There are 896.917 indigenous persons in Brazil, distributed among 305 ethnic groups.The main challenge for indigenous people is the threat that new indigenous territories will no longer be established. Permissiveness prevails with hydroelectric and mining companies that directly or indirectly affect indigenous territory.
July 30, 2019.- Emyra Waiãpi, a 68-year-old indigenous leader, was stabbed to death last week as around 50 gold miners, a dozen of whom were heavily armed, entered the remote Waiãpi indigenous reserve in the northern Brazilian state of Amapá, which borders French Guiana, reported multiple Brazilian and international news outlets.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Emyra Waiãpi. We are alarmed by his death as it comes in a particularly dark month for indigenous peoples as their rights have been increasingly and systematically undermined in Brazil throughout 2019. Those responsible for his death need to be found and held accountable to send a clear message that no one is above the law,” said Julie Koch, IWGIA Executive Director.
IWGIA condemns the killing of the indigenous Waiãpi leader and all indigenous peoples who are defending their rights to their traditional lands, which are rapidly being exploited in the global land rush for natural resources.
IWGIA calls on Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and Brazilian authorities to protect the human rights of all indigenous peoples in Brazil and to allow them to determine their own development of their culture and use of their centuries-held, traditional land as protected and guaranteed in Brazil’s Constitution.
Increasing pressure on indigenous peoples
Tensions between indigenous peoples and Bolsonaro have been on the rise. The far-right president, who took office in January 2019, was voted in on several controversial agenda items, most troubling of which are his plans to drastically open up previously safeguarded lands to exploitation, including vast tracts of a quickly diminishing Amazon. A majority of these lands and reserves have been the homes of indigenous peoples for centuries.
News of the death and invading miners broke on 27 July, though the incident happened earlier in the week. The miners invaded the 607,000-hectare indigenous reserve without obtaining the indigenous community’s permission.
Indigenous peoples evacuated Mariry village where the leader had been found in a nearby river on 25 July, after the miners were spotted. They headed on foot to the larger village of Aramirã where miners fired shots, though no one was reported injured.
Indigenous leaders and local politicians have urgently called for help from the police who have reportedly arrived in the area over the weekend.
Deforestation at exponential and dangerous level
In recent weeks, Bolsonaro and his administration have been strongly criticised by national and international experts on their policies toward indigenous peoples and the accelerated rate of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, itself a critical global factor in mitigating climate change and the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
Brazilian government data shows that 1,637 km2 have been deforested in just July 2019 so far—an area of forest almost the size of the entire country of Lebanon.
On his first day in office, Bolsonaro re-assigned the responsibility of the Brazilian governmental agency Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) to the Ministry of Agriculture, which is known to protect the interests of businesses that want access to protected indigenous lands. This runs opposite to FUNAI’s mandate, which is to protect indigenous peoples, including the demarcation of indigenous lands.
Earlier in July, Bolsonaro, in a move that continues his campaign against the interests and rights of indigenous peoples, confirmed Marcelo Xavier da Silva, a staunch FUNAI critic with a track record of promoting the interest of agribusiness, as the new FUNAI president.
Indigenous peoples in Brazil
The Waiãpi community is comprised of 1,300 indigenous peoples who live in dozens of village in the reserve. First contact was made in 1973 by FUNAI, due to the construction of a highway that tore through the community’s traditional land. Gold prospectors also invaded the land in the 1970s bringing with them diseased that nearly wiped out the community.
In 1996, the indigenous community received the right to the reserve, which is thought to be sitting on vast reserves of gold, copper and iron. This current invasion on their reserve is the first in over 30 years, according to Amapá state senator Rodolfe Rodrigues.
There are currently over 900,000 indigenous peoples living in Brazil, comprising over 300 ethnic groups who live and have the rights to approximately 14 per cent of Brazil’s land. Little is known about many of the indigenous peoples living in the Amazon. To date, FUNAI has registered 107 official meetings ‘uncontacted’ tribes.
Indigenous peoples increasingly threatened worldwide
Unfortunately, the recent killing of the indigenous leader in Brazil is becoming an all-too-common reality for indigenous peoples in Brazil and throughout the world.
Indigenous peoples continue to be on the front line of human rights defenders being criminalised, attacked and killed for protecting their lands. In 2018, Front Line Defenders documented over 300 killings of human rights defenders, 77 per cent of whom were defenders working indigenous peoples’, environmental and land rights. In 2017, indigenous peoples made up around half of the over 400 environmental and human rights defenders killed.