A previously unknown uncontacted tribe has been confirmed for the first time by authorities in Brazil, according to Survival International, an organization that "champions tribal peoples around the world."
Very little is known about the tribe, but it’s already clear they are facing a myriad of threats ranging from organized violence to COVID-19.
The uncontacted tribe’s presence was recently verified by an official expedition by FUNAI, Brazil’s federal agency for indigenous affairs, in an area along the Purus River in the western Amazon region of Brazil. The expedition did not make contact with the tribe, but confirmed their presence after discovering numerous hunting shelters, baskets, pots, and bows in the area. Members of the expedition also heard members of the tribe talking nearby.
“They know very little about them, but in order to protect them and their land immediately, they don’t need to know who they are or what language they speak. The Land Protection Order can and should be declared in order to give FUNAI’s field team time and space to do more fieldwork to determine the size of their territory and an estimate of their population,” Fiona Watson, Advocacy and Research Director at Survival International, told IFLScience.
Unfortunately, the area is not protected, becoming increasingly infringed on by non-Indigenous settlers. Disease is one of many threats this brings. Rates of both malaria and COVID-19 are extremely high in the area, while vaccine rates are reportedly very low – which could spell catastrophe for a community with no immunity to the infections of the globalized world.
“They are under huge threat, especially from a chance encounter with the settlers who live in and use the reserve collecting nuts and other forest produce. The risk of them spreading malaria, COVID-19 or flu is high and any disease could be lethal to the uncontacted since they have little or no immunity to diseases transmitted by outsiders like flu, malaria, measles, etc,” explained Watson.
There is also the very real risk of violence. There have been reports in recent years of other uncontacted groups in the neighboring Amazon state being slaughtered by loggers, miners, or drug traffickers.
The threat of violence has dramatically increased under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose personal brand of far-right populism has spelled disaster for the Amazon rainforest and the people who live there. Alongside a long history of racist jokes about indigenous people, Bolsonaro has called indigenous reserves “an obstacle to agri-business” and called for the forced “integration” of uncontacted tribes.
Survival International is pushing FUNAI to take immediate action to ensure the survival of this newly confirmed tribe.
Firstly, they argue the federal agency needs to fund more expeditions to the tribes’ area to gain a better understanding of their population and territory. Secondly, they need to build a protection post in the area and put a health cordon along the border area of the territory. If they fail to act with urgency, Survival International believes the tribe could face extermination.
“It should place an immediate Land Protection Order on the uncontacted tribe’s territory and ensure that the local FUNAI field team has the capacity to monitor the territory to prevent incursions and possible contact,” added Watson.