Uncontacted People Still Being Massacred in Amazonia

Uncontacted people, like these pictured in iconic aerial photos released in 2011, are the most vulnerable people on the planet © Survival International.

Ten indigenous people – including women and children – were murdered in the Javari Valley region of the Amazon in September this year, according to reports. Their bodies were alleged to have been mutilated and dumped in a river. The attack was believed to have been carried out by gold miners, two of whom were later recorded bragging about it in a local bar.

This is not the story of some conquistadors or rubber tappers in the colonial era. This happened in 2017 – just weeks ago – in the present-day Republic of Brazil. Despite all of the apparent “progress” that humanity has made over the past few centuries, whole populations of indigenous peoples are still being systematically annihilated by land invaders and colonists.

Extremely vulnerable

Outside indigenous rights circles, many people are still amazed at the very existence of uncontacted tribes. The popular assumption is that that era is over: the entire world has been colonized and brought over into the industrialized mainstream.

But as extraordinary aerial photos released by Survival International in 2008 and again in 2011 revealed, this simply isn’t the case. There are people, in the Amazon and elsewhere, who choose to reject contact with the mainstream.

They are not backward and primitive relics of a remote past. They are our contemporaries and a vitally important part of humankind’s diversity.

Uncontacted tribes are living self-sufficient and diverse ways of life, hunting, foraging, growing food in gardens and holding on to their own languages, mythologies, and perspectives on the world. They have every right to carry on doing so, and we in the outside world have a deep responsibility to ensure that they are able to.

Of course, not everyone shares this view. There have always been people willing to forcibly contact isolated tribes. Whether it’s evangelical missionaries determined to impose their theology, or opportunist land grabbers looking to make a quick buck, there is a long and bloody history of genocidal violence against tribal people.

Uncontacted tribes are extremely vulnerable not only to violence from outsiders who want to steal their land and resources, but also to diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance. It makes uncontacted tribes the most vulnerable peoples on the planet.

Agribusiness lobby

Recently contacted people still suffer from serious infections, which can wipe entire peoples out. The Ayoreo in Paraguay are still battling a mysterious TB-like illness which was introduced by ranchers in the 1990s.

As shocking as it is, violence like that allegedly inflicted on the Indians last month is not unprecedented. It probably isn’t even that uncommon.

Survival has been warning for years of “hidden genocides” taking places in the depths of the Amazon. Evidence of this often emerges long after the fact. Here at least, we were able to see clearly the horror that many uncontacted people face, and the fate that could face many other tribes without robust protection of their lands.

All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected. Without this, many risk going the way of the Akuntsu, a small Amazonian tribe now reduced to just four members after brutal violence by ranchers in the 1980s.

Dismayingly, the current Brazilian government is unwilling to provide such protection. President Michel Temer and his administration are very closely tied to the country’s all-powerful agribusiness lobby – the big landowners who dominate the country’s lucrative agricultural industries. The government has made extensive cuts to FUNAI, the government agency responsible for protecting indigenous lands.

Deep forests 

Brazilian politicians have not done nearly enough to prevent massacres like that which reportedly took place last month. As far as they are concerned, it seems, indigenous people and their right to their land are at best a nuisance, at worst a roadblock to profit that needs to be forcibly removed.

This flies in the face of Brazil’s constitution and international law. It’s also fundamentally immoral – allowing the genocide of entire peoples and the carving up of the Amazon for the enrichment of a few vested interests.

But there is some hope. Where uncontacted peoples’ land rights are respected, they continue to thrive. We know there are more than a hundred such tribes around the world, for example, and since the flurry of attention they’ve received over the last nine years, a swelling global movement calling for their land rights has emerged.

Bringing together indigenous organizations, environmental and human rights activists, A-list actors like Gillian Anderson and Sir Mark Rylance, and energetic members of the public around the world, more and more people are raising their voices and pressing governments to act for uncontacted tribes.

And the pressure has told. In April 2016, the Brazilian minister of justice was pressurized into signing a decree to demarcate land for the highly vulnerable Kawahiva tribe, who are living on the run in the deep forests of Matto Grosso state.

Contemporary societies 

It’s in all our interest to prevent the annihilation of uncontacted tribes. Their knowledge is irreplaceable and has been developed over thousands of years. They are the best guardians of their environment, and evidence proves that tribal territories are the best barrier to deforestation.

Survival International is doing everything it can to secure uncontacted tribes’ land for them, and to give them the chance to determine their own futures. It’s a fight we’ve been leading since 1969.

Tragedies like that which reportedly took place in the Amazon are certainly demoralising, and it is shattering to have to hear about incidents we were unable to prevent. But we won’t give up until we have a world where tribal peoples are respected as contemporary societies and their human rights protected.


More articles by:

Lewis Evans is a campaigner at Survival International.

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South