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Brazil Yanomami Accuse Gold Miners of Bringing Disease and Killing Their Fish

Yanomami Indian children In a letter denouncing the invasion of their land by illegal garimpeiros (gold miners) two Yanomami Indian communities in Brazil have talked about their plight to the Brazilian government.

According to the Yanomami, over a thousand gold miners are working illegally on Yanomami land, transmitting deadly diseases like malaria and polluting the rivers and forest with mercury. Illegal mining has recently boomed due to the rise in the price of gold.

The letters, from the Alto Catrimani and Paapiú communities in the Amazon state of Roraima, are addressed to the government's Indian affairs department, FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do índio – Indian National Foundation). They report that the communities are starting to suffer from malnutrition, as fish are scarce and the river water cannot be drunk due to pollution from the mining.

The Yanomami are one of the largest relatively isolated tribes in South America. Although their territory has been recognized and signed into Brazilian law, the Yanomami's survival is being threatened. Cattle ranchers are invading and deforesting the eastern fringe of their land and critical medical care is not reaching them because of corruption and incompetence in Brazil's National Health Foundation (FUNASA).

The letters have been circulated by the Yanomami association, Hutukara. They end with an urgent appeal to the authorities to remove all the miners immediately.

The Yanomami live in the rainforests and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. Like most tribes on the continent, they probably migrated across the Bering Straits between Asia and America some 40,000 years ago, making their way slowly down to South America. Today their total population stands at around 32,000.

At over 9.6 million hectares, the Yanomami territory in Brazil is twice the size of Switzerland. In Venezuela, the Yanomami live in the 8.2 million hectare Alto Orinoco – Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve. Together, these areas form the largest forested indigenous territory in the world.

The Brazilian congress is currently debating a bill which, if approved, will permit large-scale mining in indigenous territories. This will be extremely harmful to the Yanomami and other remote tribes in Brazil.

The Yanomami have not been properly consulted about their views and have little access to independent information about the impacts of mining.

Davi Kopenawa, a leading Yanomami spokesman and President of Hutukara Yanomami Association, warns of the dangers, "Mining will only destroy nature. It will only destroy the streams and the rivers and kill the fish and kill the environment – and kill us. And bring in diseases which never existed in our land," he says.


  • Show Comments (6)

  • Jonathan Conroy

    I agree with Peter, Yanamamo are living things and we are disturbing human rights they have rights they probarly think that we’re crazy with all our fancy technologie I think your all racist.

  • peter

    brazilians miners,loggers and farmers are stealing land from the indians.

  • BrianMLaw

    Wow, looks like the comments here are a great example of the scientific indoctrination that has been given to the public. Still stuck in the left/right paradigm and supporting a privately run economic system. Don’t worry though, you will be enslaved for life and killed off when the new currencies are introduced unless you wake up and do some homework and read some real history.


  • reasonman

    maybe ecotourism developement
    what the yanomami should do is mine the gold then use the money to buy solar panels that way they are sustainable and can have electricity for eco-tourism.

  • businessguy246

    i agree its just there leftist views that are holding them back
    thats exactly what i was thinking all they do is impede our ability to get the stuff we need to raise our standard of living if they would stop interfering with the invisible hand of the market it will raise their standard of living and they can have nice things and a happy life.the problem is they dont know a honest day of hard work because they just mooch off the land and the taxpayers.the yanomami probably dont even have their fishing licenses anyways.
    the real problem is that the yanomami dont have private property rights which leads to the “[b]tragedy of the commons” ie…when someone shares a common parcel of land (the commons) on which they are all entitled to let their cows graze. it is in each herder’s interest to put as many cows as possible onto the land, even if the commons is damaged as a result. The herder receives all the benefits from the additional cows but the damage to the commons is shared by the entire group. If all herders make this individually rational decision, however, the commons is destroyed and all herders suffer.[/b] so what they need to do is privatize property to protect the environment. to bad these people are to dumb to realize that it is their own primitive leftist social system that is destroying the environment.

  • jebus

    32000 al gores
    why dont the yonomami’s go get jobs an stop mooching like dumb socialists that think they deserve free healthcare. We need growth and gold for the economy,and at least ranchers cut down the rainforest to get food and to sell the timber to build things. why dont they just mine the gold to buy healthcare. everybody knows malaria comes from the rainforest, not gold mines. They are so dumb they don’t even wear clothes ,of course these people are screwed. these people need to get real. what are we going to do run out of gold, i dont think so. so they need to stop whining and get with the program. they are just a bunch of whiny leftist liberals like al gore, they probably saw his movie and then got all whiny. they just want to stop progress and make everyone else go backward.These are exactly the kind of tyrants ayn rand warned us about.

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