An Indige­nous Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Network 
Dominique Gal­lois & Vin­cent Carel­li (CTI-Centro de Tra­bal­ho Indi­genista, São Paulo, Brazil)

(…)Brazil­ian Indi­ans form a tiny frac­tion of the country’s pop­u­la­tion (0.02%). But in com­pen­sa­tion, they have an enor­mous sym­bol­ic impor­tance, per­pet­u­at­ed through their image as »good sav­ages« and »jungle Indi­ans.« With no con­gres­sion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of their own and unas­sist­ed by a bank­rupt and cor­rupt fed­er­al organ, Indi­ans must resort to media events to make their voices heard and their basic rights met, espe­cial­ly those per­tain­ing to ter­ri­to­ry. Some of these media events include the taking of hostages, the occu­pa­tion of ranch­es and public build­ings, and dec­la­ra­tions of wars that never take place or hurt anyone. Over the past decades, these were the tools used by the Indi­ans to con­quer (or regain) their territory.

The inter­est Brazil­ian Indi­ans have in exchang­ing expe­ri­ences among them­selves becomes more rel­e­vant when we take into con­sid­er­a­tion the fact that the dif­fer­ent Indian nations live iso­lat­ed from each other. There are close to 210 ethnic groups that speak 180 dif­fer­ent lan­guages – a cul­tur­al diver­si­ty that is mul­ti­plied by the wide vari­ety of expe­ri­ences cre­at­ed when there is con­tact. Indi­ans gain a clear notion of the status soci­ety has reserved for them when they learn of the exis­tence of other tribes and when they real­ize that all of them face the same dif­fi­cul­ties in coex­ist­ing with the white man. They learn from each other new ways to inter­act with soci­ety. They create their own alter­na­tives, which they first try out among them­selves and then share with other tribes expe­ri­enc­ing the same sit­u­a­tion. These are new forms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion that involve the rebuild­ing of their self-image and a process of select­ing cul­tur­al traits that each tribe con­ducts in accor­dance to its own expe­ri­ence and inter­est in con­tact­ing other groups.

Large pan-Indian meet­ings and the media may be the Indi­ans’ last resource to make soci­ety aware of their plight and force the gov­ern­ment to assume its respon­si­bil­i­ty. But they also repro­duce and per­pet­u­ate society’s clich­es and biases. Jour­nal­ists like politi­cians, bureau­crats and most cit­i­zens remain deaf to the voice of the Indi­ans. They not only feel they know all there is to know about Indi­ans, but also what is best for them.

(…)Stud­ies con­duct­ed in sev­er­al con­ti­nents show that the use of tech­nol­o­gy to guar­an­tee com­mu­ni­ca­tion between cul­tures strength­ens the per­sis­tence of cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences. Aus­tralia and Canada, two coun­tries that cul­tur­al­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly mas­sa­cred their minori­ties, recent­ly includ­ed in their con­sti­tu­tions the right of these minori­ties to have their own com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works. Every­thing indi­cates that these coun­tries final­ly real­ized that their ethnic minori­ties would not dis­ap­pear and that their sur­vival was not a threat to nation­al sovereignty.

These are con­cerns that still per­sist in Brazil. Some local expe­ri­ences illus­trate how inter­change, com­par­i­son and con­fronta­tion have allowed indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to view their cul­tur­al traits in a dif­fer­ent light and to value them in a new context. 

The Video in the Vil­lages Project
Over the past 10 years, the Indian Work Center’s video project has been help­ing Indi­ans become aware of their image. It has placed infor­ma­tion and tech­nol­o­gy at the dis­pos­al of some indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to encour­age them to recon­struct self-rep­re­sen­ta­tions and create a self-image. It also encour­ages them to exchange audio-visual mate­r­i­al made avail­able though a net­work of video libraries, which the project installed in sev­er­al vil­lages. At the same time, the project trained indige­nous doc­u­men­tarists and opened space in the media to dis­sem­i­nate an image of Indi­ans that was more suited to their own inter­ests. These suc­cess­ful exper­i­ments have con­firmed that the use of audio-visual instru­ments strength­ens cul­tur­al iden­ti­ties. A project of this nature cre­ates pro­duc­tion dynam­ics in sev­er­al levels.

