Amazon nomads demand justice

Awá men travel down a road cut by loggers, Brazil.
Awá men travel down a road cut by loggers, Brazil.
© Uirá Garcia/Survival

A group of 10 Awá Indians has made the long journey from the Amazon to Brazil’s capital to demand that the authorities protect their land.

Their forest home is being destroyed at a ferocious pace by ranchers, loggers and colonists who have established two communities inside the territory, complete with schools, and a network of roads.

The Awá are one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in Brazil and depend totally on the forest for their survival.

They are angry and desperate as every day they hear the chainsaws cutting down more trees and see the smoke of burning trees.

Most at risk are the small groups of uncontacted Awá. In the last four decades many have been killed by ranchers’ gunmen. As the invaders stream in so the risk of violent conflict increases.

In a meeting with federal prosecutors, Itxai Awá said that, ‘In Maranhão [state] we tried to resolve the problem, but we got nowhere. So we have come to Brasilia. We are asking for help’.

Another Awá said, ‘Our land will be finished. Where will we collect honey? Where will we raise our children? I am frightened of the ranchers and we Awá are very worried. What shall we do?’

The prosecutor told the Awá, ‘Brazil has turned its back on the Indians and this is unacceptable’.

The invaders have lodged 11 appeals against a judge’s ruling that all outsiders must leave the Awá territory, and that FUNAI, the government’s Indian affairs department, should complete its demarcation.

The meetings ended with various authorities promising to take action, but as the Awá know only too well, time is running out.