Brazil Investigates Alleged Massacre of ‘Uncontacted’ Tribe

Brazilian authorities have opened an investigation after allegations surfaced that gold prospectors may have killed members of a so-called “uncontacted” tribe in the Amazon rainforest.

The news came to light after Funai, the agency tasked with handling issues affecting indigenous peoples, filed a complaint with Brazil’s prosecutor’s office. Funai obtained reports that employees of gold prospectors had boasted of killing between eight to ten people in the Javari Valley.

Illegal river dredging is an ongoing issue in the region, and this may be yet another instance of indigenous people falling victim to both greed and government negligence. 

As The New York Times reports:

The Brazilian agency on indigenous affairs, Funai, said it had lodged a complaint with the prosecutor’s office in the state of Amazonas after the gold miners went to a bar near the border with Colombia, and bragged about the killings. They brandished a hand-carved paddle that they said had come from the tribe, the agency said.

“It was crude bar talk,” said Leila Silvia Burger Sotto-Maior, Funai’s coordinator for uncontacted and recently contacted tribes. “They even bragged about cutting up the bodies and throwing them in the river.”

Estimates suggest that at least 100 groups of so-called “uncontacted” Brazilian Indians live in isolated pockets of the Amazon. Some remain in static villages where they create small crop farming plantations. Others, like the nomadic Awá, travel throughout the forest.

But the groups all have one thing in common: They do not wish to be disturbed by outsiders.

Unfortunately, due to land clearing, mega-dam construction and illegal mining operations, that is increasingly becoming difficult to guarantee.

The historical persecution and violence committed against indigenous peoples in Brazil — not just the uncontacted, but also those who live secluded lives — is infamous. Records dating back to the 1940s show how indigenous people were rounded up, enslaved, tortured, killed and stolen from.

While Brazil has made a show in recent years of trying to protect its indigenous populations, such heinous crimes are still all too frequent, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Back in February, reports emerged that indigenous people had been killed in the same region of the Javari Valley. Those deaths are still under investigation, but groups like COIAB maintain that these incidents are a result of massive cutbacks to Funai resources, leaving the indigenous population vulnerable.

“We vehemently condemn these brutal and violent attacks against these uncontacted Indians. This massacre shows just how much the rights of indigenous peoples in this country have been set back [in recent years],” COAB explained in an official statement. “The cuts and dismantling of FUNAI are being carried out to further the interests of powerful politicians who want to continue ransacking our resources, and open up our territories for mining.”

Five of the 19 monitoring bases that Funai had used to protect indigenous populations were closed in April of this year as a result of government cuts. Some estimates suggest that the agency’s budget has been almost halved under President Michel Temer’s leadership.

Temer is known to support the development of areas that are currently protected, and he has thrown his support to mining operations that would dramatically impact indigenous peoples’ territories. President Temer has also sought to prop up his deeply unpopular tenure by giving further concessions to agricultural and land development lobbies, thereby further threatening indigenous and uncontacted peoples.

Temer is currently facing charges of obstruction of justice, and the country is waiting to see the lower lawmaking chamber will compel him to face trial or not. This is the second time Temer has faced the prospect of a criminal trial, perhaps speaking to the chaos currently gripping Brazilian political life.

Regardless, these failures to safeguard uncontacted indigenous groups aren’t just inhumane, but are also likely unconstitutional — and certainly in violation of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Brazil must act swiftly and transparently to investigate these allegations, and the country should restore and replenish funds for Funai and related resources.

Photo Credit: Anthony Patterson/Flickr

71 comments

Paulo R
Paulo Reeson3 days ago

horrible, ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson3 days ago

horrible, ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson3 days ago

horrible, ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson3 days ago

horrible, ty

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Jeramie D
Jeramie D23 days ago

This must be investigated. This is so wrong.

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer24 days ago

indigenous populations must be protected!!!!

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Mike R
Mike R25 days ago

Doubt justice will prevail. Brazil and it's politicians among the most corrupt in the world. Thank you

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heather g
heather g28 days ago

This is disturbing. Quote: Brazil must act swiftly and transparently to investigate these allegations, and the country should restore and replenish funds for Funai and related resources.

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Nancy Wrightington

This is just sad. They have lived their lives as long as the jungle has been around. Can you imagine what we could learn from them in a positive caring way. and if not, so what!

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Lorraine Andersen

Would not surprise me in the least. I am sure that all these large companies would be very happy to get rid of any indigenous tribe that stood in their way!

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