Miners, loggers target uncontacted tribes’ lands under cover of Covid-19

Uncontacted Indians in Brazil seen from the air during a Brazilian government expedition in 2010

Uncontacted Indians in Brazil seen from the air during a Brazilian government expedition in 2010
© G. Miranda/FUNAI/Survival

Several of the world’s most vulnerable uncontacted tribes are being targeted by miners and loggers using the Covid-19 pandemic as cover.

- In Brazil’s Javari Valley, home to more uncontacted tribes than anywhere else on Earth, gold miners using a large dredge have invaded the Rio Jutaí region, territory of uncontacted Korubo Indians.

- The Ituna Itata territory, where uncontacted Indians are known to live, is currently being invaded by colonists. It was already the most deforested indigenous territory of 2019.

- The Uru Eu Wau Wau reserve is being targeted by loggers and farmers. Three uncontacted groups are known to live there. A forest guardian, Ari Uru Eu Wau Wau, was murdered last month.

- Gangs of illegal loggers are destroying the forest in the Arariboia indigenous territory in the northeastern Amazon. This forest is home to uncontacted Awá Indians – Earth’s most threatened tribe. The Amazon Guardians are monitoring the invasions in the absence of government action.

The Guajajara Guardians protect their forest in the Brazilian Amazon. Paulo Paulino Guajajara (on far right) was murdered in 2019 by land invaders.

The Guajajara Guardians protect their forest in the Brazilian Amazon. Paulo Paulino Guajajara (on far right) was murdered in 2019 by land invaders.
© Survival

These and other indigenous territories in Brazil are being hit by a triple whammy:

- President Bolsonaro’s government has taken steps to drastically weaken the federal agencies that previously protected tribal lands across the Amazon;

- Many of the teams responsible for keeping invaders out of uncontacted tribes’ territories are not operating at full capacity;

- A concerted drive by the President to open up tribal territories is encouraging a wave of land invasions.

President Bolsonaro is pushing hard for Congress to approve his Presidential Decree MP910, known as “the land grabbing decree.” It would see large areas of indigenous lands sold off for commercial exploitation. An attempt to get Congress to vote on it this week was blocked, but it is likely to return to Congress next week, in another form.

Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil

Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil
© Agencia Brasil CC-BY-3.0-BR

Alongside many indigenous peoples and organizations, Survival International has lobbied leading politicians in Brazil to block the decree, and participated in Tweetathons targeting members of Congress.

UNIVAJA, the indigenous organization of the Javari Valley, said: “We are living through a time of great anguish because of the coronavirus pandemic. At this sensitive time for our families and all Brazilian society, criminal opportunists persist in invading our territory with the likelihood of encountering uncontacted Indians in the Javari Valley territory.”

Survival’s Research and Advocacy Director Fiona Watson said today: “What’s happening to indigenous peoples in Brazil now constitutes nothing less than an all-out, genocidal assault. Countless tribal lands are being invaded, with the backing of a government which wants to completely destroy the country’s first peoples and makes no attempt to hide it. The next few months are likely to see another devastating wave of fires as the Amazon dry season starts, and the next stages of Bolsonaro’s ‘legislative genocide.’

Note to Editors: 308 indigenous people are now confirmed to have coronavirus in Brazil, and there have been at least 77 deaths.