Davi Kopenawa, a shaman of the indigenous Yanomami tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, walks down a short hallway toward the computer to Skype with me. In his 50s, Kopenawa wears a white, long-sleeve crew neck tucked into khaki slacks. He’s visiting the San Francisco offices of Survival International, an indigenous rights group that has worked with the Yanomami since the 1970s and with Kopenawa himself since the ’80s.
In recent years, outsiders have posed a renewed threat to indigenous peoples in Brazil, including territory colonization, gold mining, logging and disease. The Brazilian government has been accused of blatantly disregarding indigenous rights, failing to address outsider abuses against the dozens of tribes in the Brazilian Amazon.
If successful, Survival hopes other indigenous peoples around the world will be able to adopt this technology model, allowing them to speak for themselves to an international audience, encourage governments to take action and, ultimately, change the way outsiders treat them.
Among the atrocities committed against the Yanomami and their land, Kopenawa cites cattle ranchers, or fazendeiros, who “are prepared to use firearms against the indigenous people. They use pistoleiros [gunmen] and they also cut down thousands of trees. They pollute the springs, and they take out all the natural plants and vegetation,” he says.
Over the past several years, the National Congress of Brazil has considered proposed bills that would open up indigenous territories for mining. The current legal framework for mining dates back to the 1960s. Read more…