A group of young, indigenous Brazilians have started making YouTube videos to combat discrimination and demystify their culture and people, who are often stigmatised and misunderstood. There is great diversity amongst these video makers: they range in age between 25 and 30 and they hail from a wide array of communities including Xavánte, Baniwa and Pitaguary. Some live in cities while others live in small villages. The videos that they make are also diverse. Some are educational, while others are artistic. Some are simple interviews. Yet the films were all made with the same intention: to renew the movement for indigenous rights in Brazil and to use new media to document their culture and keep it from disappearing.

In part one of this article, the FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke with Cristian Wariu, a 20-year-old indigenous man who has been making YouTube videos as a way to challenge misconceptions about his community.

>> Read on The Observers: Young, indigenous Brazilians turn to YouTube to combat racism (1/2)

He is just one of a group of indigenous youth who are using the platform to share their stories. They cover a wide range of topics, from body art to their traditions.

One of the first to take to this new medium was Denilson Baniwa, a member of the Baniwa people. When he realised that there were no YouTube channels that focused on the experience of indigenous Brazilians, he decided to start his own. In 2016, he posted a series of videos meant to “talk about indigenous people today” and “inspire indigenous people who have access to the internet to create their own media spaces”.

"It’s important to build a new, positive image of our people”

I was born in Rio Negro in the Amazon. I left this region to live in the city, in Rio de Janeiro, where I work in the field of communications. My friends and I started a radio station called Rádio Yandê, which gives information that isn’t rife with stereotypes like the coverage by Brazil’s major media outlets.

I follow a lot of YouTube channels that talk about cinema and culture and, one day, I just decided to search for channels run by young, indigenous Brazilians. I couldn’t find a single one. That made me decide to start my own page. I posted a call out to other indigenous youth, encouraging them to start sharing information about their cultural practices as well. For me, it is a way to increase visibility for our people.

Currently, I am focusing on doing interviews with indigenous artists, ranging from authors to producers. Even though most Brazilians don’t know about it, indigenous people have a rich tradition of cultural production. I think that we need to talk about these amazing artists to construct a new, positive image of our people and to earn appreciation for them. YouTube has become a platform to bring media attention to the struggles of indigenous people, but also to bring attention to their incredible cultural contributions.

"Casting off the anthropologists who speak for us”

The space that we are creating for ourselves on YouTube is also a place where we can cast off the anthropologists who have spoken for us for years. In this revolutionary period, it is up to us to talk for and about ourselves.

Nevertheless, very shortly after I started making my own videos, I started to feel uncomfortable that I had called on other young indigenous people to speak out as well. The reality behind this movement is a difficult one. About half of the comments left on my page are insults. There are people who leave comments on my profile page, saying things like “A good Indian is a dead Indian”. It’s proof that some people are bothered by the fact that we are creating a strong presence on social media.

What makes me feel better is that, fairly often, I get messages from teachers who ask me questions about certain topics and who share my videos with their class. I think that it is really important to fill the learning gap and make sure kids are learning about what it means to be indigenous.

Benicio Pitaguary, 26, is one of the young YouTubers who was inspired by Baniwa. He started a channel in 2016 filled with all kinds of videos celebrating indigenous culture. Some are about traditional body paint, others about museums and memorials that are important to indigenous people as well as hikes through native lands.

"I think filming is a way to make sure that things don’t become lost or forgotten”

Pitaguary said his videos are a way to make sure that indigenous culture and traditions don’t disappear.

By creating this channel, I wanted to allow other young indigenous kids to have access and information to topics that the mainstream media doesn’t talk about. It’s a way for us to share our culture and to exchange with others. For example, I make a lot of videos about body paint, which people have approached me about to ask me about my techniques.

I want my followers to know that we need to be proud of our cultures, even if we are stigmatised. I think that filming is a way to keep our traditions from being forgotten. Our stories and our knowledge are more fragile than ever before because we no longer transmit information in the same way. I think that it is up to young people to document our cultures so that they don’t disappear.


"Before, everything was transmitted orally”

Wariu, who is from the Xavante people, is another YouTuber. He agrees that his generation needs to play a role in conserving indigenous traditions.

Before, everything was transmitted orally from the elders to the younger generations. Now we have a double role, to both transmit and preserve.

The indigenous communities in Brazil have been fighting for years to have their land demarcated, a right that was inscribed in the 1988 Constitution, which came into being after the end of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). This would designate specific territories as indigenous land, thus making them inalienable and protecting them from landowners and businesses that want to exploit natural resources.

On January 1, the first day of his mandate, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro took a controversial step by making land demarcation the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture. Previously, these decisions had been managed by the Indian Foundation (Funai). For indigenous rights activists, this delivers native lands into the hands of giants within the agriculture business.

This article was written by Maëva Poulet.