The impact of Videos in Villages
By installing a video mon­i­tor in a vil­lage, the Project is trying to bring about a tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion. It is a short cut that direct­ly con­nects tra­di­tion­al forms of oral cul­ture and his­to­ry to audio-visual sys­tems, bypass­ing the writ­ten word. By cir­cum­vent­ing this indi­vid­u­al­ized form of record­ing and trans­mit­ting knowl­edge, tra­di­tion­al forms of obtain­ing new infor­ma­tion, such as col­lec­tive debates, are strength­ened. By record­ing and seeing their per­for­mances – be they rit­u­als or polit­i­cal nego­ti­a­tions in the vil­lage com­pound – indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties select, build and strength­en the cul­tur­al man­i­fes­ta­tions they wish to pre­serve for future gen­er­a­tions and which best set them apart from the non-Indians.

Lead­ers of many com­mu­ni­ties agreed to use video because they saw it as a way to see their stance of cul­tur­al resis­tance mate­ri­al­ize in images and sound. The audio-visual, a uni­ver­sal­ly under­stood lan­guage, is the only way these lead­ers can accom­plish this, since most of them do not dom­i­nate the writ­ten word, a tech­nique nor­mal­ly con­trolled by the younger gen­er­a­tions. The most impor­tant func­tion of video in these cases has been to record rit­u­als, dances, songs, paint­ings and tribal adornments. 

By using video to come face-to-face with their own expe­ri­ences in a wide vari­ety of sit­u­a­tions, these com­mu­ni­ties acquire new para­me­ters to under­stand their status. Video also helps them dis­cov­er new ways of relat­ing to Brazil­ian soci­ety and gov­ern­ment. This dual mech­a­nism used to manip­u­late their own image and com­pare them­selves to others involves a cre­ative process that leads to a reflec­tion of their real­i­ty and to an expan­sion of their hori­zons. It cul­mi­nates in a revi­sion of their self-image.

The use of Doc­u­men­taries to Dis­sem­i­nate Experience
The Project’s team that over the past 10 years accom­pa­nied the Indi­ans’ image -record­ing and manip­u­la­tion process­es, pro­duced a series of doc­u­men­taries in three dif­fer­ent categories:
•video process: case-by-case accounts of the encoun­ters that sev­er­al tribes have had with their own image and of their reflec­tion on their self-representation;
•video denun­ci­a­tion: doc­u­men­taries that deal with the con­flicts that are emblem­at­ic of the Brazil­ian Indian’s cur­rent situation;
•insti­tu­tion­al videos: these depict alter­na­tive devel­op­ment projects pro­posed by some com­mu­ni­ties, illus­trat­ing the con­trol they have over their cur­rent con­tact sit­u­a­tion and the trans­for­ma­tions they are experiencing. 

Eigh­teen doc­u­men­taries in five lan­guages com­pose the series (41). They mirror the impact the Project has had in indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and, at the same time, serve as an instru­ment to obtain the funds needed to keep it alive. The Project is funded by inter­na­tion­al dona­tions and through the sale of the videos.

Unlike many con­ven­tion­al »Indian theme« pro­duc­tions that resort to a record/ edit/distribute film­ing sched­ule, we avoid focus­ing on the final prod­uct. Instead, we first estab­lish a dia­logue with the com­mu­ni­ties to be doc­u­ment­ed. Between the film’s making and dis­tri­b­u­tion, we invest in sev­er­al inter­me­di­ary stages that guar­an­tee that these com­mu­ni­ties will become direct par­tic­i­pants in the project. And it is because of this par­tic­i­pa­tion that we obtain that some­thing extra – the prox­im­i­ty and pres­ence of these indi­vid­u­als that react to the camera’s provo­ca­tion and reflect, with us, on their future.

The 1996 pro­duc­tion of »Seg­re­dos da mata« (Secrets of the Forest) gave us the chance to con­duct a new expe­ri­ence with the Waiãpi Indi­ans. It is a nar­ra­tion and the­atri­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of encoun­ters with the can­ni­bal­is­tic mon­sters that inhab­it the tribe’s cos­mol­o­gy and day-to-day life. It was a new expe­ri­ence in deal­ing with Indian myths, where the Indian’s par­tic­i­pa­tion is lim­it­ed to nar­ra­tion and where the con­tent is depict­ed from the researcher’s per­spec­tive. For the Waiãpi as well as for other com­mu­ni­ties, video pro­duc­tions of fic­tion­al events rep­re­sent a new approach to tra­di­tion­al themes. 

