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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 5, 2003

(Image: Shavante drawing by member Lucas Ruri o)

Native Brazilian, Shavante Tribe Member To Visit UI Nov. 5-7

More than two decades of research by a University of Iowa professor have resulted in a highly unusual opportunity for UI students and faculty to hear from, exchange ideas and interact with a native Brazilian from the Shavante tribe. Hiparidi Top'tiro, the only Shavante to have earned a university diploma and one of a very few who have traveled outside of Brazil, will visit the UI today (Nov. 5) through Friday, Nov. 7 and will give a free, public presentation Nov. 7 at noon in Room 315, Phillips Hall. He will speak on, "Being an Indigenous Leader in Brazil: Reflections on rewards and perils."

Top'tiro, a Shavante (Xavante) Indian from the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, is a dedicated activist for environmental preservation and indigenous rights. He met UI anthropology professor Laura Graham in 1999 while conducting research on Shavante in national and international public arenas. Graham has studied Shavante language and culture for more than 20 years.

Top'tiro earned an undergraduate degree from the University of São Paulo. He is one of only a handful of Shavante to have completed a secondary education. After a year of graduate study in anthropology, Top'tiro turned his energy full-time toward advocacy and community projects.

As an advocate for social justice and environmental conservation, Top'tiro has exposed the criminal activities of ranchers who illegally invade indigenous land, dump chemicals and agro-toxins into rivers that Shavante use for drinking and who intimidate him and members of his family. In July 2002, Amnesty International opened an Urgent Action file on Top'tiro's behalf to pressure Brazilian authorities to protect him and his family from death threats from local corporate ranchers.

In 1999, Top'tiro founded the Warã Association, a community-based non-governmental organization, to promote ecological preservation as well as the cultural and physical survival of his people. The Association has implemented a number of innovative sustainable community development projects as part of its "Save the Savannah" campaign (Salve o Cerrado). These include establishing apiculture and conducting a collaborative "Ethno-Environmental" research project involving Shavante and Western-trained scholars.

Top'tiro has been creative in representing Shavante culture to outsiders. The Warã Association has produced a video, published a children's book, curated museum exhibits and held live cultural performances for Brazilian nationals. The Warã Association is the first Shavante group to establish a presence on the Internet: http://www.wara.org.br/index.html.

Today approximately 13,000 Shavante live on six reserves surrounded by large-scale corporate agricultural (primarily soy) and cattle ranching ventures. After the Yanomami, Shavante are the largest indigenous population in Brazil. The group suffers an extremely high infant mortality rate and endemic tuberculosis. In many cases children die from treatable illnesses, poor sanitation which could be improved with basic public health measures or polluted water. Top'tiro and the Warã Association are working to improve conditions for his people and the endangered savannah environment.

Top'tiro's visit to UI is sponsored by the American Indian and Native Studies Program and the department of anthropology, both part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and by the Latin American Studies Program, part of International Programs. For further information, contact Laura Graham 335-0517.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, mary-kenyon@uiowa.edu; Program: Laura Graham 335-0517