Course:CONS370/Projects/An assessment of the tactics and strategies of the Ka'apor tribe of Maranhao, Brazil against illegal logging in their territory

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This case study is an assessment of the tactics and strategies which are being implemented by the Ka'apor tribe of Maranhão, Brazil against the illegal logging activities which are occurring in their indigenous land. In the state of Maranhão only 25% of the original forest cover still remains, around 25 thousand km2 . Illegal deforestation is causing visible economic, environmental, and social harms [1]. A series of research papers, documents, and news reports have presented how the Ka'apor tribe of Maranhão have taken action into their own hands against illegal loggers through physical force. The Brazilian government has demarcated the Ka'apor's traditional territory, thus making it illegal from anyone not from the Ka'apor tribe to farm, hunt, or harvest natural resources within their territory [2]. Ignorance in regards to the recognition of the Ka'apor tribe land and rare government action due to the size and inaccessibility to the Alto Turiacu Indigenous Land (ATIL) being on the eastern size of the Amazon has led to the Ka'apor tribe seizing illegally harvested timber, destroying equipment and using physical action to stop illegal logging activities in their territory [2]. This case study requires future monitoring since the conflicts have been documented since 2015 and is still an ongoing issue that will continue into the near future without any government intervention.


Alto Turiacu Indigenous Territory


This case study is focused on the Alto Turiacu Indigenous Land (ATIL) [3], which is located in the North Western region of the Maranhão State in Brazil. The Alto Turiacu Indigenous Land covers around 5,300 km2[4] of land with the territory and was legally established in 1982 [3]. The ATIL contains roughly 50 percent of the Amazon rainforest zone in Brazil's Northern Maranhao State [5]. The vast biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest includes more than 40,000 plant species, roughly 2,200 fish species, 1,300 bird species, 400 species of mammals, and over 16,000 tree species [6]. The unique biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest is a source of natural resources vital for many local indigenous communities in the Maranhão State in Brazil.

The Ka'apor Indigenous People

The Ka'apor meaning "Forest-Footprints" tribe of Maranhão, Brazil is a group of about 2,000 people that live in the ATIL, and are the major affected stakeholder in this case study. The Ka'apor tribe have settled and lived in the North Western region of Maranhao state since the 1870s and primarily speak the Tupi-Guarani language and have their own sign language to communicate with the deaf population of the tribe which represents about 2% of their entire population [7]. Living in their own traditional territory located within the Amazon rainforest the Ka'apor tribe strive to live in their own territory while relying on the natural resources of the Amazon to sustain their traditional livelihoods.

Ka’apor Indigenous People in Brazil

Illegal Logging Activity In The Ka'apor Indigenous Land

In the state of Maranhão, it has been noted that the deforestation of the region was justified from a political point of view as fulfilling the “economic development dream” [1]. With various stakeholders' involvement in the deforestation of the area from ranchers, labourers, loggers, and drug traffickers, there is an abundant movement of stakeholders playing roles in the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazonia, with even smaller stakeholders fighting to protect sacred forested land [8]. Loggers have been sneaking into Alto Turiacu, gouging roads and logging valuable tree species illegally[9]. The Ka'apor Indigenous People have lost over 8% of their forested land in the last 3 decades due to illegal logging activities[9].

Tenure arrangements

Since 1982, the Brazil Government has granted the Ka'apor tribe a constitutional status which demarcates their Indigenous territory under the Alto Turiacu Indigenous Land (ATIL)[10]. The ATIL includes issues such as unclear tenure rights, overlapping rights, extensive area claimed by squatters (24% of Brazilian Amazon as unclassified public land), pressure on indigenous area in spite of clear borders and rights, major inconsistencies in interpretation of the law, failure to implement regulations, lack of sufficient funding and staff for land regularization, all leading to a very slow progress of development.

Since 2013, the Ka'apor Tribe created its own management council backed by the tribe's historic principles, and disassociated from the previous government based system of tribal chiefs, a tradition which was imposed by Brazil's National Indian Foundation [5]. The Ka'apor Tribe with the new council imposed laws on their already identified Indigenous land, banning specific goods such as alcoholic beverages, the use of narcotics, which had flooded within the territory via the hands of illegal loggers. The Ka'apor Tribe leads have reiterated that they want to protect their areas and don't want to see the end of their forested lands [5].

Administrative arrangements

The nation of Brazil as a whole has a weak enforcement agency in regards to issues of natural resources destruction. The economic development within the nation of Brazil is focused on various resources and indigenous people have been seen as a barrier to economic development due to the fact that indigenous tribes such as the Ka'apor Tribe live on lands which are rich in resources for development and industrialization [11].

