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.
"An 'Indian' with a cellphone?” Cristian Wariu has lost count of the number of times that he's heard this question. He was so fed up, he decided to make a video about it. The film, which he posted on YouTube, is called "What it means to be indigenous in the 21st century”.
"Unfortunately, there are still many people who have an image of indigenous people that is about 500 years out of date,” the 20-year-old YouTuber complained.
Since August 2017, Wariu has been posting videos on his eponymous channel. He uses his videos to talk about his culture and the prejudice that he encounters.
"In Brazil, people think that being indigenous means wearing feathers in your hair and living in a village”
Wariu told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that he wanted to combat misinformation about indigenous people in Brazil. He says that in Brazil many people harbour a colonialist mentality towards indigenous people.
I am part of the Xavanti people. Some of my ancestors were also Guarani. I live in Brasilia where I study communication. I started my YouTube channel about a year ago because I realised that the people around me – at school, for example – often had misconceptions about indigenous people. Some of the things they thought they knew about indigenous people were completely exaggerated, or even just plain untrue. In my videos, I try to combat these stereotypes and demystify our culture.
For example, many people believe that indigenous people get government handouts that amount to a monthly salary just because they are indigenous. This rumour is widespread but it is false. I think some people would rather believe that than believe that an indigenous person could work, earn a salary, live in a town and earn enough money to rent their own apartment. That comes in tandem with the widely-held belief that indigenous people aren’t capable of achieving success alone.
In Brazil, many people believe that being indigenous means wearing feathers in your hair and living in a village. In fact, the things that people think they know about us all come from the past. It’s as if we didn’t have the right to use technology or have a cell phone or a computer. In reality, our cultures have evolved over time.
"YouTube is a new way to talk about ourselves"
I think that this lack of awareness is due to what we learn at school. When I was in high school, our books would only have a page or two about indigenous people, and very often those pages would be talking about the colonial era.
Sometimes, I get comments like, “You should be in the forest!” or “Indigenous people are fighting for their land while you are making YouTube videos?!” But I think that YouTube is a new way of fighting for our rights and talking about ourselves. It’s like the indigenous singers who post their songs, sung in native languages, online. That is also a way of fighting prejudice.
My videos, and those made by other indigenous YouTubers like me, give visibility to our communities, thus opening doors for the next generations. We want to show young indigenous people that they don’t have to be imprisoned by these stereotypes and, instead, that they can be whoever they want to be.
The indigenous communities in Brazil have been fighting for years to have their land 'demarcated', a right inscribed in the 1988 Constitution, which came into being after the end of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). 'Demarcation' would designate specific territories as indigenous land, thus making them inalienable and protecting them from landowners and businesses that want to exploit natural resources.
"You’re Indian… and yet you're taking the metro?”
Wariu isn’t the only young indigenous Brazilian who has taken to YouTube to tackle, in a lighthearted and yet informative way, the misconceptions that many people have about the indigenous community.
In a 10-minute video posted to YouTube, influential blogger Ellora Haonne and indigenous activist Katú Mirim joke about the questions that people should absolutely not ask when they meet an indigenous Brazilian. These questions include “You're Indian, but you’re taking the metro?” or “Why don’t you look like a typical Indian?” or “Are Indians dirty?” The two women are laughing, but Mirim says that the reality is that indigenous people get these kind of hurtful questions all the time.
This is really serious racism. Imagine if you asked a black person these questions. If you change the context, you realise quickly how racist these questions are.
Mirim has her own YouTube channel, which is called Vlog Katú. In February 2018, she made a name for herself after posting a video taking issue with people who dress up "as Indians" for a party or during Carnival.
"I’m not plastic, you can touch me! "
Another YouTuber, Ysani Kalapalo, made a video in August 2018 about the stereotypes about how an "Indian" is supposed to look. She talks a lot about the comments that people make about how indigenous people have smooth, straight hair. “We don’t all have smooth, straight hair!” she says.
In the same video, Kalapalo also made fun of the people who ask her if she is “really Indian". One time I said, “I’m not made out of plastic, you can touch me!”
But the YouTube channels started by these young, indigenous Brazilians don’t just combat stereotypes. In the second part of this article, we’ll talk about how these online videos are a way to combat the poor representations of their community in the mainstream media and to preserve forgotten traditions.
This article was written by Maëva Poulet.