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Union of Indigenous Nations (UNI)

Union of Indigenous Nations (UNI)

The Union of Indigenous Nations (União das Nações Indígenas—UNI), founded in June 1980, was the first independent organization of Brazilian indigenous peoples. Although never formally recognized by the government, it had immense symbolic significance for the development of political consciousness during the 1980s. Created and led by indigenous peoples, UNI was intended to give voice to the concerns of the people; to assist them in their struggles to secure rights to land, self-determination, and autonomy; and to help them develop cultural and community projects. From the time of its founding until the beginning of the 1990s, UNI representatives were involved in drafting the sections of Brazil's new constitution that deal with indigenous peoples, establishing alliances between members of Brazil's approximately 180 indigenous groups, and promoting recognition of strategies common to indigenous peoples and other oppressed sectors of the Brazilian population. For example, UNI was active in the formation of the Alliance of the Peoples of the Forest (March 1989), an organization comprised of indigenous peoples, rubber tappers, and river dwellers who recognized their common struggles, renounced old animosities, and pledged to promote their common interests. It also founded, in 1987, the Center for Indigenous Research (Centro de Pesquisa Indígena) in Goiânia. The Terena leader Domingos Verissi-mo Marcos (Marcos Terena) served briefly as UNI's first president; he was succeeded by Ailton Krenak.

In the early 1990s indigenous peoples started to become more organized at community and regional levels, and independent indigenous organizations began to proliferate throughout Brazil. As a result, UNI eventually disbanded as a national organization and the political configuration of indigenous organizations entered into a process of redefinition. By the mid-1990s, approximately 100 independent indigenous organizations were active in Brazil. Among these was the Center for Indigenous Culture in São Paulo (Nucleo de Cultura Indígena—NCI), founded by Krenak. No single entity had yet developed that claimed to represent the interests of all of Brazil's diverse indigenous peoples.

See alsoIndigenous Peoples .


Ismaelillo Wright and Robin Wright, Native Peoples in Struggle: Cases from the Fourth Russell Tribunal and Other International Forums (1982), p. 66.

                                       Laura Graham

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