Indigenous People Continue To Be Under Threat In Brazil

Yanomami-brazil
Illegal miners fired on Yanomami indigenous warriors in Brazil this week. (Photo by Andressa Anholete / Getty Images)

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA, Brazil, Weds. May 12, 2021 (Reuters) – The indigenous community in Brazil continues to be under threat as another attack almost turned deadly this week.

Illegal gold miners inside the Yanomami reservation in northern Brazil on Monday opened fire with automatic weapons on an indigenous community that has opposed their entry by river, a Yanomami leader said.

The Yanomami responded with bows and arrows and shotguns wounding four of the attackers during the 30-minute clash on Monday morning, Dario Kopenawa, head of the Yanomami’s Hutukara Association said on Tuesday.

One indigenous person was grazed in the skirmish, he said in a report to the government’s indigenous affairs agency Funai, the Brazilian army, federal prosecutors and police.

Experts said the miners were most likely trying to scare the Yanomami away from blocking their access to gold prospects.

The conflict on the largest indigenous reservation in the Amazon has become increasingly violent in recent months as the Yanomami oppose the invasion of more than 20,000 illegal gold miners on their lands.

Kopenawa, son of the respected leader and shaman Davi Kopenawa, said the miners threatened to return to avenge their wounded and he called on authorities to act fat to protect the community.

Funai said it was investigating the “supposed conflict” and criticized media reports for basing themselves on a one-sided account, declining to comment further.

Some 26,800 Yanomami live on a reservation that is larger than Portugal and extends for 96,650 square kilometers (23.9 million acres) bordering Venezuela.

The Yanomami have long blamed the miners for introducing malaria and since last year COVID-19 that has killed nine of their people. The miners have polluted rivers with mercury used to separate gold from the ore.

The government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has advocated commercial mining on indigenous lands and proposed legislation to legalized the wildcat gold miners.

His views encourage more and increasingly better armed miners to invade Yanomami lands. Bolsonaro named a policeman to head Funai and he has reduced funding for staff and their ability to protect the communities.

The Roman Catholic Church’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) denounced the latest attack on the Yanomami and said Bolsonaro was not doing enough to evict the gold miners.

“The federal government is the biggest ally of the illegal miners,” CIMI said in a statement.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Leonardo Benassatto Editing by Marguerita Choy)