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A 2008 aerial survey shows the Amazon tribe near the group now dispersed by drug traffickers. Photo: Gleison Miranda / FUNAI.

A 2008 aerial survey shows the Amazon tribe near the group now dispersed by drug traffickers. Photo: Gleison Miranda / FUNAI.

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Brazil - drugs gang 'disappears' isolated Amazon tribe

Joel Zinn

5th April 2014

Members of a Brazilian tribe isolated from outside contact have been scattered by drug traffickers armed with sub-machine guns, writes Joel Zinn, following an armed takeover of a nearby government post.

The traffickers, armed with sub-machine guns and rifles, ransacked the National Indian Foundation's encampment on the Peru-Brazilian border.

Heavily armed drug traffickers are thought to be responsible for the disappearance of an uncontacted and so far unnamed Amazon tribe near the Xinane river in Brazil's Acre State.

According to Survival International the Amazon tribe, who featured in the first film footage of any uncontacted people, have abandoned their settlement under duress.

Violent encounter

The traffickers, armed with sub-machine guns and rifles, ransacked the National Indian Foundation's encampment on the Peru-Brazilian border.

The government has since placed guards to monitor the situation and scout for the tribe, but the former head of the post reports that the armed smugglers now occupy the area around the base.

The smugglers reportedly left a 2kg bag of cocaine, in addition to a rucksack containing a broken tribal arrow.

The head of the Brazilian government's indigenous peoples division, Carlos Travassos, noted in a recent interview that the broken arrow found inside the smugglers' gear is a sort of "identity card of uncontacted Indians".

The current whereabouts of the scattered people remain unknown. The arrow is "good proof", according to Travassos, that the smugglers forced the tribe to flee.

Not just drug traffickers

The group also faces a serious threat from a road reportedly built into the area by the Acre state government - regional indigenous organizations have said this could devastate the uncontacted Indians on the Xinane River. Previous road-building projects in the Amazon have wiped out countless tribes.

In recent months several groups of uncontacted Mashco-Piro Indians have been spotted along river banks on the Peruvian side of the border, prompting further speculation that illegal logging is pushing them out of their previous isolation.

This most recent clash between tribe and outsiders calls to mind the decimation of the Nahua and the Murunahua tribes of Peru at the hands of oil prospectors and loggers.

Historically, gunmen have targeted Amazon tribes like this one deliberately. Cattle ranchers have also been known to bulldoze homes of indigenous peoples.

Even peaceable outside contact can be deadly for uncontacted tribes due to the introduction of diseases - as when missionaries caused the death of 45 Zo'é, situated in Brazil, in the 1980s.

And as logging continues to deforest regions in and around tribal territories, native peoples arelosing their hunter-gatherer lifestyles

Future 'depends on us'

Brazil alone is home to 77 tribes, among them the Guarani, Enawene Nawe, Awa, Zo'é, Indians of Raposa-Serra do Sol, Akuntsu, and Yanomami. The uncontacted Amazon tribe is one of at least 77 isolated groups that live in the Amazon rainforest.

Though international law nominally protects tribal land, it is up to us personally to ensure those laws are enforced. Jose Carlos Meirelles of the National Indian Foundation, who led the expedition to capture the uncontacted Amazon tribe on film, says:

"Their future doesn't depend on them. It depends on us, our conscience ... They remind us it's possible to live in a different way."

 


 

Read more about uncontacted tribes through Survival International's Tribes and Campaigns portal.

 

 

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