London-based Survival International, an organization dedicated to defend the human rights of tribal peoples, is denying this Tuesday, June 24, that it or Funai, the Brazilian government agency in charge of Indians, misled the media over pictures of uncontacted Indians from Brazil painted in red threatening an overflying plane with their arrows.
The British newspaper The Observer claimed on June 22 that it has now "emerged" that the uncontacted tribe whose photos received worldwide publicity were neither "lost," nor "undiscovered" nor "unknown."
Other newspapers that have picked up the article have gone further and said that the story was a "hoax."
The story is not a hoax, says Survival, and none of those involved in working to protect these Indians' rights have ever claimed they were "undiscovered," the group adds.
In response to the allegations, Survival International's director Stephen Corry issued the following statement:
"The Observer article claims to "reveal" that the tribe photographed was neither "lost" nor "unknown". The reality is that neither Survival nor the Brazilian government claimed they were:
* When Survival published the photos, we quoted José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles, the Brazilian official who released them, saying, "We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there…" As Mr Meirelles said when the Brazilian government released the photos, the Indians' territory has been monitored for twenty years.
* These Indians are in a reserve expressly set aside for the protection of uncontacted tribes: they were hardly "unknown"!
* A glance at Survival's publications would also "reveal" that we have been campaigning for the protection of the uncontacted Indians of this region for more than twenty years.
"What is, and remains, true, is that so far as is known these Indians have no peaceful contact with outsiders. The publication of the pictures has pushed the Peruvian government into investigating their plight, a huge step forward given that just a few months ago Peru's President publicly questioned whether uncontacted Indians exist at all.
"This latest controversy reveals more about media attitudes than it does about isolated tribal peoples. Some journalists apparently don't want to recognize that there are in fact many uncontacted tribes around the world – we estimate about 100 – which, whilst not "lost", simply reject contact with the outside world. Given the massacres and atrocities so many of them have experienced, it's a perfectly sensible attitude."
Contact with the outside world has been a disaster for the Brazilian Indigenous peoples. While there were, by some accounts, about 5 million Indians when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1500, today the Indian population has dwindled to around 350,000.