Courtesy Madalena Borges/CIMI-MA
Uncontacted Awá Indians Irahoa and two relatives made contact with a settled community. Their forest has been invaded by loggers, who have attacked the Awá in the past.

Isolated Awa in Brazil Forced Out of Their Lands Again by Illegal Loggers

Rick Kearns

Illegal logging is forcing isolated indigenous people out of their territory again in Maranhao province in northern Brazil, renewing concerns of further deaths from assaults and exposure to western diseases among other things according to Survival International (SI) and other advocates.

SI and FUNAI, Brazil’s national indigenous foundation, reported that three isolated Awa-guaja people appeared in an indigenous Maranhao village in late December as a result of encounters with illegal loggers operating in their territory.

The two women and one adolescent boy were first seen by local Awa people outside the village, according to reports from the religious indigenous advocacy agency known as CIMI, and were taken in by the villagers.

While the specific reasons for their arrival are not known, one Awa resident of the Maranhao village said to CIMI official that, “They were surrounded by loggers. We heard lots of noise from the chainsaws nearby and the tractors carving roads to transport the wood, and there were many trees marked for felling. So we said ‘Come with us, otherwise the loggers will kill you.’ And they came with us.”

The younger of the two women, Amakaria, had been in contact with Brazilian authorities close to 20 years ago but then returned to the forest to remain isolated from non-indigenous people. Her return to the area was especially notable according to Carlos Travassos, FUNAI Coordinator for Isolated and Recently Contacted People.

“This is a strange occurrence,” Travassos asserted, “since these groups have lived isolated for so many decades, even resisting contact with other Awa-guajas.”

For Rosana de Jesus Diniz of CIMI, the return of Amakaria is due to displacement of indigenous by illegal loggers and others.

“Even until today, it has been established that all the contacts between groups happen due to the destruction of the territory by non-Indians,” she continued, “The whole region has been suffering from the deforestation.”

While the Brazilian government has taken steps to remove illegal loggers and other invaders from Awa territory, the recent arrival of the Awa-guaja indicates that the problem has not been resolved.

“All uncontacted tribes face catastrophe unless their land is protected, and Amakaria’s story is proof that the uncontacted Awá are living on a knife-edge,” said SI Director Stephen Corry.

“In 2014, Survival’s campaign pushed Brazil into evicting loggers from Awá land, but it’s vital that work doesn’t stop. If the uncontacted Awá are to stand any chance of survival, their land must be properly secured,” Corry stated.

According to a CIMI report, in January, at the request of Brazil’s Public Ministry, the Brazilian government ordered the national Brazilian Institute for the Environment, the Renewable Natural Resources Institute, FUNAI and another agency to set up checkpoints in the region to impede the illegal removal of lumber from indigenous territories in the area. A federal judge established a timeline of 120 days for completion of the order but, according to the Public Ministry, the agencies have not yet complied with the order for the checkpoints.

RELATED: Invaders of Awa Territory in Brazil Comply With Eviction Deadline

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