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Legal Design for Indigenous Groups – Ilha do Bananal REDD+

Details of Contributors:

Erik Fotenele Nybb – Bits Academy; Jeronimo Roveda – VRA Advogados; Stela Naomi – Bits Academy; Iny Karajá Indigenous Community, and Biofix.

Location of Contributors:


What was the justice challenge that you were addressing and for whom?

The challenge was to create a document that could be understood by the indigenous community on a complex matter such as a carbon credits. Besides, any kind of agreement involving indigenous communities need to be checked by a kind of Brazilian regulator (FUNAI) to ensure indigenous communities have their rights preserved. At the same time, we had a big international company from another country (BIOFIX, from Colombia) which develops a specific carbon credit project in Brazil and they also needed to have their interests taken care of.

What was the issue with previous alternatives?

The main problem was that the original agreement was 17 pages long, and had a lot of legalese. Such a document generated a lot of discussions within the community to the extent it risked the deal and could lead to conflicts in the future. The traditional agreement format generated a lot of uncertainty and insecurity within the indigenous community.

What was the design process and/or tools that you used?

Jeronimo Roveda held interviews and discussions with the indigenous community during days and was immersed in the community. Bits Academy started checking public libraries for the Iny Karajá language so we could apply it in the agreement. Jeronimo Roveda, Bits Academy and Iny-Karajá’s leaders had a lot of discussions on what could represent each matter within the contract. For example, they explained to us that they felt misrepresented when people use the standard North-American indigenous stereotypes to depict indigenous communities. Therefore, we created an avatar to represent the characteristics from that specific indigenous community (their headdress has a lot of half-cut feathers and only two long feathers in the center). We translated text into flowcharts and used a lot of imagery to represent the meaning of each section of the agreement – indigenous communities learn and communicate a lot through drawings and images, according to them. 

Did you face any particular challenges?

The main challenge and learning we got out of it is that each indigenous community can interpret an image in a different manner. So there is no one-size fits all solution. When dealing with other communities within the project’s scope we noted that each community interprets images in a different manner and that had to be accounted for to deliver a design that could fit the client’s needs.

Describe your end product

The end product was a 2 pages contract which had to be printed since they did not have internet in the indigenous community. The contract was created in an infographic layout instead of the traditional A4 sheet standard. The document contains a lot of images, flowcharts, the indigenous community’s language (Karajá) and is colorful.

What has been the impact of your innovation on the justice challenge? Have you had feedback from your end users?

One of the main indigenous leaders in Brazil gave us a recorded feedback telling us that all documents entered into by indigenous communities should use legal design. Since they communicate and learn through images, this is what fits their needs in terms of documents. They feel represented in the process since we used their language, depicted them in the agreement and also used images and colors. 

Do you have any future plans for this project?

Since this is a 15 years long project, the company that hired the service and is developing the carbon credit project wants to keep on with the good communication and improve it further on. They also want to use this first experience as a lesson to enter into good agreements with other communities too. Bits Academy is already working with other projects involving indigenous communities after that first experience.

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