June 25, 2011

Brazil Releases Photos of Uncontacted Native Community

Recently released aerial photos of an uncontacted community deep in the Brazilian rainforest offers the latest evidence of isolated Natives in the western Amazon Basin.

The photos, taken on April 22 by officials from Brazil’s Indian affairs agency, Funai, and released earlier this week, show various thatched structures called malocas surrounded by corn and other crops. The malocas were located in three small clearings deep in the jungle of the Javari Valley, in western Brazil. The Brazilian government has declared more than 30,000 square miles (80 Sq Km) of wilderness – an area approximately the size of South Carolina – along its border with Peru as the Javari Valley Indigenous Reserve. Funai officials monitor and protect the reserve with help from the Centro de Trabalho Indigenista (CTI).

According to a Funai press release, the community was first discovered by examining high-resolution satellite photos of the reserve – which is inhabited only by isolated and recently contacted Native communities – after which Funai officials flew to the area in a small plane to photograph it. Funai officials believe that the Javari Valley Indigenous Reserve holds the highest concentration of uncontacted peoples in the world, but the area’s size and remoteness make it difficult to confirm their existence.

Funai has released photos of isolated groups on several occasions in order to raise awareness about their existence and the threats they face. Uncontacted Indians are extremely vulnerable to diseases, which can be spread by the loggers, farmers, miners, squatters and oil workers who are steadily encroaching upon their territories.

Some industry and government officials have cast doubt upon the existence of uncontacted Natives. Peruvian President Alan Garcia once claimed they were an invention of non-governmental organizations. Earlier this month, London-based Survival International warned that Peru intended to reduce, or alter the size of the Murunahua Territorial Reserve, to the southwest of the Javari Valley, which was created to protect uncontacted Natives, but Peruvian officials denied the claim and promised to improve protection of that reserve.

According to Conrado Octavio, a geographer from the CTI who supports Funai’s work in the Javari Valley Reserve, the greatest threat to its communities are on the Peruvian side of the border, which is lined with concessions for logging and oil exploration – activities that could drive isolated Natives there to cross the border and invade the territories of Brazilian groups.

“I’m not saying that all the threats are coming from Peru. We also have plenty of problems here in Brazil. But when the other side of the border is lined with logging concessions and oil concessions, it can’t be good for isolated peoples,” he said.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comBrazil Releases Photos of Uncontacted Native Community - Indian Country Today Media Network.com.

July 18, 2011

Activists in Peru Denounce Plans for Uncontacted Native Lands

With less than two weeks left in office, the administration of Peruvian President Alan Garcia faces a new controversy over its treatment of uncontacted Natives in the country’s Amazon region.

Representatives of Native, environmental and human rights organizations in Peru have criticized new regulations proposed by the Ministry of Culture for the supervision of exploratory and extractive activities inside the country’s indigenous and territorial reserves. In a press release, the Amazonian Native association AIDESEP claimed that the new regulations were drafted to facilitate drilling for gas in the Nahua Kugapakori and Nanti Territorial Reserve – created in 1999 to protect Natives living in voluntary isolation, or who have recently been contacted – and warned that this could endanger them.

“They want to do the oil industry a favor before they leave office,” said Carlos Soria, an environmental lawyer and expert on uncontacted peoples, referring to the fact that Garcia’s five-year term ends on July 28. He noted that even though the proposed regulations include a series of precautions that companies must take when operating in areas with uncontacted Natives, it would be very difficult for the government to ensure compliance with them.

Indian Country Today Media Network was unable to interview Ministry of Culture officials, but in a press release, they “completely rejected” claims that the ministry was “promoting regulations in favor of private interests.” The release states that the regulations are a draft that was distributed in order to get feedback from organizations that represent, or work with Natives.

According to Jimpson Davila, who monitors the oil and gas industry for the environmental organization Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), the controversy stems from a contradiction within the law for protection of uncontacted and recently contacted peoples, which says that the territorial reserves created to protect them are “intangible,” but then adds that the extraction of resources is permissible if deemed a “public necessity.”

