Indigenous Brazilians mobilize against proposed termination of SESAI


To reverse the proposed municipalization of the indigenous health care system, overseen by the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (SESAI).

Time period

March 25, 2019 to March 28, 2019


Jump to case narrative


Ava-Guarani, Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB)


Tupinambá, Pataxó, Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe, Kaingang, Marubo, Kanamari, Matis, Mayouruna, Kulina, Pankararu, Maxakali, Kaxixó, Mocuriñ, Krenak, Kurâ Bakairi, Tapeba, Shanenawa, Kaxinawa, Nukini, Nawa, Munduruku, Guajajara, Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (SESAI)

External allies

not known

Involvement of social elites

not known


Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Minister of Health; Ministry of Health

Repressive Violence

Pepper spray on Guarani protested in São Paulo City Hall


National-Ethnic Identity
Human Rights



Group characterization

Brazilian indigenous peoples

Groups in 1st Segment

Ava- Guarani

Groups in 2nd Segment

Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe

Groups in 3rd Segment

Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (SESAI)

Groups in 4th Segment

Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB)

Groups in 5th Segment

Kurâ Bakairi

Groups in 6th Segment

Minister of Health Luiz Henrique Mandetta

Segment Length

10 hours

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

5 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

Although the Minister of Health conceded to scrap plans to make SESAI defunct, many indigenous groups are wary of the announcement as the government still does not acknowledge or consult with the existing leadership bodies of indigenous Brazilians. Namely, the National Conference on Indigenous Health will be convening on May 6 and would be the opportune time to engage multilaterally on a visioning project.

Database Narrative

Beginning at sunrise on 25 March 2019, 300 Ava-Guarani hailing from twelve villages in Guaíra, Paraná and Terra Roxa, São Paulo occupied the Ayrton Senna Bridge, which spans the Rio Paraná in Brazil. The location of this protest was a strategic disruption for two reasons; the bridge serves as the connection between the municipalities of Guaíra and Mundo Novo, and the highway that runs atop it is an access point to nearby Paraguay. With banners in hand, demonstrators remained on the bridge until noon to express their opposition to the proposed closure of the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (SESAI). 

Protests began anew the next day, 26 March, with a new wave of Indigenous resistance movements. Members of the Tupinambá, Pataxó and Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe collectively held a protest and eventual sit-in of the Ministry of Health in Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil. In Boa Vista, the capital city of Roraima, 100 Indigenous Brazilians and SESAI officials held a demonstration in front of the Legislative Assembly of Roraima. This was complemented by the blockage of traffic on highway BR 386, which marks the border of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, by 500 Indigenous peoples. The group was a conglomeration of Kaingang people from Irai, Rio das Índios, Serrinha, Várzea River, Goj Veso, and Guarita. 
Following a call to action from Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB), where 27 March was designated National Indigenous Mobilization Day, news sources reported over 30 protests in 18 different states. At noon, 300 Indigenous peoples led a demonstration in front of the headquarters of the Special Indigenous Sanitary District (DSEI) that later turned into an occupation of the building. Another 300 of the Marubo, Kanamari, Matis, Mayouruna, and Kulina peoples rallied in front of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) in Javari Valley. 
Other actions included the occupation of São Paulo City Hall by Guarani peoples, 200 of whom remained on the steps of the building after being turned away after demanding the mayor meet with them. Police pepper-sprayed Guarani protestors, who danced in the entryway of the building before leaving. At the Ministry of Health in Amazonas, 800 Indigenous peoples occupied the headquarters. 
Many of the protesting groups blocked major highways and bridges, such as the blockage of traffic on highway BR 116 in Minas Gerais by the Pankararu, Pataxó, Maxakali, Kaxixó, Mocuriñ, and Krenak peoples as well as the occupation of highway BR 110 in Paraíba by 1,500 people of the Potiguara. Other groups hosting similar protests were the Kurâ Bakairi in Pakuera, Mato Grosso; Tapeba people in Caucasia, Ceará; Shanenawa, Kaxinawa, Nukini, and Nawa in Acre; Munduruku in Itaituba, Pará; and Guajajara in Amarante, Maranhão. 

On 28 March, Minister of Health Luiz Henrique Mandetta hosted Indigenous leaders in Brasilia to discuss the discontent over proposed municipalization resulting from the week of protests. In this meeting, Mandetta announced that his office would no longer seek to dismantle SESAI and instead would look for ways to revitalize the current system through the creation of a Working Group.


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Indigenous Ministry Council. 2019. “Why the proposal to municipalize indigenous health is a mistake and is being opposed by indigenous peoples.” CIMI, February 22. Retrieved May 27, 2019 (

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Spezia, Adilvane. 2019. “The municipalization of indigenous health means our death sentence.” CIMI, March 25. Retrieved May 27, 2019 (

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Joy George, 14/04/2019