According to January 2020 data, the Brazilian Armed Forces have more than 32,000 women in their ranks. Among them, an officer stands out as the first indigenous woman to wear a military uniform: Second Lieutenant Sílvia Nobre Waiãpi.
“I’ve always dreamed of joining the Brazilian Army [EB, in Portuguese],” said 2nd Lt. Waiãpi, who joined the professionally qualified officers corps in 2011, through the Technical Service Internship at Rio de Janeiro’s Reserve Officers Training Center. This corps recruits professionals in different areas of the Armed Forces on a temporary basis, for a maximum of eight years.
“Since my childhood, I’ve thought of the Armed Forces as a helping hand of the Brazilian people, especially the indigenous people. In the jungle, service members are the ones who protect and help indigenous people. So, the contact with the military forces, especially the Army, is something very present in my life,” 2nd Lt. Waiãpi said.
The officer was born in the Waiãpi Tribe, in Amapá state. Her community consists of about 1,200 people who live near the Brazil-French Guiana border, according to data from Brazil’s Social Environmental Institute. When the officer was 4 years old, a non-indigenous family adopted her. She went to live in the city, yet never forgot her past in the village. “Being indigenous is a daily inspiration for me. The challenges weren’t small. I lived on the streets, sold used books, and faced everything with the same courage that it takes my relatives to live in the jungle. I survived.”
With a degree in physiotherapy, 2nd Lt. Waiãpi was the chief of physical and physiotherapy rehabilitation services at EB’s Central Hospital, until 2018. In April 2019, she took on a job within the current Brazilian government, becoming the coordinator for the Ministry of Health’s Special Department of Indigenous Health.
EB’s official website recognizes the presence of indigenous people within its ranks, especially in military units of the Amazon. According to the institution’s website, indigenous combatants are an important contribution to maintain the national sovereignty of the Amazon region, because they have deep knowledge of the jungle.
Although 2nd Lt. Waiãpi is considered the first indigenous woman in the Brazilian Armed Forces, military institutions do not share the ethnic origins of their service members. “We are all soldiers in the Armed Forces, without distinction. All my accomplishments in the Brazilian Army were achieved with a lot of effort and dedication, just like all of those who advance in their military career,” 2nd Lt. Waiãpi said.
According to EB, the Brazilian Air Force, and the Brazilian Navy, the selection process to join the forces, register for the military, or track career performance does not take into consideration ethnic origin. As such, there is no data on the number of active indigenous service members.