One of the world’s last uncontacted tribes was photographed this week from a helicopter flying over the Amazon rainforest, near the Brazil-Peru border. The photos were taken by the Brazilian government’s Indian Affairs Department to, “show the [tribes’] houses, to show they are there… This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence.”
Proof that this tribe exists complicates the current battle between those who want to conserve the Amazon and those who want to develop it. Even though they've not been contacted before, these tribes are a casualty of the forest battle.
Currently, the Indian Affairs Department guesses there are about 500 uncontacted Indians living on the Brazil side of the border. However, as previously uncontacted tribes in Peru have tried unsuccessfully to defend their territory from loggers, they have been systematically killed and forced to move across the border.
This migration is a problem not only for the tribes losing their traditional homeland, but also for the uncontacted tribes who are already living in Brazil. The Indian affairs department of Brazil predicts more violence in the area, not only between tribes and loggers, but between tribes now living in the same territory.
Contacted tribes in both Brazil and Peru have been active in attempting to prevent further intrusion into the rainforest. Brazilian Indians are holding a mass rally this week in Altamira, protesting the series of dams the government wants to build on the Xingu River. They say that they have not been included in the decision making process, even though the dams would essentially destroy their way of life. Kayapó Indian leader Raoni, sent a defiant letter to Brazil’s President Lula vowing to stop the construction. He also protests the government's violations of indigenous rights enshrined in Brazil's 1988 Constitution.
The conflict over the rainforest is not confined to regional politics. In Peru, a French company is being sued by an Amazon Indian organization, AIDESEP, in an attempt to prevent drilling for oil nearby the border area where the uncontacted tribes were just photographed. AIDESEP asserts that Perenco, a U.S. company recently taken over by French owners, should be prohibited from working in the area and contacting any tribes.
Any contact with the tribes could be catastrophic. The recently contacted Murunahua tribe by the Yurua river watched half of their members die from disease, a mortality rate common in recently contacted tribes.
Despite the danger to the tribes, and international law that acknowledges the uncontacted tribes as the rightful owners of their land, Perenco is currently expanding into these areas.
José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Júnior, head of the Indian Protection post near the Peru border says, "What is happening in this region is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the ‘civilized’ ones, treat the world."