From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil

Isolated groups: background

1986 > NGOs discuss the situation of isolated groups

The concern with the high risk situation faced by these groups led in October 1986 to an gathering on Isolated and Recently Contacted Indians, organized by the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) and the Anchieta Operation (OPAN, today the Native Amazon Operation). Various other NGOs also took part, including UNI, CEDI, CTI and CPI-SP, as well as FUNAI, with a total of 23 participants.

The communiqué issued at the end of the event stated that “the seriousness of the situation has prompted a gathering of indigenists, anthropologists, missionaries, lawyers and representatives of the Union of Indigenous Nations (UNI) in an attempt to establish ways of working to defend the physical and cultural survival of these threatened peoples.” The document also mentions the construction of new highways from 1970 onwards and other infrastructural projects, as well as mining and mineral exploration, factors that affected these groups adversely and led to depopulation following contact with these expanding economic frontiers.

Various peoples whose populations were drastically reduced by diseases were transferred from their own lands, such as the Tapayuna, moved from the Arinos river to the Xingu, and the Panará of the Peixoto Azevedo river, contacted in 1973 in order to enable the construction of the BR-163 highway. The survivors from the latter population – 87 people from a total of 400 – were taken to the Xingu Indigenous Park. The Cinta-Larga, living in Mato Grosso and Rondônia, still numbered around 5,000 in the 1960s, but had been reduced at the time of the gathering to no more than a thousand individuals. The Waimiri Atroari, forced to make contact during construction of the BR-174 highway, planned to cut across their lands, experienced a fall in their population from around 3,000 to just 500 people.

The communiqué also criticized FUNAI for effectively abandoning these Indians: “it is unsurprising, therefore, that FUNAI is announcing its Special Plan to attract the last isolated indigenous groups, the objective of which, it seems to us, is to facilitate the implantation of new government plans (Area Development Projects, Northern Channel, etc). In response, we manifest our legitimate concern over the fate of the indigenous peoples who still bravely resist in Amazonia.” During this encounter a map of isolated groups in Brazil was made and a list compiled of the encounter’s conclusions to be circulated between the indigenist entities.

1987 > FUNAI contact specialists meet and create the Isolated Indians Coordination Team

In June 1987 the First National Encounter of Contact Specialists (Sertanistas) took place, sponsored by FUNAI and organized by Sidney Possuelo, in order to discuss the question of isolated Indians. The participants debated and assessed the difficult situation faced by recently contacted peoples and decided that FUNAI’s new policy would be to contact these groups only if they were at risk and no longer simply to free the area for infrastructural projects, as had been occurring.

To develop this policy a specific body was created within FUNAI: The Isolated Indians Coordination Team (CII), or the Isolated Indians General Coordination Team (CGII), headed by Sydney Possuelo and responsible for coordinating the change in contact policy. Instead of the former attraction fronts, which contacted the Indians to free up the areas for the construction of highways, hydroelectric plants and so forth, CII was organized by ethnoenvironmental protection fronts with the objective of protecting the region surrounding the territories inhabited by isolated groups and monitoring events and threats, as well as providing support for the identification and demarcation studies of these Indians lands, undertaken by FUNAI's Directorate of Land Matters.

At the end of the 1990s, CGII/FUNAI signed an agreement with the NGO Indigenist Work Centre (CTI) to work together on the policy of protecting isolated groups of the Javari valley, with funding from the European Union, which allowed the continuation of the activities in the Vale do Javari IT, an area exposed to heavy pressure from logging firms.

FUNAI’s isolated groups agency was directed by Sydney Possuelo, barring a few intervals, until the start of 2006, when Possuelo was dismissed from the post by FUNAI president Mércio Pereira Gomes. Coordination of CGII then fell to the contact specialist Marcelo Santos, already a member of the agency. It was later coordinated by Elias Biggio and is now under the direction of Carlos Travassos.

This Coordination is now called Coordenação Geral de Índios Isolados e Recém Contatados (CGIIRC) and has twelve Ethnoenvironmental Protection Fronts: Vale do Javari (AM), Purus (AM), Juruena (AM, PA, MT), Envira (AC), Yanomami (RR), Madeira (AM, RO), Guaporé (RO), Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau (RO), Cuminapanema (PA, AP), Médio Xingu (PA), Madeirinha (MT) e Awa-Guajá (MA).