Between Pandemic and Deforestation, Brazilian Amazon Indigenous Tribes Are Being Exterminated

BELatina Tribe Covid

While Brazil ranks as one of the countries with the highest number of confirmed deaths by COVID-19 in the world — around 50,000 — the most vulnerable communities are hit the hardest.

As explained by The Guardian, the virus is sweeping through the country’s indigenous communities, killing chiefs, elders, and traditional healers, and raising fears that, along with the number of human lives, “the pandemic may inflict irreparable damage on tribal knowledge of history, culture, and natural medicine.”

The Munduruku tribe, one of the oldest in the region, has lost 10 “sabios” or wise ones, known as “living libraries” by the surviving members.

The indigenous APIB organization has recorded at least 332 deaths from COVID-19, and 7,208 cases of coronavirus in 110 communities.

“We face extermination,” said its executive coordinator, Dinamam Tuxá.

Indigenous leaders like Tuxá say the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is failing to protect the country’s 900,000 indigenous people, many of whom live in small communities, where dozens of them often share the same home.

Tuxá said Brazil’s indigenous agency Funai has been slow to send emergency food kits to people isolated in their villages, forcing them to risk infection by traveling to nearby cities to receive emergency payments from the government.

Funai said it had delivered 82,000 basic food kits and 43,000 hygiene kits.

Some leaders even blame government health workers for bringing in the virus.

With about one million cases of COVID-19 throughout its territory, Brazil has a mortality rate of about 6.4 percent, which rises to 12.6 percent among indigenous populations, according to CNN.

One of the most affected tribes has been the town of Arara, in the territory of Cachoeira Seca, where 46 percent of its 121 residents living on the reservation are infected, according to Survival International, an organization that defends indigenous rights.

“We’re very worried,” an Arara man told Survival International. At the health post that’s near their village, “there is no medicine, no ventilator.” The village itself is located three days away from the city and the nearest hospital, he said.

The Arara tribe was first contacted in 1987, relatively recently in societal history, which makes them particularly vulnerable to outside diseases, according to Survival International. “We’re asking for protection with these coronavirus cases,” the Arara man told Survival international.

To make matters worse, between January 2019 and March 2020, the Amazon land where the Arara and other indigenous groups live has lost more than 8,000 hectares of forest to illegal loggers and squatters who have been given a tacit green light by the new government, making it “one of the most deforested areas in the entire biome,” according to a statement from the Federal Public Ministry in the Brazilian state of Pará posted on May 7. 

Indigenous protectors of the Amazon have also experienced an uptick in violence, facing life-threatening danger from illegal loggers who are looking to loot their lands, emboldened by Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous rhetoric and deliberate administrative failures.

These indigenous groups, made up of roughly 900,000 people, have lived in the rainforest for thousands of years. But Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has said that indigenous people’s lands and cultural rights should be taken away, and they should be integrated into society, according to the BBC.