COVID-19 threatens Amazonian peoples


As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, with more than 200 deaths already reported in Brazil, an evangelical Christian organization has purchased a helicopter with plans to contact and convert isolated indigenous groups in the remote Western Amazon.¬†Ethnos360, formerly known as the New Tribes Mission, is notorious for past attempts to contact and convert isolated peoples, having spread disease among the Zo‚Äô√© living in northern Par√° state. Once contacted in the 1980s, the Zo‚Äô√©, lacking resistance, began dying from malaria and influenza, losing over a third of their population.¬†Ethnos360 is planning its conversion mission despite the fact that FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, has a longstanding policy against contact with isolated groups. The so-called “missionary aviation”¬†contact plan may also violate Brazil’s 1988 constitution and international treaties such as¬†the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Advocates fear Brazil may be about to overturn its “no contact” FUNAI policy under the hard-right administration of President Jair Bolsonaro. In February, Bolsonaro put Ricardo Lopez Dias in charge of the Coordination of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indians (CGIIRC), a FUNAI department. Dias was a missionary for New Tribes Mission for over a decade, doing conversion work. (Mongabay, March 17)

Deadly attacks on Amazon indigenous leaders continue to mount in Brazil.¬†Another leader of an officially protected tribe in Maranh√£o state was found slain April 1.¬†The body of Zezico Guajajara, a member of the Guajajara tribe, was discovered with bullet wounds near the¬†Arariboia indigenous territory, home to both the Guajajara and “uncontacted” members of the Aw√° people. The reserve is increasingly encroached upon by illegal loggers. (Thomson Reuters, Survival International)

Photo: “Uncontacted” tribe in Acre state photographed from FUNAI helicopter in 2011. Via Mongabay.

  1. Yanomami youth dies of COVID-19

    A Yanomami youth died after testing positive for COVID-19, health officials report, raising fears that the pandemic will spread among the largest indigenous tribe in northern Brazil. Alvanei Xirixan, 15, died on April 9 in intensive care in the main hospital of Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state, according to the government’s indigenous health service¬†DSEI.

    Anthropologists and health experts warn that COVID-19 could have devastating effects on Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people, who are vulnerable to external diseases and whose communal way of life rules out social distancing. (Al Jazeera)

  2. FUNAI worker killed by ‘uncontacted’ indigenous group

    Rieli Franciscato, a local coordinator for Brazil’s indigenous agency FUNAI was killed by an arrow in a remote area of¬†Seringueiras municipality, Rondonia. It is believed the arrow was fired by a member of an “uncontacted” indigenous group, whose existence he was in the area to document. (