Indians hold construction workers hostage at Amazon dam site

July 27, 2010

A dam being built in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. © Survival International

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Brazilian Indians are occupying the site of a hydroelectric plant, demanding that they be compensated for the damage caused to them by the dam, that their land rights be upheld and that no more harmful dams be built in the region.

Around 300 Indians from eleven tribes, including about 50 Enawene Nawe Indians, arrived Sunday at the site of the Dardanelos dam in Mato Grosso state in the Amazon, and more Indians are continuing to join the group.

100 construction workers were held hostage at the construction site on Sunday. The protesters have since allowed the workers to leave, with several company officials taking their place. According to reports, nobody has been injured.

The Indians say the dam is being built on a sacred ancient burial ground.

An Enawene Nawe spokesman told Survival, ‘We joined the protest to raise awareness about the damage the dams cause, about the recognition of our land and the dangers of future projects like this’.

77 small hydroelectric dams are planned for the Juruena River, upstream of the Enawene Nawe’s land. Five are already under construction.

Another series of dams is planned for the Aripuanã river, including the Dardanelos dam – the site of the protest – which will affect the Cinta Larga and Arara tribes.

The Indians were not consulted about the projects before they started, and their livelihoods are now threatened.

The Enawene Nawe say that the dams are polluting the river water and killing the fish. This is preventing the Enawene Nawe from performing yãkwa, an important ritual in which they build intricate dams across the smaller rivers and trap fish in large baskets.

This year and last year the Indians caught almost no fish, a disaster for the tribe, for whom fish is a vital part of their diet. The government had to bring tons of farmed fish to the tribe.

The Indians are urging that they be fairly compensated for the damage already incurred by the dams, that their lands be mapped out and protected as a matter of urgency, and that no more dams be built without the Indians’ approval.

Earlier this month, Enawene Nawe and other Indians protested against the dams in the Amazon town of Sapezal.

Enawene Nawe