Indigenous athletes participate in the trunk relay race where young men carry a 200-pound trunk on their shoulders on a 500-meter circular track at the 12th Annual World Indigenous Games in Cuiaba, Brazil recently.

Sports, Education & Celebration: 12th Annual World Indigenous Games

Rick Kearns


It started with a sacred fire ceremony and lead to a variety of games, presentations and dialogues involving over 1,500 indigenous people from around the world.

Indigenous athletes, leaders and activists came together for the 12th Annual World Indigenous Games in Cuiaba, Brazil, a city in the Amazonian state of Mato Grosso, from November 8 to 16. The Intertribal Committee of Brazil (ITCB), the games organizers, counted people of 48 ethnicities and 17 countries.

The games included archery, foot races, soccer, water sports, canoe races and traditional events such as the tug-of-war or the trunk relay race where sturdy young men carried 200-pound trunks on their shoulders on a 500-meter circular track.

Audience members and participants danced, sang and celebrated throughout the event.

“We want to show that really we are authentic, that we have a great diversity that must be seen with a perspective of inclusion,” said Jaruco Tanao, who traveled four days by boat and bus from the northern city of Arce to participate.

Along with athletes from different countries playing in the games there were interactions between peoples in the dances and ceremonial gatherings. For instance, Iguandili Lopez of the Guna people from Panama, danced with Pataxos of Brazil, and Keyuk Yanten, a Tewelche from Patagonia, sang with some Mapuches from Chile.

“It’s fascinating how the Brazilian tribes maintain that purety,” Iguandilli opined.

Throughout the weeklong event there were also meetings and presentations such as the Intercultural Dialogue between Indigenous Women, held in the Oca of Knowledge, an open-air dome set aside for dialogues and debates.

The opening of the Intercultural Dialogue featured a Mapuche blessing ritual for the dialogues and a Kuna dance by an indigenous woman from Panama. After the blessing, all of the participants introduced themselves and talked about what they were doing in their communities and whether they were seeking any sort of training or education. In the gathering various women were recognized for their struggles on behalf of causes in their communities, including education.

Ja Ranari, of the Pataxo people of Bahia, Brazil, spoke about how she was recently hired as a consultant for the Ministry of Education, to assist with indigenous education. Marina Marcos, who has a degree in Geography, spoke about how she learned about many indigenous issues from the dialogue organizer Mirian Terena.

In her talk before the group, Terena noted that there were 300 women participating both in the games, such as soccer and archery, and in the cultural presentations.

“It’s important too, that we have indigenous women trained to assume decision making positions,” she asserted referring to the dialogues about education.

The topic of educating their fellow Brazilian citizens about indigenous people was the central theme of a book being distributed at the games. “Indigenous in Brazil: demands and perceptions of public opinion” was the result of three years of research on how much and how little Brazilians knew about indigenous people in the country.

Among the visitors to the games was Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, who signed a contract with the ITCB to hold the next World Indigenous Games in Brazil in July of 2015.“These Games will represent the appreciation and recognition of something healthy and permanent, the exchange of values and civilizing experiences…between peoples of various nations, including China, Australia, and Russia, who have already confirmed their participation,” Rebelo stated.