Another US missionary is reported to have entered the territory of an uncontacted tribe in Brazil, potentially putting them in grave danger, just two months after Jonathan Chau was killed by an uncontacted tribe on an island in the Bay of Bengal.
Steve Campbell, a Christian missionary from Maine, illegally entered an area of the Brazilian rainforest that’s occupied by the Hi-Merimã tribe, one of the area’s few remaining uncontacted tribal groups, according to Survival International.
The man is currently being questioned by FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs department, who stated he could be in serious trouble if he’s found guilty.
“If it is established in the investigation that there was an interest in making contact… he could be charged with the crime of genocide by deliberately exposing the safety and life of the Hi-Merimã,” Bruno Pereira, general coordinator at FUNAI, told Brazilian daily newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.
It’s uncertain how many members of the Hi-Merimã tribe are around today, but the last estimate, in 1943, claimed there were up to 1,000 individuals. They live along the Piranhas River in the State of Amazonas and have maintained extremely limited contact with outsiders, even neighboring tribes.
Like all tribes who have had little to no contact with the wider world, they have not had the opportunity to build up immunity to the many diseases of the globalized industrial world. In theory, a common cold could wipe them out.
“Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high,” a FUNAI spokesperson told Reuters.
Campbell has defended his actions by maintaining he entered the territory as it was the only way to reach his destination, the home of a neighboring tribe called the Jamamadi, who he has lived with for decades. It’s unclear whether he actually came into physical contact with the Hi-Merimã, although he has since promised to avoid returning to the off-limits region again.
Brazil’s 305 uncontacted tribes are only likely to suffer further problems following the election of Jair Bolsonaro. The far-right populist once said "If I become President there will not be a centimeter more of indigenous land", dismissing indigenous rights issues as “nonsense” that gets in the way of mining and agribusiness.
Speaking to Campo Grande News in 2015, he stated: "The Indians do not speak our language, they do not have money, they do not have culture. They are native peoples. How do they manage to have 13 percent of the national territory?"