The death of a man believed to be the last uncontacted member of an indigenous people in Brazil’s western Amazon calls on the Brazilian government to protect indigenous communities from escalating violence and encroachments on their lands. I made a new call.
International human rights group Survival International reported on Sunday that a man known only as “Man in the Hole” was found dead in the Tanal indigenous region of northwestern Rondonia state. apparently died of natural causes.
Named for his habit of digging deep holes, the man was the last survivor of a tribe that had been “slaughtered in a series of attacks since the 1970s” and lived in complete isolation for years. International said.
Fiona Watson, the group’s head of research and advocacy, said people knew very little about the man, such as what he called himself, the name of his tribe, or the language he spoke.
“All we know about him is pieced together evidence that he was the sole survivor of several genocidal attacks,” she told Al Jazeera in an interview, describing him as ” described it as a symbol of a highly hidden and secret genocide.”Extraordinary courage and resilience”.
While the news of the man’s death has sparked grief in many, it has also brought a renewed focus on the policies of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, with indigenous leaders and activists calling for attacks on them. They say they are putting them in danger and driving them out of their territory.
“Indigenous territories are being invaded because people feel they are being treated unfairly as invaders. With Bolsonaro … people feel very empowered,” Watson said. .
“I think this is a wake-up call, because … a very important part of the rich diversity of humanity is being lost forever with the death of the man in the hole,” she added. “The Brazilian government is treating this as an emergency, devoting funds and deploying experienced field staff and more staff on the ground to pinpoint where these people are and to demarcate their land boundaries. We must begin to define and protect the
More than 800,000 indigenous people from more than 300 different groups live in Brazil, according to the last census data of 2010 cited by the Rights Group for the Integration of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB).
For years, Indigenous leaders have sounded the alarm about the threats their communities face in the South American country. Especially in areas with little government oversight, where farmers, miners, poachers and others rule and seek to exploit.
Indigenous peoples, while loosening environmental protections in key areas such as the Amazon rainforest, have adopted policies in which Bolsonaro and his allies favor groups illegally encroaching on their territory and try to eliminate them. Far-right leaders have backed more mining in the Amazon, saying it would stimulate the economy.
The Indigenous Evangelical Council, which belongs to Brazil’s National Bishops’ Conference, recorded 305 cases of “infringement of property rights, illegal exploitation of resources and damage to property” on indigenous territories last year, compared with 22 in Brazil. It affected 226 indigenous lands in the state. This is his 180% increase from his 109 in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office.
“In addition to the increasing number of incidents and lands affected by illegal activities, such as miners, loggers, hunters, fishermen and land grabbers, invaders are increasing their presence in indigenous territories and their ,” said the council, in its report of the month (PDF). “These violent and criminal attacks, often using heavy weapons, have been repeatedly reported by indigenous peoples and ignored by the federal government, which has encouraged mining activity in these areas. I kept doing it.”
In August 2021, APIB filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court seeking to investigate Bolsonaro for “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” amid the worsening situation, calling for the Bolsonaro government to publicly denounce “traditional religions.” accused of promoting “criminal aggression”. [Indigenous] territory”.
State policies expose indigenous peoples to “threats of death, murder, aggression, destruction of their territories and pollution of their resources,” the group said in a report (PDF) last year.
In a written statement to Al Jazeera, Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the government was committed to “protecting the human rights of all Brazilians, including indigenous peoples.” The country’s Department of Indigenous Affairs, known as FUNAI, has invested $15.9 million (82.5 million Brazilian reais) for “oversight of indigenous lands” from 2019 to 2021, the ministry said in an email. .
FUNAI also uses satellite imagery to monitor illegal activities. “Such information will enable FUNAI to assess illegal outbreaks on indigenous lands, plan territorial protection actions, and provide rapid response,” the statement said.
But Andrea Carvalho, senior research assistant at Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Brazil, said there has been a clear escalation in attacks against indigenous peoples and their lands in recent years. is caused by dire policies related to environmental protection and the rights of indigenous peoples,” she told Al Jazeera.
The Bolsonaro government has undermined Brazil’s environmental agencies and FUNAI, Carvalho said, explaining that one of the ways it has done this is by removing experienced civil servants from leadership positions. Currently, more than 200 of her indigenous territories in Brazil are awaiting demarcation, the legal protection of land, she added.
“Historically, it takes a lot of time to finalize boundaries, but this administration promised not to designate Indigenous territories even during the 2018 election campaign, and that promise has been delivered. Brazil has not demarcated any new indigenous territories since Bolsonaro took office,” Carvalho said.
Meanwhile, as Bolsonaro faces off against former left-wing president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in October’s polls, Carvalho said indigenous issues have largely been left out of his campaign so far. “It is important to inform voters and Brazilians how to actually protect the rights of indigenous peoples, strengthen federal institutions, and dismantle the criminal networks that are causing environmental destruction. “It depends on the candidate,” she said.
Watson of Survival International urged international pressure on Brazil to better protect indigenous lands after the death of the ‘man in the hole’. He said he could only “go on with his way of life.”
“I think his story is the ultimate illustration of what can happen to indigenous peoples if we don’t protect their lands,” she said.