Davila noted that the Culture Ministry’s attempt to clarify this discrepancy was released less than a month after the Argentine company Pluspetrol presented an environmental impact study to the Ministry of Energy and Mines as part of proposal to dig three wells inside the Nahua Kugapakori & Nanti Territorial Reserve as part of the Camisea Project. The Ministry has yet to respond to the study.

Pluspetrol is one of several companies in the Camisea consortium, which is exploiting one of South America’s largest natural gas reserves in the remote wilderness of southeast Peru. The consortium has the concession for Block 88, which was superimposed over the middle (approximately one third) of the Nahua Reserve. Davila explained that the consortium is already extracting gas inside the reserve, but whereas those wells are near the reserve’s eastern border, the new environmental impact study is for tapping the San Martín Este gas field, deep inside the Nahua Reserve’s more than 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of wilderness.

Davila predicted that the construction of oil wells that deep inside the reserve would disrupt the lives of Nahua groups living in voluntary isolation, who are nomadic, and thus require a large territory. He warned that oil workers could provoke contact, and spread diseases for which the Natives lack defenses, explaining that the Nahua were first contacted in the 1980s by workers doing exploration for Shell, and subsequent epidemics are believed to have killed half of their population.

Pluspetrol representatives failed to respond to ICTMN’s request for an interview.

“The prospect of forced contact would be a violation of the rights of people living in isolation to life, health, and self determination,” Davila said.  “The government should respect their right to decide whether or not to make contact.”

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July 19, 2011

Nomadic Indigenous Groups Threatened in New Regulations

After protests from indigenous and human rights groups, the Peruvian government took a step back from proposed new regulations that critics say would threaten nomadic indigenous groups that live in remote areas of the country, shunning contact with the outside world.

Taking advantage of contradictions in Peruvian legislation for protection of Indigenous Peoples living in “voluntary isolation” or initial contact with other people, the new rules would govern oil drilling, mining and forestry operations in reserves designated for those peoples.

Critics say the move comes as the consortium of companies that operates the Camisea gas field in the southern Peruvian Amazon basin plans to expand its operations in Block 88, which overlaps the Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve. The reserve was set aside in 1990 to protect isolated peoples whose mortality rate jumped in the 1980s after initial oil exploration in the area.

“These regulations are designed to facilitate new exploratory and extractive activities” in the reserve, “violating the human rights of our autonomous brothers,” the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (Asociación Interétnica del Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana, AIDESEP), Peru’s largest Amazonian indigenous organization, said in a statement.

Calling the nomadic groups “autonomous,” rather than “isolated” or “uncontacted,” the statement said they “depend on their territory for their subsistence and are highly vulnerable to contact with outsiders, because they have no defenses” against common diseases that are easily transmitted.

AIDESEP demanded that the Culture Ministry and one of its agencies, the National Institute for Development of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples (Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo de Pueblos Andinos, Amazónicos y Afroperuano, INDEPA) “not let private interests prevail over constitutionally recognized rights.”

After protests from AIDESEP and human rights groups, the Culture Ministry denied that it was favoring private interests over the interests of the nomadic groups and said it would seek to build consensus on the new rules before they are approved.

The conflict stems from contradictory provisions of a 2006 law designed to protect “indigenous or original peoples in isolation or initial contact.” The law provides for the establishment of reserves to protect the territory used by such groups until they decide to settle in communities and seek legal title.

Peru has five such reserves and indigenous organizations have filed petitions for five more. Several – like the one near Camisea – are overlapped by oil or gas leases. AIDESEP has tried unsuccessfully to have the government redraw the leases to eliminate the overlap.

In many cases, the government’s “public position has been to deny that these people exist,” said Gregor MacLennan, Peru program director at Amazon Watch, a non-profit group that monitors indigenous and environmental issues in the Amazon basin.

If the government permits exploratory operations, such as seismic testing for petroleum deposits, in areas where nomadic people have been seen, the noise is usually enough to drive them away, bolstering the official argument that the area was uninhabited, MacLennan said.

But while Peruvian law declares the reserves “untouchable” and prohibits “any activity other than those of the uses and customs of the indigenous inhabitants,” it leaves a loophole for the extraction of natural resources in the “national interest.”

