Brazil: Once Expelled Goldminers Come Back to Yanomami Territory

Brazil's Yanomami Indian and kid Illegal goldminers have invaded the land of the Yanomami Indians in the Brazilian Amazônia. More than a thousand of them, according to an alarm raised by Yanomami living close to the areas where the miners are operating. Their presence has been confirmed when a military plane flew over the area at the Yanomami's request.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Yanomami suffered hugely from goldminers invading their land. The miners shot them, destroyed villages, and exposed them to diseases to which they had no immunity.

Twenty percent of the Yanomami died in just seven years. After a long international campaign led by Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, the Pro Yanomami Commission (CCPY) and Survival International, Yanomami land was finally demarcated as the 'Yanomami Park' in 1992 and the miners were expelled.

The head of Brazil's Indian Affairs Department (FUNAI) for the state of Roraima, Gonçalo Teixeira, says the new wave of miners will be removed from the area in the new year. "The presence of the goldminers has greatly increased the pollution of the rivers and the incidence of illness among the indigenous people, due to frequent contact," says Teixeira.

Renowned leader and shaman Davi Yanomami raised the issue of illegal goldmining during a visit to the UK and Germany in October. He wrote to both British Prime Minster Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel,

"My Yanomami people are suffering and our future is threatened. Our land is being invaded by goldminers who pollute the rivers and bring in diseases. Yanomami are starting to die."

Who Are They

The Yanomami are one of the most numerous, and best-known, forest-dwelling tribes in South America. Their home is in the Amazon rainforest, among the hills that line the border between Brazil and Venezuela.

It's knot known for certain how long they have lived in their lands, but it is probable that they have been there since the first peoples arrived in South America, anything up to 50,000 years ago.

Each Yanomami community lives in a huge communal house called a "yano", which can house up to 400 people, although it is usually fewer. They build these in a large ring shape – the center is a wide open space for dancing and ceremonies, and each family has its own hearth under the covered part around the edge.

The family sleeps in hammocks around their fire. The Yanomami provide for themselves partly by hunting, gathering and fishing, and largely by growing crops in large gardens cleared from the forest. As Amazonian soil is not very fertile, a new garden is cleared every two or three years.

They grow around 60 crops, of which about 20 are for food, and the rest for medicine, making everyday objects, or ritual purposes. No hunter ever eats the meat that he has killed, rather sharing it out among friends and family; in return he will be given meat by another hunter.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Yanomami suffered hugely from Brazilian goldminers invading their land. The miners shot them, destroyed their villages, and exposed them to diseases to which they had no immunity. Twenty percent of the Yanomami died in just seven years.

After a long international campaign led by Survival, Yanomami land was finally demarcated as the Yanomami Park in 1992 and the miners at last expelled. But the Indians still do not have proper ownership rights over their land.

Brazil refuses to recognize tribal land ownership, despite having signed an international law guaranteeing it, and there are many within the Brazilian establishment who would like to see the Yanomami area reduced and opened up to mining and colonization. The army is also stepping up its presence in the area, and has plans to build more barracks.

Survival International

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