When Europeans arrived in the sixteenth century, the indigenous population of what is now Brazil stood by some estimates at around three million. After five hundred years of epidemics, slave raiding, land expropriation, and more or less forcible cultural assimilation, there are today only around 250,000 people still classified as “Indians” in Brazil. Although this figure amounts to only 2 percent of the national population, territories occupied by indigenous groups cover some 8.5 million square kilometers, or 11 percent of the total area of the country. As in the United States, most of the larger surviving indigenous groups, and all the large indigenous areas, are located in the west. Indigenous people have been largely eliminated from the more heavily settled east.
From colonial times down to the late 1980s, Brazilian policy toward indigenous peoples was frankly assimilationist, based on the twin assumptions that absorption into the Brazilian nation represented e...
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