It is estimated that, at the time the Europeans first arrived, there were more than 1,000 denominations, with a total of between 2 and 4 million people. Today they are 252 peoples , speaking more than 150 different languages and adding up to 896.917 individuals (IBGE, 2010).
The majority of this population is distributed among thousands of villages located within 705 Indigenous Lands (TIs) – spread throughout the national territory.
Today, talking about Indigenous peoples in Brazil means to recognize basically that:
- In the lands colonized by the Portuguese, where later a country called Brazil would exist, there were already human populations;
- It is not known exactly where they came from; we say that they are ‘original’ or ‘native’ because they were here before the European occupation;
- Certain groups of people who live in present-day Brazil are historically connected to these early peoples;
- The Indians who live in Brazil today have a long history, which started to differentiate itself from the so-called Western Civilization still during Pre-History (with the migratory waves from the ‘Old World’ to the Americas that took place thousands of years ago); ‘their’ history has come closer to ‘ours’ only in the past 500 years (with the arrival of the Portuguese);
- Like any other human group, Indigenous peoples have cultures that result from the history of the relationships among themselves and between them and the environment; a history that, in their case, has been (and continues to be) dramatically altered by the reality of colonization;
- The territorial division of South America into countries (Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina…) does not necessarily coincide with the occupation of the geographic space by the Indigenous population; often there are cases of peoples who live on two sides of international borders, which were created long after they were established in the region; that is why it makes more sense to speak of Indigenous peoples ‘in Brazil’ than ‘of Brazil’.