Within the Ka'apor Tribe, there are small villages which consist of smaller homes and have headman leaders within the community[12] . These small villages have developed into small towns, with natural increase in populations from population growth. Issues of available land in the reserve have become an issue with the issues of deforestation and landless settlers invading the communities' land [12]. In the current situation the Ka'apor Tribe have set up systems for reporting issues of illegal logging with people closest to the edge of the indigenous territory reporting to head leader of illegal activities [5].

Affected Stakeholders

The affected primary stakeholder in this case study is the Ka'apor tribe who are experiencing disruption contributed by the illegal logging activities by various stakeholders that harvest timber illegally in their forested area located within the Alto Turiacu Indigenous Land (ATIL).

This disruptions of illegal logging in the Ka'apor tribe's Indigenous land have led to various disturbances such as economic loss, illegal land grabbing, and disruption of the community. The tribe has written multiple letters to the government for help stating "Our forest, our rivers, our land is sacred to us"[5]. With illegal logging stakeholders having ties to local police and political subsidiaries, and the massive absence of government intervention, the Ka'apor tribe took matters into their own hands. There are certain objectives of the Ka'apor Tribe of Maranhão, Brazil revealed in this case study:

1) Since the establishment of the Alto Turiacu Indigenous Land for the Ka'apor tribe, over a third of the reserve has been illegally deforested by various stakeholders ranging from local politicians, logging companies, and farmers. Since the deforestation has occurred the Ka'apor tribe has been restive and defenceless, with little to no government intervention.

2) Ka'apor tribe members have taken self-organized law enforcement into their own hands within their land to preserve it from current illegal logging activities through physical force, with action being carried out by the Ka'apor since 2013.

Since the Ka'apor community has little to none relative power besides having the title to their own Indigenous land and as the government has not intervened in the situation, the Ka'apor tribe have been monitoring territorial borders for any signs of illegal logging activities and are taking action when needed.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Stakeholders Main Relevant Objective Relative Power
Brazilian Government The Brazilian Government is the highest authority in Brazil , having a high level of power when in comparison to other various stakeholders in final decision making for the country. High
Logging Companies Obtaining access to forested land for logging purposes. Low-Medium
Indigenous Missionary Council Indigenous Missionary Council is an organization linked to the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) [13]. Their primary objective is to engage in indigenous peoples' land claim rights and to support in their fight for "recovery, demarcation and integrity of their territories[13]." Low-Medium
Landless Migrants Landless migrants are homeless families from Maranhao that are seeking free land[8]. Low
Labourers/debt slaves Used as labour for deforestation activity in the Maranhao state [8]. Low
Greenpeace Greenpeace is an independent organization which is providing the Ka'apor community in monitoring its territories from illegal logging activities through financial aid in providing the community with camera traps, GPS trackers, and computer systems, and as well as raising media attention through helping new media outlets reach the area [3]. Low-Medium


A discussion of the aims and intentions of the community forestry project and your assessment of relative successes or failures. You should also include a discussion of critical issues or conflicts in this community and how they are being managed A discussion of the aims and intentions of the Aboriginal forestry project and your assessment of relative successes or failures. You should also include a discussion of critical issues or conflicts in this community(ies) and how they are being managed.

The Ka'apor Tribe's resistance has been successful, but not without its own failures. Since 2015 the Ka'apor Tribe have seized and torched over 105 trucks carrying illegally harvested timber, shut down road infrastructures which were illegal roads through their land [5]. With the collaboration of the Ka'apor Tribe, the organization Greenpeace Brazil, has helped the Ka'apor Tribe set up systems to map the forest and provided them the necessary technological tools needed [14].

Some setbacks that have resulted from the actions of the Ka'apor Tribe's use of physical force has included the death of four tribe members and the issues of threats and intimidation [14]. The critical issue involved in this case study is the issue of little to no involvement of the Brazilian government in aiding the Ka'apor Tribe in the battle occurring in not only their lands but in multiple cases of Indigenous lands all over Brazil.

The government of Brazil need to be more involved in this case of the Ka'apor Tribe's fight against illegal loggers due to the fact that the government has the most relative stakeholder power in this issue and has the biggest power to make a real change in this situation.


The Ka'apor Tribe

Power/Rights Yes/No
Access Yes
Use the rights for subsistence Yes
Use the right for sale Yes
Management or co-management Yes
Government Support No
Relative Power No

[Move this paragraph to your Introduction]

The Ka'apor Tribe has origins as distinct ethnic groups that can be traced as far as the early 1700's and have been documented historically in the region since 1810 [12]. After the establishment of the Alto Turiacu Indigenous Land in which the Ka'apor Tribe were given a constitutional status which demarcates their Indigenous territory, they were given access, control, and rights to the land. The Ka'apor Tribe lives off the land and use its natural resources to maintain their livelihoods. The relative power of the Ka'apor Tribe on the land and its use is high as they have been given a constitutional status for the ATIL, but have little to no relative power in regards to government intervention and help to resist illegal loggers.