Each new work becomes part of a group, which when seen as a whole gains greater sig­nif­i­cance. The series has an inno­v­a­tive ele­ment that sets the pro­duc­tions apart from other doc­u­men­taries on Brazil­ian Indi­ans: only the Indian speaks – there is no exter­nal com­men­tary – and he is always present, always cre­at­ing some­thing new in his rela­tion­ship with the camera. In this road toward self-rep­re­sen­ta­tion, unique ethno­graph­ic films are being cre­at­ed by the Indi­ans themselves.

A Window to the Out­side World
The doc­u­men­tary makers being trained by the Project and who have already been work­ing for some time are now edit­ing their first works – doc­u­men­taries to be made acces­si­ble to a larger public. Ethno­graph­ic films pro­duced by the Indi­ans them­selves are unique prod­ucts unknown to the Brazil­ian media despite the fact that they have received inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion in film festivals.
The vil­lage-to-vil­lage train­ing of indige­nous video makers, which the Project began sev­er­al years ago, has borne pos­i­tive results for those who man­aged to finish their doc­u­men­taries. These were ini­tial­ly con­ceived as descrip­tive nar­ra­tives for inter­nal con­sump­tion. This is the case of Kasirip­inã Waiãpi (»Jane Morai­ta: Our Feasts«) and of Caimi Waiasse from the Xavante vil­lage of Pimentel Bar­bosa (»One Must be Curi­ous«). Their works demon­strate their ded­i­ca­tion to reg­is­ter­ing themes of impor­tance to their communities.

The Project, togeth­er with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mato Grosso TV – an edu­ca­tion­al TV sta­tion in the city of Cuiabá – cre­at­ed the Indian Pro­gram in 1995/96. It was a unique expe­ri­ence that showed those Indi­ans, taking part in the pro­gram, a path to be fol­lowed and a right to be demand­ed. The idea was to have the pro­gram serve as a school of jour­nal­ism and pro­duc­tion for Indi­ans of sev­er­al ethnic groups in Mato Grosso state. Besides por­tray­ing char­ac­ters, the Indi­ans cre­at­ed, pro­duced and pre­sent­ed a TV pro­gram about themselves.

This team was involved in the entire process – from pro­duc­tion to exhi­bi­tion. The four pro­grams were shown in Mato Grosso and on nation­al net­work by TVE – the Rio de Janeiro edu­ca­tion­al TV sta­tion. But the Indi­ans them­selves, who feel enor­mous pride when they rec­og­nize their lead­ers, form the Indian Program’s most enthu­si­as­tic public. As a result of the dis­cus­sions with this group, we real­ized that it felt it was too small and tech­ni­cal­ly unpre­pared for the project. It also felt that more and better train­ing would give them more con­fi­dence when deal­ing with the station’s per­son­nel. Dis­cus­sions like these helped us trace our work plans for the coming years.

To a large degree, the Project’s main chal­lenge at the moment is to train a larger number of doc­u­men­tarists who will form a nation­wide net­work of col­lab­o­ra­tors for a future Indian Pro­gram. Indi­vid­u­als must first be trained before occu­py­ing positions.

We decid­ed to pro­fes­sion­al­ize the oldest group of stu­dents in region­al improve­ment and pro­duc­tion work­shops where they could learn how to explain their cul­ture to people from the same vil­lage and from far away cities. The cov­er­age of a cer­e­mo­ni­al ritual served as the work­shop, and from a method­olog­i­cal point of view this approach has proved to be extreme­ly pro­duc­tive and useful.

Chal­lenge and moti­va­tion sur­round this endeav­or, for the com­mu­ni­ty has a lot of expec­ta­tions in terms of results. It also presents a wide vari­ety of sit­u­a­tions to be filmed. It is an ideal sit­u­a­tion because it allows us to work togeth­er to improve tech­niques and devel­op con­tent so that image and con­tent are close­ly relat­ed, and objec­tivize each other.

So-called »vide­o­let­ters« are pro­duced and cir­cu­lat­ed in these region­al work­shops to keep col­lab­o­ra­tors in con­tact with each other and encour­age them to use audio-visual lan­guage. The net­work will meet peri­od­i­cal­ly to col­lec­tive­ly devel­op pro­duc­tion projects in order to achieve its objec­tive: the resump­tion of the Indian pro­gram on edu­ca­tion­al TV