Uncontacted Tribe in the Amazon


07 Monday 07th February 2011


How do you define an uncontacted tribe? At what point do they become contacted?

Uncontacted tribes have no peaceful contact with the mainstream or dominant society. When first contact with an uncontacted tribe does occur, it normally involves outsiders, for example loggers, goldminers or workers for an oil company, invading the tribe's land.

When we hear about an isolated tribe, we marvel at the strength and endurance of their cultures and ways of life. Given that these societies have lasted as long as they have already, do they really need outside protection?

The people in these pictures look healthy and well-nourished, and there is no reason why they should not be able to survive and indeed thrive far into the future - as long as they still have their land. Currently, this tribe is threatened by illegal logging on the Peruvian side of the border, which is pushing isolated Indians from Peru into Brazil. Unless this is halted, the two groups are likely to come into conflict.

In the past, failure to respect uncontacted tribes' rights to their land has had disastrous consequences - it is common from more than half of an uncontacted tribe to die of disease soon after contact with outsiders. It is now the Brazilian government's policy to identify, map out and protect uncontacted tribes' land without contacting them.

The new images show a tribe member holding a machete, which your website says they acquire through inter-tribal trading networks. If, like ours, their society changes and evolves rather than remaining the same, isn't there something potentially condescending about attempting to preserve their culture as an artifact?

Survival does not wish to 'preserve' tribal peoples' cultures, only to ensure that their rights, which are enshrined in international law, are upheld, so that they are free to choose their own futures.

Your recent campaign is geared towards stopping the progress of illegal loggers. Is there a conflict of interest in using images of these people to publicise their isolation and the reasons we should leave them alone?

These images will not help anyone to identify the location of the tribe. Various government officials in Peru and Brazil have denied the existence of uncontacted tribes and accuse indigenous organizations and their supporters of inventing them. The photos and footage provide clear and compelling evidence that uncontacted tribes do exist. Many tribal people recognize the importance of using the photos and footage to persuade governments to protect uncontacted peoples’ land and to uphold their rights. You can read statements from Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa Yanomami and from COIAB, the network of indigenous organizations in the Amazon.

You can learn more about Survival’s work, donate, and add them on facebook at their website, www.survivalinternational.org

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