An indigenous group in Brazil that traditionally has no contact with the outside world is suffering a “genocide” because of illegal loggers’ encroachment on their land, a rights group said Monday.
The Awa Guaja, a hunter-gatherer tribe of around 400 people in the Amazon rainforest, has lost huge tracts of land to deforestation in recent years, making them struggle to find food, said a statement from the indigenous rights group Forest Guardians.
“If you don’t put an end to the invasions of our territory, the uncontacted Awa Guaja people will die,” the group’s coordinator, Olimpio Guajajara, said in a statement.
“We are warning the Brazilian government and the international community that the Awa Guaja people are currently suffering a genocide.”
The Forest Guardians were launched in 2012 in northeastern Brazil to stop illegal loggers and miners from operating on indigenous lands.
Several of its members have been murdered in recent months.
The Forest Guardians said deforestation is forcing the Awa Guaja to venture ever closer to other groups’ villages, sometimes leading to conflict.
On Saturday, a man from the Guajajara indigenous group was shot in the chest with an arrow, possibly by Awa Guaja who had been seen in the area.
The man is in stable condition, but the unprecedented incident left the Forest Guardians “very worried,” said the statement.
Illegal loggers “use violence when they come across indigenous people and it’s possible that this has happened and made the Awa angry and on alert for their survival,” it said.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who wants to open protected lands to farming and mining.
The new coronavirus has meanwhile added to concerns about indigenous groups in the Amazon, since they have a tragic history of being decimated by diseases arriving from the outside world.
The virus has now infected 40 indigenous groups, with 537 positive cases and 102 deaths, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Association.
Brazil has an estimated 800,000 indigenous people from 300 ethnic groups.