The proposed regulations, which were circulated by the state, that the “untouchable” nature of indigenous reserves “is not incompatible with extractive activities, as long as there is a real public need and the state guarantees that they will use methods that respect these peoples’ rights.”

The rules – which include separate sections for hydrocarbon, mining and forestry operations – would establish a “comprehensive protection committee” for each reserve, consisting of government officials, representatives of neighboring indigenous communities and an anthropologist. They also establish a coordinator for each reserve, and require a strategic plan and a series of monitoring mechanisms.

But critics say the government has proven unable to safeguard groups living in the reserves. On July 7, just before the draft regulations were circulated, Eduardo Vega Luna, acting head of the government Ombudsman’s Office, sent a letter to the Culture Minister Juan Ossio Acuña, saying the reserves “are not being protected effectively by the state.” He specifically mentioned failure to stop illegal logging in three reserves.

Even Vega stopped short of calling for a ban on extractive operations, however, recommending that the government “issue regulations to ensure that extractive activities do not jeopardize indigenous peoples in isolation or initial contact.”

The United Nations estimates that 64 isolated groups live in the Amazonian regions of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. While precise data are hard to gather, anthropologists and indigenous leaders draw on accounts of sightings by neighboring indigenous communities, loggers or other outsiders to calculate the territory the groups inhabit.

Peru is estimated to have more than a dozen such groups, many of them in remote forests near the Brazilian border.

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August 9, 2011

Uncontacted Tribe in Brazil Missing

Filed under: News Alerts,World News — Tags: , , — ICTMN Staff @ 3:59 pm

An uncontacted Indian Tribe, that was first discovered earlier this year, has since vanished from the jungles of the Brazilian Amazon in which they lived according to the New York Daily News.

This disappearance is being linked to suspected Peruvian cocaine smugglers who overran the area. The smugglers raided a Brazilian guardpost that was protecting them and the tribe fled in fear.

Many groups who have been working to protect these uncontacted tribes are fearing the worse, when one of the gunman’s had a broken arrow inside his backpack.

More to come.

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August 10, 2011

Uncontacted Tribe in Brazil Missing After Drug Traffickers Invade Area

Filed under: News Alerts,World News — Tags: , , , , — Barbara Fraser @ 7:40 pm

The Brazilian government sent security forces to a remote area near the border with Peru after armed men attacked a guard post set up to protect indigenous people living in isolation in the western state of Acre.

Guard post personnel reported that about 40 armed men, whom Brazilian officials described as “paramilitaries” and who are believed to have been transporting drugs from Peru, overran the guard post on July 23, according to Brazilian news reports.

Members of an Asháninka community three hours away by river had reported seeing a group of armed men on July 11.

The Xinane guard post is on the Envira River about 20 miles from the Peruvian border, in an area inhabited by at least four indigenous groups that avoid contact with the outside world, according to Maria Emília Coelho, a Brazilian journalist in contact with members of the governmental National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) at the guard post.

Aerial photos of the area released in February showed adults and children, some with their bodies painted with red and black vegetable dyes, outside a thatch-roofed dwelling and in a garden of banana trees.

Initial reports about the attack on the guard post said the indigenous people had disappeared from the area and that there could have been a massacre, but Coelho said there were no indications of a confrontation and that officials who flew over the area saw intact thatch-roofed buildings, called malocas, in areas inhabited by the group.

foto gleilson miranda 12935547 cropped copy screen 270x169 Uncontacted Tribe in Brazil Missing After Drug Traffickers Invade Area

Indigenous woman in Banana Fields

“We believe the Indians didn’t appear because they were afraid of the helicopters and planes that have been flying over the area in the past few days,” FUNAI president Márcio Meira told Brazilian media.

It took security forces nearly a week to reach the remote area, according to Brazilian news reports. On August 3, police detained Joaquim Antônio Custódio Fadista, a Portuguese citizen. Fadista, whom FUNAI officials described as a drug trafficker, had been caught in the area in March by a FUNAI official, turned over to police and deported to Peru, but apparently returned to retrieve a package of drugs, officials said.

