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Guarani Tribe's Female Chief Leads Reoccupation Of Indigenous Land In Brazil (PHOTOS)

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For Damiana Cavanha, the leader of a group of Guarani Indians who have successfully overtaken a sugar cane plantation that they claim is built on their ancestral land in Brazil, the reoccupation was a return to the land where four of her family are buried.

This is the fourth attempt by Cavanha and the Apy Ka'y community to retake the piece of land, located in Brazil's central Mato Grosso do Sul state, according to Survival International, an NGO which fights for the rights of indigenous people around the world.

Scroll down for photos of Cavanha and the Guarani and celebrate World Indigenous Day.

Survival International reports that the Guarani had been living in a roadside encampment in Mato Grosso do Sul for more than 10 years, until it was destroyed in a fire last month. The camp had already been torched by assailants in 2009, and the tribe has recently received death threats. Cavanha has lost her husband and three of her children in accidents on the road where the encampment is located.

Cavanha said of the tribe's effort:

We decided to return to the land where three of our children, who were run over and torn apart by vehicles belonging to the ranches, are buried; where two leaders who were assassinated by gunmen employed by the ranchers, and where a 70 year old shaman who died from inhaling pesticides sprayed from a crop-spraying plane, are also buried.

The Guarani have been locked in a battle against ranchers and farmers for over a decade.

On Oct. 1, members of the Guarani tribe joined other indigenous groups in a demonstration to demand the demarcation of their lands. The Associated Press reports that the protesters denounced a proposal that would allow lawmakers to participate in the demarcation of territories, fearing that the plan would allow agricultural interests to influence the process. The AP notes that while more than 600 demarcation plans for indigenous groups are pending, only seven new indigenous territories were created last year.

Survival International warned in a press release last week about the dire state of the Guarani tribe. According to the organization, the tribe faces a suicide rate more than 34 times the national average. The Guardian reports that the loss of that land has disrupted traditional social structures within the tribes, resulting in a stressful and violent social environment.

"The principle reason is their lack of land," Mary Nolan, a U.S. nun and human rights lawyer, told The Guardian. "The Guarani people think their relationship with the universe is broken when they are separated from their land. They feel they are a broken people."

Captions by Joanna Eede, Survival International

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