PALMAS, Brazil (AP) — What's billed as the first "indigenous Olympics" is set to kick off with some 2,000 athletes from around the world at a remote sunbaked city in northern Brazil.
The first edition of the games will officially open in Palmas on Friday, but the event's soccer tournament got underway Thursday.
Participants arrived from dozens of Brazilian ethnicities as well as from such far-flung nations as Ethiopia and New Zealand.
On Thursday, a small group of Brazilian indigenous people staged a protest denouncing what they say is poor organization and unnecessary spending on the World Indigenous Games.
About a dozen protesters decried the multimillion-dollar price tag, saying the money would have been better spent improving the conditions of Brazil's impoverished indigenous peoples.
The demonstrators' grievances ranged from a proposed constitutional amendment that would give Congress the right to demarcate indigenous lands to a rash of suicides among indigenous people in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state, where land conflicts between tribes and ranchers rage.
But protesters also lashed out at the games themselves, saying there is little to show for the millions invested in the event.
Narube Werreria denounced the event as a bid to cover up the real situation of Brazil's beleaguered populations.
"The government is using the event to cover our eyes and say everything is all right here," said Werreria, a state government employee from the Karaja tribe, whose lands are near Palmas. "But everything is not all right."
Estimated to have numbered from between 3 million to 5 million in pre-colonial times, Brazil's indigenous people now make up just 0.5 percent of the country's 200 million-strong population. They face rampant poverty and discrimination and clash frequently with farmers, ranchers and illegal miners eager to oust them from their ancestral lands.
"In Brazil, soy plants are better treated than Indians," Cacique Doran, a leader of the Tupi Guarani people, shouted at Thursday's protest.