Yanomami fear for their lives as miners invade their land

Yanomami mother and child alongside the river.
Yanomami mother and child alongside the river.
© Steve Cox/Survival

Yanomami shaman and spokesman Davi Kopenawa has made an urgent appeal for support as the Yanomami territory in northern Brazil is being invaded by gold-miners.

Davi said, ‘The arrival of miners is increasing, and the Yanomami are very worried… Soon there will be conflicts between the miners and the Yanomami… I know how the miners treat the Yanomami and I am also very sad because some Yanomami are working at the mining sites in return for food. They will fall ill; they’ll catch malaria and sexually transmitted infections, because the miners will use the Indian women as they have done in the past’.

He added, ‘I am very angry with FUNAI (the Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs department) and the police; they have not controlled the entrance of miners. The Yanomami territory is being invaded’.

Davi Yanomami’s warning comes just months after he met with President Lula to ask him to remove all the gold-miners working illegally in the Yanomami territory.

The Yanomami’s land is recognized as an indigenous territory and it is illegal for miners to operate there. However, it is estimated that over 1,000 miners are in the area and the Yanomami warn now of a further influx.

The miners transmit diseases such as malaria and flu which are potentially fatal for the Yanomami who have little resistance to such introduced diseases. 500 new cases of malaria were found in the Yanomami population of Brazil in 2009. Their total population there is around 16,000.

The miners also pollute the rivers with mercury, contaminating drinking water and fish consumed by the Indians.

Yanomami health is suffering and critical medical care is not reaching them because of corruption and incompetence in Brazil’s National Health Foundation (FUNASA).

The danger of violence to the Yanomami is ever present as the miners are usually armed.

During the 1980s, the Yanomami suffered immensely when up to 40,000 Brazilian gold-miners invaded their land. Miners killed some Yanomami, destroyed many villages, and exposed them to diseases to which they had no immunity. Twenty percent of the Yanomami died in just seven years.

If the miners now working illegally on Yanomami land are not evicted as a matter of urgency, the Indians risk similar destruction and death.

Please write to the President of Brazil and ask him to take urgent action to remove the miners.