Yanomami Indians protest against illegal miners

April 9, 2010

Yanomami and Yekuana Indians protest against goldminers. Roraima state, Brazil © Hutukara/Survival

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Yanomami and Yekuana Indians of northern Brazil held a protest this week to denounce the illegal invasion of Yanomami land by goldminers and to demand that the authorities take action to remove them.

The protest took place outside the office of FUNAI (the Brazilian government’s Indian Affairs Department) in the Amazonian state of Roraima on Wednesday.

The Indians, decorated with body paint, danced and made their demands through loudspeakers. They carried banners reading ‘FUNAI must comply with its mandate to evict the invaders’, and ‘Stop the invasion! Remove the ranchers and miners’.

Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami shaman and spokesman said, ‘FUNAI is sleeping… It’s time they paid attention to the Yanomami. The miners threaten the Indians, they destroy nature and they are still bringing diseases to our people… We are fighting for our people, our land and our forest’.

The protest follows many warnings issued by the Yanomami organization Hutukara. It has sent numerous letters to the Brazilian government about the miners, and its representatives have attended meetings with officials from a range of government departments. However, the authorities have failed to evict the miners whose numbers are increasing.

After the protest, the Federal Police announced that it will hold meetings in Brasília next week to discuss the eviction of the miners, which will be implemented in the coming months.

The miners damage the Yanomami’s health by polluting their rivers with mercury, and spreading diseases to which the Indians have little resistance. They are usually armed, and conflicts between miners and Yanomami who try to protect their land and communities can turn violent. In January 2009, goldminers shot dead a Yekuana Indian leader and injured his son, after they refused to take them into the Yanomami territory.

Last week Survival International sent an urgent request to James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, asking him to discuss the situation with the Brazilian government and to urge it to remove all the miners from Yanomami land immediately.