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Brazil Investigates Alleged Murders of “Uncontacted” Amazon Tribe Members

Gold miners were heard in a bar talking about killing 10 indigenous people in the remote Javari Valley

(Funai/Survival International)
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Brazil is investigating reports that a group of miners may have killed 10 members of an “uncontacted” tribe of Amazon natives, chopping up their remains and tossing them in a river, reports Shasta Darlington at The New York Times.

The allegations of the massacre might have gone unnoticed except the miners were heard bragging about the slaughter, which took place last month, at a nearby bar in Amazonas state, close to the border with Colombia. Darlington reports that witnesses claim the miners also carried a hand-carved paddle and small food bag which they said they took from the tribe members.

The killings have not been confirmed, but Funai, Brazil’s agency for indigenous affairs is currently conducting an investigation. “We are following up, but the territories are big and access is limited,” Pablo Luz de Beltrand, the prosecutor in the case, tells Darlington. “These tribes are uncontacted — even Funai has only sporadic information about them. So it’s difficult work that requires all government departments working together.”

According to Dom Phillips at the Guardian, the unconfirmed killings took place in the Javari Valley, near the border with Peru. That remote area is home to 20 of Brazils 103 “uncontacted” tribes, which are groups of people with no peaceful contact or relationships with mainstream societies. According to Survival International, these groups are under threat from loggers, miners and governments interested in acquiring the resources on their lands, often subject to removal, forced contact, disease and genocide.

In Brazil, the government has recently reduced its protections of so-called uncontacted tribes and forest-dependent tribes, cutting the Funai budget almost in half this year, which led to the closing of three bases in the Javari Valley used to monitor and protect indigenous populations, reports Darlington. The government has also proposed reducing the size of protected areas of the Amazon rain forest and opening protected areas to mining and logging.

“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,” Sarah Shenker, a senior campaigner with Survival International, tells Darlington.

CBS News reports that some of the miners allegedly involved in the incident have since been detained. But sorting out the complete story may be difficult. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. at The Washington Post reports that just reaching the site of the alleged killings takes a 12-hour boat ride. Then there’s the problem of communicating with tribal members, who don’t speak Portuguese and are fearful of outsiders.

Carla de Lello Lorenzi of Survival International tells Wootson these types of conflicts likely happen more often than realized, but neither the miners or tribes are willing to report the incidents.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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