Peru’s Foreign Ministry did not return a phone call requesting comment.

The area along the border of the western Brazilian state of Acre and the eastern Peruvian regions of Madre de Dios and Ucayali is home to the largest concentration of Indigenous Peoples in isolation in Amazonia.

“But there is practically no presence of the state in the area,” said Francisco Estremadoyro, executive director of Pro Purús, a non-profit organization that works with native communities in the area.

Some of the nomadic groups are probably descendants of indigenous people who fled enslavement by loggers and rubber tappers in the early and mid-1900s. Two reserves were established on the Peruvian side of the border to protect territories inhabited by isolated groups, but Estremadoyro called them “paper parks” that are unprotected against incursions by illegal loggers or drug traffickers.

foto gleilson miranda 12935579 screen 270x179 Uncontacted Tribe in Brazil Missing After Drug Traffickers Invade Area

Indigenous people from an uncontacted tribe in Brazil appear outside their thatched house. The tribe has gone missing as of late due to drug traffickers invading the area.

The Envira River, where the attack occurred, “is a route known to be used by drug traffickers,” Estremadoyro said. “We have reports of similar situations not only along that river, but in neighboring areas.”

Drug traffickers often recruit people from indigenous communities to carry drugs, because they can travel more easily through the forest and other communities, he said.

“Indigenous people in that area have been completely abandoned by the state,” with little opportunity for health care, education or employment, he said. When drug traffickers offer to hire them, “some fall for it.”

Estremadoyro said there are at least three different isolated ethnic groups on the Peruvian side of the border, distinguished by their different styles of haircut, body paint and weapons.

The groups are “traditionally very territorial, and they defend themselves from each other,” he said. “When they are pressured by loggers or drug traffickers, they flee and invade the territory of other groups, resulting in conflicts and sometimes in deaths.”

Little is known about the groups, because there is no centralized database of sightings, he said. Loggers sometimes report having seen nomadic people, and there have been some aerial sightings as well.

Groups have been moving into areas along the Purús River where they have not been seen before, probably because of incursions into their traditional territories by loggers and drug traffickers, Estremadoyro said.

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October 14, 2011

Uncontacted Tribes Facing Annihilation Without Protection

When a photographer flying over the Amazon rain forest shot footage of naked adults and children in a jungle clearing, their bodies painted red and black, the images grabbed attention around the world, reviving fascination with mysterious, exotic people who shun contact with outsiders.

No one is sure how many indigenous people still live traditional, nomadic lives in South America, but the remaining tribes face increasing hazards. Hemmed in by loggers, miners, ranchers, missionaries, drug traffickers and oil drillers, these groups are squeezed into smaller areas or forced to flee in search of even more remote places.

Governments often deny their very existence, and without protection, they face possible annihilation.

“This issue only becomes visible when there is a problem,” says Antenor Vaz, coordinator for recently contacted Indians at the National Indigenous Foundation, the Brazilian government’s Indian affairs office.

The problem is usually that nomadic groups live in places with valuable natural resources, usually timber or oil, and developers see them as an obstacle to resource extraction. As a result, any policy aimed at protecting those groups often runs into conflict with powerful interests, even within the government, says Benno Glauser, who works with the Amotocodie Initiative, which advocates for the rights of the nomadic Ayoreo people who live in a rapidly shrinking remnant of forest in Paraguay’s Chaco region.

The best way to ensure their survival is to protect the territory they inhabit, but the desire to generate revenues from oil or gas, or to build roads to open up an area for logging or ranching, often trumps the nomadic groups’ right to self-determination, experts say.

Such people are sometimes called “uncontacted,” but many are actually descended from groups that had contact with settlers in the past, and were decimated by slavery or disease, especially during the rubber boom in the last century.

Some experts describe their situation as “voluntary isolation,” but others say that isn’t completely accurate – if they were forced to flee unwanted contact, it was not voluntary. Some defenders of the groups simply refer to them as “free people.”

There are different degrees of isolation, according to Peruvian anthropologist Beatriz Huertas, who has studied and written extensively about nomadic groups in Peru.

