Campaign triumphs as loggers expelled from territory of Earth's most threatened tribe

February 26, 2014

Soldiers at an illegal logging camp on Awá land. The Brazilian government has mounted a huge operation to evict illegal invaders from the Awá’s forest. © Mário Vilela/FUNAI

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A global campaign by Survival International, fronted by Colin Firth, to save the Awá, Earth’s most threatened tribe, has triumphed this week, as loggers and ranchers responsible for the destruction of the tribe’s rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon are being expelled. The first deadlines for the invaders to leave voluntarily expired on Monday, February 24, 2014.

According to reports by FUNAI, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs department, several loggers and ranchers have left the area in the last week, and a ground squad is set to remove all remaining invaders by March 9. 

Watch a video by FUNAI showing the first stage of ‘Operation Awá’. Pire’i Ma’a, an Awá man says, ‘Everything [all the game] has been scared away … There are loggers everywhere. They’re cutting down the trees and we can’t hunt … We’ve been telling people that the loggers are here, and their chainsaws, machinery and trucks are screaming.’

Celebrities and hundreds of supporters have spread the message 'Brazil: Save the Awá' around famous landmarks worldwide. © Survival International

The operation marks a major success in Survival International’s high-profile campaign to save the Awá tribe from extinction. After the launch of the campaign in April 2012, the Brazilian government announced that the Awá case was a priority, and sent a ground squad of at least 200 soldiers, police officers and government agents at the beginning of 2014 to remove the invaders. Official sources have confirmed that the launch of Operation Awá is due to international pressure.

Brazil’s Justice Minister has received over 56,000 messages from Survival supporters calling for the Awá’s land to be protected, and celebrities such as Hollywood star Colin Firth, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado have spread the campaign’s message ‘Brazil: Save the Awá’ around the world.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Americas’ top human rights body, has also been demanding answers from Brazil about its treatment of the Awá, after receiving an urgent submission from Survival and Brazilian NGO CIMI, which has worked closely with the Awá for decades.

The Awá are one of the last nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in Brazil who depend on the forest and its game for survival. But they have been living in fear as illegal loggers are closing in on them.

The Awá are one of the last nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in the Amazon. They depend on the forest for their survival. © Domenico Pugliese

More than a third of the forest in one of the Awá’s territories has already been destroyed, and the tribe is worried about the safety of their uncontacted relatives who are forced to live constantly on the run from heavily armed loggers.

Nixiwaka Yawanawá, an Amazon Indian working with Survival International, said today, ‘The Brazilian authorities are removing the invaders from Awá land, thanks to Survival’s campaign and the international concern. For the Awá to survive, the government must guarantee the long term protection of their land. If not, they will be destroyed, like so many other tribes in Brazil’s history.’

Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said, ‘Operation Awá would never have happened without Survival’s campaign, and the thousands of supporters worldwide who took action to prevent the annihilation of Earth’s most threatened tribe. Over forty years of campaigning for tribal peoples’ rights has shown us that public opinion is the only effective force which can bring real change.’