Indigenous people

New bill represents lethal threat to indigenous people in Brazil

Indigenous people are the far-right most constant target in Brazil.

The far-right government continues its attack on Brazilian indigenous people

Members of an uncontacted Amazon Basin tribe and their dwellings are seen during a flight over the Brazilian state of Acre along the border with Peru in this May, 2008 photo distributed by FUNAI, the government agency for the protection of indigenous peoples. Survival International estimates that there are over 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, and says that uncontacted tribes in the region are under increasing threat from illegal logging over the border in Peru. REUTERS/Funai-Frente de Proteção Etno-Ambiental Envira/Handout (BRAZIL). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. - GM1E45U1LXS01
Photo: REUTERS/Funai

Brazil’s far-right government has many favorite targets such as LGBT’s, afro-Brazilian and women’s rights and feminists. But it is clearly hellbent on making life hell for Brazil’s indigenous populations.

There’s a reason for that, besides blatant racism: their land and the riches they harbor.

Two recent facts highlight the ongoing onslaught on indigenous people in Brazil, according to a report in the Associated Press.

One of them is the naming of an evangelical missionary to head a department that is in charge of protecting uncontacted tribes or those tribes who were contacted only recently.

It is a case of putting the mosquito to look after the malaria. The missionary in question is Ricardo Lopes Dias. Dias worked, between 1997 and 2007, with a U.S. organization called New Tribes (now Ethnos360), which has been trying to evangelize Brazilian indigenous people since the 1950s.

Among their many feats is decimating the zo’é people with disease outbreaks after contacting them in 1982.

The other attack on indigenous rights is a new proposed legislation that would allow mining in indigenous lands, which also paves the way for disease, environmental degradation and landgrabbing.

“If approved, the legislation would open the way for agriculture and tourism, too. Brazil’s administration initially did not reveal details of the bill,” writes AP.

Isolated indigenous people of Brazil

Experts estimate Brazil has 28 groups of isolated indigenous people in the Amazon region. According to Survival International, these groups are “the most vulnerable peoples in the world.”

But they are also “the guardians of the most biodiverse places on Earth,” the NGO says. Those people have made clear they don’t want to be contacted and the best way to help them is to shield them from invaders.

Risk of disease and loss of their ethnic identity are two of the biggest concerns that the appointment of Lopes Dias raises.

Anthropologists also see a risk of increased deforestation if missionaries convert indigenous people to Christianity.

“Every indigenous group sees a connection between the forest and their spiritual world. That’s why the Amazon is somewhat preserved. A change in religion could mean many things, including a condemnation of the preservation of the environment because it goes against a theology of prosperity, for example,” Uirá Garcia, a São Paulo University professor and an anthropologist who works with isolated indigenous groups in Maranhão state, told AP.

The hope now is that Congress will not put the bill affecting indigenous territories to vote. Leader of the House Rodrigo Maia has blocked a similar effort last year. Considering the negative repercussion abroad and the consequences of such a bill, he may well dismiss it.

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