations: Indian Protection Service (IPS); Indigenous Peoples.


Shelton H. Davis, Victims of the Miracle: Development and the Indians of Brazil (1977).

Centro De Documentação E Informação, Povos indígenas no Brasil—85/86. Aconteceu Especial 17.

                                        Laura Graham

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