“There are some who don’t want anything to do with anyone,” while other groups have sporadic contact with neighboring Indians who are in contact with the outside world sometimes trading for metal objects like machetes.

Protective policies need to take those differences into account and allow groups to make contact on their own terms, if and when they choose to do so, Huertas said.

While awareness of the nomadic groups – which are known to live in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay – is increasing in South America, the countries lack adequate policies and enforcement for protecting them, and only Brazil has a government office specifically responsible for their welfare.

A few years ago, there seemed to be a push for greater protection, according to Eduardo Pichilingue, who works on the defense of isolated indigenous groups in Ecuador, especially in Yasuní National Park and Biosphere Reserve. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees made policy recommendations and Ecuador and Bolivia included the issue in their new constitutions.

“Over time, however, that impetus has faded, and in some cases there has been a reversal,” Pichilingue said.

Vaz, Glauser, Huertas and Pichilingue are members of the International Advisory Committee for the Protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation, an independent group that monitors the situation of nomadic peoples in South America and makes recommendations for their protection.

After meeting in mid-August, the committee issued a statement acknowledging efforts that countries have made, but calling for stronger policies and better enforcement to protect the territories and lives of isolated groups.

They called for special attention to the remote area along the border between Peru and Brazil, where there the largest number of isolated groups live, and where loggers and drug traffickers operate despite the difficult access.

In July, armed men believed to be drug traffickers attacked a guard post set up by FUNAI to monitor the territory of an isolated indigenous group in the state of Acre, in western Brazil.

“Isolated peoples don’t recognize national boundaries,” Pichilingue said. “Many are found in border areas” and move back and forth between the countries.

The Peruvian-Ecuadorian border, where oil exploration is planned, is another hot spot for the committee. The group urged protection for isolated groups along the Tigre and Napo rivers in northern Peru.

That area is across the border from Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park and Biosphere Reserve, where environmentalists and indigenous organizations are trying to prevent oil drilling in an area inhabited by two isolated groups, the Tagaeri and Taromenani.

In Peru, experts say Cacataibo people in an area south of Cerro Azul National Park in the north-central Peruvian Amazon and Nanti people in the southern Cusco region are threatened by new or expanding oil and gas operations. Petroleum lots overlap at least three other areas proposed as reserves for isolated people in northern Peru.

Both government officials and industry executives have insisted that there are no nomadic groups outside Cordillera Azul National Park, but anthropologists cite accounts of people finding arrows and other indications that the zone is inhabited.

Sometimes even scientists deny that the groups exist. In 2010, a group of scientists planned to explore an area near Paraguay’s border with Bolivia, which is home to two isolated groups, said Glauser, whose organization lobbied to block the venture.

One argument used to avoid protecting the rights and territories of indigenous people is to deny their existence, Glauser said. That puts a heavier burden on defenders of those rights, because “they have to try to establish the existence of something that is almost invisible.”

Even so, Vaz said, it is possible to gather evidence of the groups’ existence. “Invisibility is a matter of interests,” he said.

Brazil probably has more hard data about isolated groups than other countries do, but even its information is scant. FUNAI has confirmed the existence of 23 isolated groups in five states and seven recently contacted groups in five states, and is studying another reported 47 groups in eight states. Except for the recently contacted groups, however, little is known about their ethnic roots or languages.

While some data can be gathered from overflights and satellite images, the only way to gather detailed information is to go to the area where nomadic people are reported to live and look for their “ecological footprint,” Vaz said.

If nomadic Indians live in an area where settlers are encroaching, people will probably report having seen them. Researchers also look for signs of human presence, analyze whether they are new or old, and put the information together to figure out how and when people occupy the area.

They must be careful not to come in contact with the nomads, not only out of respect for their rights, but also because isolated groups tend to lack immunity to common illnesses such as flu or colds.

“There are methodologies and techniques for observing human presence in the rain forest,” Vaz said. “You can’t go walking in the forest without a plan.”

