SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: October 31, 2018

SNIP: Brazil has just elected as its president a far-right nationalist with authoritarian tendencies and fascist inclinations. The country’s 900,000-strong indigenous people are among the many minority groups Jair Bolsonaro has frequently targeted with vitriolic hostility. “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians,” he once said. If he enacts his campaign promises, the first peoples of Brazil face catastrophe; in some cases, genocide.

Survival works closely with groups from the Guajajara tribe in Brazil’s Maranhão state, who have taken it upon themselves to protect what remains of this eastern edge of the Amazon rainforest; not only for the hundreds of Guajajara families who call it home, but also their far less numerous neighbours: the uncontacted Awá. These “guardians of the Amazon” are subject to violent attacks from the powerful logging mafias who operate illegally in the area. Some estimates suggest up to 80 members of the tribe have been killed since 2000.

Meanwhile, in the north, in the largest area of forest under indigenous control in the world, the Yanomami are besieged by illegal gold miners. The tribe, whose territory extends over the border into Venezuela, is suffering a measles epidemic, most likely as a result of these invaders. As well as sickness, these miners have mounted violent attacks on some communities, often with impunity. In May, two uncontacted Yanomami were reportedly murdered by gold miners working illegally near their community.

These violent incursions are likely to increase as loggers, land grabbers and miners feel emboldened by Bolsonaro, and make greater and more brutal advances into indigenous territories all over Brazil. The cost will be measured in indigenous lives and environmental destruction. A mounting body of evidence continues to demonstrate that properly enforced indigenous land rights, recognising indigenous peoples’ stewardship over the land, is the most effective and cheapest means of conservation. Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world and manage their environment and its wildlife better than anyone else.

As the Guarani said recently: “If indigenous peoples become extinct and dead, the lives of all are threatened, for we are the guardians of nature. Without forest, without water, without rivers, there is no life, there is no way for any Brazilian to survive. We resisted 518 years ago, we fight in victory and defeat, our land is our mother. As long as the sun still shines, and while there is still fresh air under the shade of a tree, while there is still a river to bathe in, we will fight.”