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’é living in northern Pará state. Once contacted in the 1980s, the Zo’é, 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 Maranhão 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 Awá people. The reserve is increasingly encroached upon by illegal loggers. (Thomson Reuters, Survival International)