Around 10 tribe members who had little to no contact with the outside world are now dead in Brazil. The uncontacted Amazon tribe members were collecting eggs by a river when it appears they encountered gold miners, who later boasted about the killings in a bar. Federal prosecutors have started an investigation, but the incident may reveal that dangers to endangered indigenous groups in the country are growing.
The gold miners said they had to kill the uncontacted tribe members or be killed, according to Leila Silvia Burger Sotto-Maior of Funai, the country’s agency on indigenous affairs. The killings reportedly happened last month, and were alleged to have taken place in the Javari Valley, Brazil’s second-biggest indigenous reserve. The gold miners had a hand-carved paddle they said came from the tribe, according to Funai.
Sotto-Maior, who is the coordinator for recently contacted and uncontacted tribes, said, “It was crude bar talk. They even bragged about cutting up the bodies and throwing them in the river.”
Funai lodged a complaint with the Amazonas prosecutor’s office. Prosecutor Pablo Luz de Beltrand said he investigated a similar episode earlier this year. In February, uncontacted Indians were reported killed, and the case is open. Beltrand said, “It was the first time that we’d had this kind of case in the region. It’s not something that was happening before.”
Brazil’s president Michel Temer‘s government has reduced funding for indigenous affairs, and in April Funai shut down five of 19 bases they use to watch and protect isolated tribes. At other bases, they cut staffing. These bases are used to prevent invasions from miners and loggers, and connect with tribes that have recently been contacted.
Sarah Shenker, senior campaigner with global indigenous rights group Survival International, said, “If the investigation confirms the reports, it will be yet another genocidal massacre resulting directly from the Brazilian government’s failure to protect isolated tribes – something that is guaranteed in the Constitution…When their land is protected, they thrive. When their land is invaded, they can be wiped out.”