Tribe Faces Annihilation in Brazil

The Associated Press
16 May 2005

Tribe Faces Annihilation in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – An Amazon Indian tribe isolated from modern Brazil by hundreds of miles of rain forest faces annihilation by loggers if nothing is done to protect them, an Indian rights group warned Monday.

The Indian rights group Survival International said logging companies were cutting down the forest in the Rio Pardo area, about 1,400 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro, despite repeated reports that there were isolated Indians in the region.

"These people are on a knife's edge. If something isn't done really urgently, they will be consigned to history," Fiona Watson, a campaign coordinator for the Indian rights group Survival International, said by telephone from London.

Anthropologists with Brazil's Federal Indian Bureau first detected the tribe in 1998 in a densely jungled area of Mato Grosso state, near its northern border with Amazonas state.

The bureau considers the Indians "uncontacted" because anthropologists have not reached the tribe, although its members may have had some type of contact — perhaps violent — with wildcat miners and loggers in the region.

In 2001, the bureau banned outsiders from entering 410,186 acres of the rain forest to allow anthropologists to contact the tribe and demarcate a reservation. But the protection efforts were curtailed this March when a federal judge granted an appeal by the Sulmap Sul Amazonia logging company that the decree protecting the area would cause the company irreversible damages.

"The judge's order opened this area to development and forbids the presence of the Federal Indian Bureau. This is like putting a gun in the loggers' hands to kill Indians," said Sydney Possuelo, head of the bureau's Isolated Indians unit.

Little is known about the Rio Pardo Indians except that they probably are hunter-gathers and were forced to abandon their villages in a hurry.

"When we found the villages it looked like a tsunami had hit," said Possuelo. "No Indians abandon their hammocks or their arrows unless they are being harassed."

Possuelo said efforts to contact the Indians were complicated because they appeared to have been the victims of attacks by loggers.

"If, on the one hand, we are trying to protect them, there are others who are trying to make them run. They don't know who is who," Possuelo said.

About 700,000 Indians live in Brazil, mostly in the Amazon region. About 400,000 of them live on reservations where they try to maintain their traditional culture, language and lifestyle.

Indians have been always pushed deeper into the jungle by settlers and it is uncommon for the Indian Bureau to come across previously uncontacted native groups. The bureau has said in the past that it has learned from other Indians of a few uncontacted tribes in the western Amazon state, where the region's jungle is thickest.