Even so, some people still deliberately set out to contact isolated indigenous people, Huertas said. Some evangelical missionary groups even offer courses in how to contact nomadic peoples, suggesting the use of stories. Instead of working through foreign missionaries, as they did in the past, the groups now make contact through recently contacted Indians from the same area, or others who speak a similar language, she said.

Delimiting nomads’ territory to protect them from outsiders and raising public awareness about the hazards they face are crucial for protecting their right to maintain their lifestyle, the committee members said.

Because isolated groups depend entirely on the natural resources in their territory, the group’s health is closely tied to the health of the ecosystem, Vaz said. Policy makers must consider that encroaching development, deforestation and fouling of rivers with agricultural runoff can harm the nomads’ health and threaten their survival.

Ultimately, Pichilingue said, “Isolation is a choice of self-determination for these peoples, and it has to be respected.”

To keep up with issues involving the uncontacted tribes visit uncontactedtribes.org.

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January 16, 2012

Findings Shed Light on Amazon’s Lost World

On January 14, the New York Times published a story on land carvings discovered in the far western reaches of the Brazilian Amazon.

The trenches, too neat not to be man made, were thought to be foxholes for the war against the Bolivians, but archaeological discoveries have dated them much older.

In a time when a struggle between deforestation of the Amazon for farming land continues to grow and encroach on uncontacted tribes, these findings show a past life of farming of swaths of land – similar to what is being done today.

The geoglyphs are still being studied as the exact use is still in question, but their existence is helping shed light on a different Amazon than what is known now.

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January 31, 2012

Isolated Mashco-Piro Tribe Sightings Come With a Risk

A clan of Mashco-Piro Indians, a small tribe of previously isolated Amazon Indians in Peru, have been appearing along the riverbank in Madre de Dios with a message to tourists and outsiders—Leave us alone.

According to a Huffington Post article, Carlos Soria, a professor at Lima’s Catholic University who ran Peru’s park protection agency last year said the tribe is believed to number in the hundreds with the clan appearing at the river numbering close to 60, with 25 adults. The tribe lives in the Manu National Park.

Survival International who works to protect the isolated tribes of the Amazon said in a press release, the recent sightings are a result of gas and oil projects and illegal logging in the area.

The clan members have been blamed for two attacks along the riverbanks that involved bow-and-arrows since they were first seen last May, reported the Huffington Post.

Nicolas Shaco Flores 270x259 Isolated Mashco Piro Tribe Sightings Come With a Risk

Nicolás “Shaco” Flores was killed by an uncontacted tribe in Peru after attempting to contact them.

The most recent attack came when a lethal arrow was fired at Nicolas “Shaco” Flores – a member of a different tribe looking to make formal contact with the Mashco-Piro according to a BBC article.

This recent attack according to Survival International shows the dangers of trying to contact tribes that remain isolated. Flores, an indigenous Matsigenka, had been leaving food and gifts for the Mashco-Piro Indians for the past 20 years.

“Shaco’s death is a tragedy: he was a kind, courageous and knowledgeable man. He believed he was helping the Mashco-Piro. And yet in this tragic incident, the Mashco-Piro have once again expressed their adamant desire to be left alone,” said Glenn Shepard, an anthropologist and friend of Flores at his blog.

Spanish archaeologist Diego Cortijo, a member of the Spanish Geographical Society, said Flores was able to communicate with the Mashco-Piro because he spoke two related dialects, and that he often brought them supplies that included machetes and cooking pots according to the Huffington Post. Flores death now makes reaching an understanding with the tribe complicated.

“The problem is that ‘Shaco’ was the only person who could talk to them,” Cortijo said. “Now that he’s dead it’s impossible to make contact.”

Peruvian expert on uncontacted tribes, Beatriz Huertas, expressed to Survival how delicate and complex this situation is. “Contact could happen at any time,” Huertas said, “we must implement preventative measures and a contingency plan with local authorities as soon as possible to ensure this does not happen again.”

mashco piro on Riverbank www.uncontactedtribes.org  615x489 Isolated Mashco Piro Tribe Sightings Come With a Risk

Today's photos are the closest sightings of uncontacted Indians ever recorded on camera.

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