Brazilian Government

The federal and state governments of Brazil have power to enforce the law but do not do so systematically in the case of the Ka'apor. The Federal government is the only is the initial and final decision-making legislative group in any legal situation in the country of Brazil. Having the highest level of power and influence, the government has the ability to change major situations. The power of the government in this case study is not being used, with no government intervention to control the illegal logging activities within the Ka'apor Tribes Indigenous Land.

Logging Companies

Various private logging companies within the state of Maranhão are obtaining access into Ka'apor Indigenous land for illegal logging purposes, having low-medium level of power and using their influence to illegal log within the territory.

Indigenous Missionary Council

The Indigenous Missionary Council has low-medium relative power in this case study as an interested stakeholder. The Missionary Council is engaging with the Ka'apor community to support their fight against the illegal logging activities and poaching occurring on their landscape through small intervention meetings.

Landless Migrants

Landless migrants who have relatively zero power and are considered an outside stakeholder that are seeking free land for their own usage.

Labourers/debt slaves

Labourers and debt slaves have no significant power, but play a major role in the deforestation activity within the Ka'apor Tribe's land, being hired or used through logging companies to conduct illegal harvesting activities.


Greenpeace has a low-medium relative power in this case study, with their involvement providing financial aid to the Ka'apor Tribe in setting up surveillance systems within their Indigenous territory as well as providing media attention to this specific case study of illegal logging within the communities' territory.


This case study recording the current tactics and strategies of the Ka'apor Tribe against illegal logging in their territory is still an active situation which will persist into the future without government intervention. This case study reveals the struggles which the Ka'apor Tribe has had to deal with, leading them to finally take action into their hands through physical action. Government intervention can help the Ka'apor Tribe in their attempt to combat illegal logging activity in their recognized Indigenous Land. The Ka'apor Tribe have had significant difficulty in getting government intervention to aid them in the fight against illegal logging, which is a market that represents a significant amount of lost income to the Brazilian government and the Ka'apor.

With a complex situation with various stakeholders' involvement, our personal recommendations for this case study include the following measures and recommendations which have been outlined in a bullet point format below:

Limiting Deforestation Will Require Measures That Affect Various Diverse Groups

  • Ending deforestation will require the government to oversee all land claims throughout the country and region[8].
  • Establishment of command-and-control programs funded through the government carried out by Indigenous groups whose lands are being destroyed, in this case study, the Ka'apor Tribe.
  • Economic alternatives by the government must be created by supporting sustainable uses of the forest and looking at in-country downstream processing for high commodity products such as wood[8].
  • Create a nation-wide system to reward environmental services of standing forests , and enforce regulations to disrupt the continuation of illegal logging.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Celentano, D., Rousseau, G. X., Muniz, F. H., van Deursen Varga, I., Martinez, C., Carneiro, M. S., ... & Adami, M. (2017). Towards zero deforestation and forest restoration in the Amazon region of Maranhão state, Brazil. Land use policy, 68, 692-698.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hill, Phil; Sposati, Ruy (Aug 17, 2015). "Meet the Ka'apor of Maranhao". Earth First Journal. Retrieved March 20, 2019. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 O'Brien, Caleb (September 26, 2015). "Indigenous group, Greenpeace partner to track illegal logging in the Amazon". MONGABAY. Retrieved March 19, 2019. 
  4. "Alto Turiaçu in Brazil". Retrieved March 19, 2019. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Watts, Jonathan (Jan 21, 2018). "On the Amazon's lawless frontier, murder mystery divides the locals and loggers". The Guardian. Retrieved March 19, 2019. 
  6. "Amazon Rainforest". Wikipedia. Retrieved March 19, 2019. 
  7. Balée, William; Erickson, Clark (1994). Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 334–335. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Fearnside, Philip (July 2008). "The Roles and Movements of Actors in the Deforestation of Brazilian Amazonia". 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lacorte, Marina (September 10, 2015). "Tracking Trees: How an Amazon Indigenous Community is Using Technology to Fight Illegal Logging". 
  10. Garces, Claudia Leonor Lopez (2018, May 18). "Territorial conflicts and patterns of forest use in the indigenous territory Alto Turiacu (Maranhao State, Brazil): Ka'apor knowledge against logging".  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. "Indigenous peoples in Brazil". Wikipedia. March 29, 2019. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Balée, William (09/1998). "Ka'apor". Povas Indigenous Brazil. Archived from the original on March 29, 2019. Retrieved March 29, 2019.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. 13.0 13.1 CIMI, Brazil (October 2016). "Joint Report By the Indigenous Missionary Council". 
  14. 14.0 14.1 BRENNA, LORENZA (March 30, 2019). "The guardians of the forest: the Amazon tribe protecting trees forcibly". Life Gate. Retrieved March 30, 2019. 

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