This past week, Brazil hosted the first-ever World Indigenous Games, a kind of “Indigenous Olympics” that included 2,000 athletes from indigenous groups from all over the globe participating in a wide range of sporting events.
The project was conceived by Brazilian indigenous leader Marcos Terena and his Intertribal Council, the Brazilian Ministry of Sport and the Municipality of Palmas (the city where it was held), and aimed to raise understanding and respect for the culture and traditions of indigenous people around the world. As the Games’ website explains, the demonstrations — both competitive and non-competitive — would showcase their “living heritage of games.”
But the Games did not just celebrate athleticism — it also hosted a series of non-athletic events that included lectures, social forums and other cultural celebrations, one of which included a “parade of indigenous beauty” for women.
This was no beauty contest, however. While it did include more than 60 women and girls, there was no real competition — rather than crowning a single queen, the parade crowned everyone queens. It was a true celebration of all indigenous women and their unique features, body types and adornments.
Although Brazil is known to be one of the most multiracial and multicultural places in the world, a country that prides itself on its diversity, it has long ignored its indigenous population. Whether it is in Brazil’s government institutions or in the media, indigenous people have been unrepresented and largely forgotten.
“Most times, people say, ‘Look, there’s an Indian,’ without even realizing how many indigenous groups there are,” Tainara da Silva, the parade’s organizer, said in The Washington Post. “I want to show the richness of our people, how each of us is different and special.”
As doubly marginalized individuals, indigenous women in Brazil don’t exactly have it great. Indigenous women already suffer disproportionately from poverty and discrimination, and they suffer even more when it comes to representation in the media and in society itself. When they aren’t completely ignored on television screens and in advertisements, indigenous women that are featured in the media (and their traditions) are largely objectified or portrayed using negative stereotypes. This is why the beauty parade was such an important celebration.
In order to truly boast of diversity and the beauty of many cultures, Brazil needs to first celebrate the very presence of its native populations. The parade of beauty in particular was once such way to show not only Brazil’s public, but also the public around the world that indigenous people exist, they matter and their culture should be celebrated as enthusiastically as everyone else’s.
Even though the event was a relatively small victory, it was nonetheless substantial — I commend the organizers of the parade for finding a way to positively represent indigenous women and their beauty. With both the parade of indigenous beauty and the World Indigenous Games, Brazil has shown that they are slowly working towards an even greater goal of cultivating a wider acceptance of native peoples and culture.