‘Earth’s most threatened tribe’ campaigns to end logging in Amazon territory

June 20, 2012

Download Story

Over 100 tribal peoples around the world choose to reject contact with outsiders. That doesn’t mean, however, that outsiders don’t want to get in.

Take the Brazilian Awá, one of South America’s last remaining nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes. Their forests are engulfed by loggers and cattle ranchers and their land is disappearing faster than in any other indigenous territory in the Amazon. They are sometimes referred to as “Earth’s most threatened tribe.”

Fiona Watson is the lead campaigner for Survival, a group that advocates on behalf of tribal peoples’ rights. She recalled the first time she encountered the Awá, back in 1992. Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) — the governmental organization tasked with preventing the invasion of indigenous lands — had just made contact with a young Awá family, and took Watson to see them in a patch of forest, miles from their home:

I couldn’t go near them, so as to avoid infecting them with any germ, which could be lethal to such an isolated people. . .

A young woman sat in a hammock, staring at the ground and nursing her tiny baby. Her husband stood nearby, his back turned to us, gazing out over the river. They seemed bewildered and terrified. . .

Nobody then knew anything about them, but the FUNAI team told me it was likely they were on the run, having survived an attack by ranchers’ pistoleiros [gunmen]. . .

The Awá have self-advocated, to improve their situation, according to Watson. They have appealed to the Brazilian Minister of Justice to halt logging as the season starts in earnest, asking the government to “evict loggers from our land immediately. . . before they come back and destroy everything.” They plan to make a video appeal this week, timed with the Rio + 20 summit, with this message, according to Survial:

We are people too. You cannot abandon us. We are people; we’re not dogs who can be left on the side. We are people, just like you, and you can help us. You can help us to evict those people, the loggers. You can remove them and make them leave our land.

Survival’s Watson argues that however desperate the Awá’s situation, “there is nothing inevitable about their destruction.”

“They can and will survive if the Brazilian government upholds their rights,” she says, “and if we the public act to ensure that it does so.

Watson joins Worldview Wednesday to talk about the Awá campaign to end logging on their territory, and what may come out of the Rio + 20 summit with respect to indigenous rights.

Click here for more information on Survival’s campaign for “Earth’s Most Threatened Tribe.”