Fighting back in the war against indigenous people in the Amazon

(credit Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon of NASA Earth Observatory)
(credit Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon of NASA Earth Observatory)

The history of America is one of false promises and broken treaties to indigenous peoples. Settlers would invade a treaty territory and exploit the surrounding resources. Indigenous culture would be eradicated as their ancestral lands were destroyed or transformed.

Some pre-or early agricultural tribes live deep in the Amazon basin. Some of these communities are considered uncontacted, or lost tribes– meaning that they have very little or no contact with wider society. However, the Amazon is rich in resources that get large companies involved. There have fierce clashes between indigenous groups and illegal gold miners, which has led to intervention by Brazilian law enforcement. With the small and partially-uncontacted Awá, the threat of loggers is serious. Of their main section of land, over 30% of the tree cover has been removed. An 8-year-old Awá girl was burned alive by loggers last year, part of a wider system of massacres and intimidation moves by logging interests. Survival International, a group dedicated to helping tribal groups survive serious threats to their way of life, states that 450 indigenous people were murdered from 2003 to 2010.

This is usually when we’d start writing the eulogy to the Awá- they’re outmatched with money and power. But pleas from the tribe and groups, joining with a Survival International campaign, have led to the Brazil government not only listening, but coming to the area with an impressive show of force. Sawmills are being destroyed, and future movements may eradicate illegal logging both within Awá territory and immediately around it.

Any student of American history knows what happened to the indigenous populations, who once lived on wide swaths of land before being escorted off by soldiers with bayonets. These same issues repeat for different countries at different times. Here is a chance to make the story end a little bit better.

Author: AJM

Writer, sociologist, Unitarian Universalist.

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