Gambling with lives and nature
See article below regarding the world-wide release of the photos and videos showing the existence of non-contacted indigenous groups in the border region between Brazil and Peru. Although indigenous organizations, scholars, and other national and institutional bodies already knew about these groups, the story was sold as if a new discovery was made in order to generate world wide awareness and halt logging operations in the area.
Nevertheless we should be cautious with this approach as it seems the only requisite for the States and industries to stop extractive operations in these areas is the existence of non-contacted tribes. What about other areas where we find contacted indigenous people who have chosen a life style not based on the rampant consumerism of the neoliberal world system?, what about areas which are considered sacred by the indigenous peoples who have been living there for centuries?
We must be careful with using photographs and other “proves” as the only way to stop unsustainable developments in the Amazon. Do indigenous groups must prove their indigenousness to the dominant societies? what does it mean to be ‘indigenous’ for the dominant society?. We should put more energy on proving why we should not expand the extractive frontiers to sensitive areas. We should prove there are other ways of development which do not require to gamble with the existence of non contacted indigenous groups and do not require to put a price to lives and nature.
See also related article here in English and Spanish
22/6/08 * Observer *
Secret of the ‘lost’ tribe that wasn’t
Tribal guardian admits the Amazon Indians’ existence was already known, but
he hoped the publicity would lift the threat of logging
Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor
They are the amazing pictures that were beamed around the globe: a handful
of warriors from an ‘undiscovered tribe’ in the rainforest on the
Brazilian-Peruvian border brandishing bows and arrows at the aircraft that
Or so the story was told and sold. But it has now emerged that, far from
being unknown, the tribe’s existence has been noted since 1910 and the
mission to photograph them was undertaken in order to prove that
‘uncontacted’ tribes still existed in an area endangered by the menace of
the logging industry.
The disclosures have been made by the man behind the pictures, José Carlos
Meirelles, 61, one of the handful of sertanistas – experts on indigenous
tribes – working for the Brazilian Indian Protection Agency, Funai, which is
dedicated to searching out remote tribes and protecting them.
In his first interviews since the disclosure of the tribe’s existence,
Meirelles described how he found the group, detailed how they lived and how
he planned the publicity to protect them and other tribes in similar danger
of losing the habitat in which they have flourished for hundreds of years.
Meirelles admitted that the tribe was first known about almost a century ago
and that the apparently chance encounter that produced the now famous images
was no accident. ‘When we think we might have found an isolated tribe,’ he
told al-Jazeera, ‘a sertanista like me walks in the forest for two or three
years to gather evidence and we mark it in our [global positioning system].
We then map the territory the Indians occupy and we draw that protected
territory without making contact with them. And finally we set up a small
outpost where we can monitor their protection.’
But in this case Meirelles appears, controversially, to have gone out to
seek and find the uncontacted tribe in an area where it was known to be
According to his account, the Brazilian state of Acre offered him the use of
an aircraft for three days. ‘I had years of GPS co-ordinates,’ he said.
Meirelles had another clue to the tribe’s precise location. ‘A friend of
mine sent me some Google Earth co-ordinates and maps that showed a strange
clearing in the middle of the forest and asked me what that was,’ he said.
‘I saw the co-ordinates and realised that it was close to the area I had
been exploring with my son – so I needed to fly over it.’
For two days, Meirelles says, he flew a 150km-radius route over the border
region with Peru and saw huts that belonged to isolated tribes. But he did
not see people. ‘When the women hear the plane above, they run into the
forest, thinking it’s a big bird,’ he said. ‘This is such a remote area,
planes don’t fly over it.’
What he was looking for was not only proof of life, but firm evidence that
the tribes in this area were flourishing – proof in his view that the policy
of no contact and protection was working. On the last day, with only a
couple hours of flight time remaining, Meirelles spotted a large community.
‘When I saw them painted red, I was satisfied, I was happy,’ he said.
‘Because painted red means they are ready for war, which to me says they are
happy and healthy defending their territory.’
Survival International, the organisation that released the pictures along
with Funai, conceded yesterday that Funai had known about this nomadic tribe
for around two decades. It defended the disturbance of the tribe saying
that, since the images had been released, it had forced neighbouring Peru to
re-examine its logging policy in the border area where the tribe lives, as a
result of the international media attention. Activist and former Funai
president Sydney Possuelo agreed that – amid threats to their environment
and doubt over the existence of such tribes – it was necessary to publish
But the revelation that the existence of the tribe was already established
will provoke awkward questions over why a decision was made to try to
photograph them – a form of contact in itself – in order to make a political
Meirelles, one of only five or so genuine sertanistas, has no regrets,
arguing that the pictures and video released to the world were powerful and
indisputable evidence to those who say isolated tribes no longer exist.
‘Alan García [the President of Peru] declared recently that the isolated
Indians were a creation in the imagination of environmentalists and
anthropologists – now we have the pictures.’
But he is determined to keep the tribe’s location secret – even under
torture, he says. ‘They can decide when they want contact, not me or anyone