“We are in great danger”: In Amazon, indigenous Waiapi chief is killed by illegal miners

Illegal gold miners armed with automatic weapons and shotguns, invaded the remote indigenous community of the Waiapi and murdered one of its chiefs in Brazil’s northern Amazon last week

…One of the group’s leaders, Viseni Waiapi, said in an audio message sent to NBC reporters Saturday in Portuguese.

“We are in great danger,” Viseni said. The invaders assaulted women and children and were accompanied by a pit bull as they roamed around several Waiapi villages day and night last week, using special night vision goggles to navigate the area in the dark, he said.

…While waiting two days for the police to arrive, the Waiapi sent a group of their own warriors to guard the villages being invaded and gunshots were heard along the only road that leads into Waiapi territory. By the time police arrived on Sunday, the invaders had fled into the jungle.

…This attack on Waiapi land is one of the latest in a slew of ongoing, and increasingly frequent, invasions and assaults on indigenous territories throughout Brazil by illegal miners, ranchers and loggers.

Currently, there at least 10,000 miners illegally occupying and exploiting Brazil’s indigenous Yanomami land in northern Brazil. These sorts of invasions have increased by 150 percent since Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, took power earlier this year.

…Bolsonaro has repeatedly vowed to allow commercial mining and farming on indigenous lands, which are officially reserved for indigenous people’s exclusive use under Brazil’s Constitution since 1988. 

…Bolsonaro has said that indigenous peoples do not have a culture and has compared them to zoo animals. He has also said they should be assimilated into the public or integrated into the army. Years ago, he suggested that Brazil should have killed off its indigenous peoples, saying “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry hasn’t been as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated the Indians.”

…These invaders are committing illegal activities and should be arrested, prosecuted and fined, she said, suggesting there be paid federal employees stationed on indigenous lands to help monitor and protect vulnerable groups like the Waiapi. The community remained completely isolated until the 1970s when it was nearly annihilated by a measles outbreak spread by illegal miners who got access through a new road.

Today, there are around 1500 Waiapi living in small thatched roof villages carved out of dense rainforest in Brazil’s northern state of Amapá near French Guiana. The community attributes its resilience to having well demarcated lands, which were officially recognized by the Brazilian government in 1996, and maintaining its traditional ways of living and protecting the rainforest.

…In the meantime, Watson said indigenous groups need GPS equipment, bulletproof vests and radios for their own land defense efforts. “If we do want to save the Amazon rainforest for the benefit of humanity, we have to find better and more immediate ways of supporting the indigenous peoples.”

…Watson said the current situation in Brazil’s Amazon region has become a “war zone” in which indigenous peoples are on the front lines protecting the world’s largest rainforest, which produces 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen. “They’re paying with their lives.”

“We are in great danger”: In Amazon, indigenous Waiapi chief is killed by illegal miners


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