A small tribe of uncontacted Indians in the Brazilian Amazon is facing annihilation as loggers invade their land, forcing them to flee further and further into the forest. This accusation is being levelled by Survival International, an organization interested in human rights and indigenous peoples.
Logging companies are chopping down the Indians’ forest in the Rio Pardo area in the states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso, despite repeated reports of the existence of isolated Indians in the area, says Survival.
Empty Indian villages have been found with footprints by the streams, and signs that the Indians have left in a hurry.
“The Indians will be annihilated if we don’t act now,” says Sydney Possuelo, head of the isolated Indians unit of the government’s Indians affairs department, FUNAI.
“To witness a people being annihilated without even giving them the opportunity to scream, is a scandal.” He believes there may be three other groups of uncontacted Indians in the region.
Elsewhere in Brazil, three long-running Survival campaigns have helped Indians win back their land in recent months. The Awá, the Makuxi and other tribes of Raposa-Serra do Sol and two Guarani communities have all had their land officially recognized.
Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, “It took over twenty years for the Awá and the Makuxi to win back their land. The Indians of Rio Pardo don’t have this long.
“Brazil must act now to protect them and stop the loggers – otherwise yet another Brazilian tribe will be consigned to history. The annihilation of a tribe, however small, is of course genocide.”
Survival International Posting:
Deep in the Amazon rainforest a small tribe of uncontacted Indians is on the run, fleeing chainsaws and bulldozers as logging companies penetrate their forest home. They shun all contact with outsiders. They are fighting for their very survival. If urgent measures are not taken to protect them and their land from this invasion they will disappear forever. That this is genocide is indisputable.
Very little is known about the tribe, commonly referred to as the Rio Pardo Indians, who live on the border of Mato Grosso and Amazonas states. They may be the last survivors of their people, or they could be related to one of several neighbouring tribes who nickname them ‘Baixinhos’ (the tiny people) or ‘Cabeças vermelhas’ (the red heads).
Since the 1980s, sightings and rumours have abounded. Arara Indians, who live in the area, report hearing them at night near their villages, mimicking the sounds of animals. Settlers and miners in the area have come across their abandonded houses.
The government’s Indian Affairs Department FUNAI has disturbing evidence that the heavily armed loggers are hunting down the Indians. One field worker told Survival, ‘The loggers are going to clean out the Indians. They will just shoot them to kill them.’
In 1998 FUNAI sent a team to the area, and over the ensuing years it has located several abandoned villages. Last year steel machetes and knives left out for the Indians by FUNAI were taken.
Everything indicates that the Indians are constantly on the move. Their abandoned malocas (communal houses) are filled with essential utensils: arrows, baskets filled with nuts, and hammocks made from tree fibre.
Footprints by streams have been spotted, where fruits and nuts have been left in baskets to soak and soften. There are no signs of any cultivation, indicating that the Indians only survive by hunting and gathering as they are constantly on the move.
There are fears that under such constant pressure the women of the tribe will stop giving birth, and so further reduce their chances of survival.
In May 2001, FUNAI secured a legal order prohibiting anyone from entering the area, known as the Rio Pardo Indigenous Area. This meant that an area of 166,000 hectares was set aside for the Indians, while FUNAI tried to establish their whereabouts and number.
However, loggers, land grabbers and colonists are pouring into the area and pressure on the Indians’ land is mounting. On several occasions a group of logging companies have managed to revoke the legal order protecting the territory.
Seizing the opportunity, they have now built a road and trails into the Rio Pardo territory, and one company’s property is entirely inside the reserve.
Once the loggers have felled the forest, the land will be taken over by ranchers to convert into soya fields or pasture for cattle. The logging roads will facilitate the entry of colonists and land grabbers.
In a race against time, FUNAI has decided it has no alternative but to contact the tribe as it is now exposed on all fronts to violence and diseases against which it has no immunity.
However, in March the logging companies again managed to overturn FUNAI’s protection order in a court. Now the Indians have no protection at all.
Sydney Possuelo, head of FUNAI’s uncontacted Indians department says, ‘The Indians will be annihilated if we don’t act now.’ The Brazilian courts and government must uphold the constitution, which guarantees indigenous peoples their land rights, and map out and ratify the territory urgently.
If the Brazilian authorities fail to protect the Rio Pardo Indians and stop the loggers, yet another Brazilian tribe will be consigned to history. The annihilation of a tribe, however small, is of course genocide.
Please write a polite letter to the President of Brazil:
I am astonished and dismayed that a Brazilian court has revoked FUNAI’s order 447/2001which protects the Rio Pardo Indigenous Area in Mato Grosso state. The uncontacted Indians who live there face the prospect of annihilation, as logging companies have now been given free rein to invade their land.
We urge you to reinstate FUNAI’s order and to do everything possible to protect the area. FUNAI’s uncontacted Indians department itself believes that if the government and courts do not act immediately, the Indians will simply be wiped out, and yet another tribe in Brazil will be consigned to history.
Please send your letter or fax to:
Exmo Sr Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Presidente da República Federativa do Brasil
Gabinete do Presidente
Palácio do Planalto
Praça dos Três Poderes
Fax: +55 61 411 2222 or 2243 or 1222
Begin: Your Excellency
and if possible to:
Márcio Thomaz Bastos
Ministro da Justiça
Ministério da Justiça
Esplanada dos Ministérios
Fax: +55 61 224 2448 or 322 6817 or 224 0954