Murder of Two Yanomami by Illegal Miners Heightens Fears of Renewed Cycle of Violence in the Brazilian Amazon

Yanomami People

Murder of Two Yanomami by Illegal Miners Heightens Fears of Renewed Cycle of Violence in the Brazilian Amazon

Yanomami People
Photo by Victor Morayama/ISA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 30, 2020

MEDIA CONTACTS
Maryka Paquette: or +1 (619) 517-4126
Camila Rossi: or +55 11 98152 8476
Instituto Socioambiental (ISA):
Survival International: or +44 (0) 7841 029 289

The Indigenous Hutukara Yanomami Association demands a rigorous investigation of the murders and reinforces the need for the Brazilian government to immediately expel more than 20,000 miners illegally operating on Yanomami land.

Photos
Dario and Davi Kopenawa
Yanomami people and territory
Mining in the Yanomami territory

Roraima, Brazil – In a statement denouncing the murder of two Yanomami people by armed illegal gold miners on protected Indigenous territory, the Hutukara Yanomami Association raised fears that land invaders are driving a disastrous cycle that echos past genocidal violence.

According to an anonymous Yanomami witness during the first half of June, in the vicinity of Xaruna community in the Brazilian state of Roraima, a group of Yanomami visited an illegal mining camp to request food. Having received less food than requested, the witness claims they complained to the miners, who then pursued the group with firearms and murdered two of them.

“The murder of two more Yanomami by miners must be rigorously investigated and reinforces the need for the Brazilian State to act urgently and immediately remove all the miners who are illegally exploiting the Yanomami Territory and harassing and assaulting the indigenous communities who live there. We call on the authorities to take all necessary measures to stop the mining which continues taking Yanomami lives,” says the Hutukara statement. “We fear that the families of the murdered Yanomami will decide to retaliate against the miners, following the Yanomami culture’s system of justice, which could lead to a cycle of violence that will result in a tragedy.”

For decades, the Yanomami have resisted the invasion of illegal miners on their lands, but conflicts between communities and illegal gold miners remain frequent. It is estimated that more than 20,000 illegal miners currently operate within Yanomami Indigenous Territory.

Under the Bolsonaro government’s ongoing encouragement of Indigenous land invasions, the number of miners in the region has dramatically increased and native communities fear for their safety. This month’s murders are not an isolated problem and are likely to recur in other areas affected by illegal mining on Yanomami lands.

The Hutukara statement notes that a similar situation resulted in the Haximu massacre in 1993, when 16 Yanomami from the community of Haximu were murdered by miners, in the first case of genocide recognized by the Brazilian state. Twenty-seven years after the massacre, the Yanomami once again face widespread invasions of their lands.

The Yanomami witness account describes a cyclical, fraught relationship between the Yanomami and miners ever since the Indigenous territory suffered invasions of more than 40,000 wildcat miners in the 1980s. At first, miners arrive in small numbers in a community’s territory and seek friendly relations with the Yanomami, offering food and goods from the city. As the number of miners increases and their settlement becomes permanent, they feel at ease in the territory and come to regard the Yanomami as a nuisance. The Yanomami’s requests for merchandise from the city are ignored and relations become tense.

With the advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yanomami and Ye’kwana Leadership Forum launched the #MinersOutCovidOut campaign, which has already collected 300,000 signatures for the immediate withdrawal of illegal miners from the Yanomami Territory. On June 16, Hutukara and the National Human Rights Council filed a request for precautionary measures with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The measure is intended to ensure that the Brazilian government takes concrete measures to protect the Yanomami.

The campaign is supported by the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), Survival International, Greenpeace Brazil, Conectas Human Rights, Amnesty International Brazil, Amazon Cooperation Network (RCA), Igarapé Institute, Rainforest Foundation US, Rainforest Foundation Norway, and Amazon Watch.

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Updated: Using blockchain technology to protect the rainforest

Photo: Community members of Buen Jardin de Callaru.

Updated: Using blockchain technology to protect the rainforest

Rainforest Foundation US is using blockchain and related technology to track, verify, and link direct financing to communities for protecting and regenerating forests. 

Updated 25 June 2020: Please see the latest on this project below.

Rainforest Foundation and Regen Network have launched a blockchain based pilot project in the indigenous community of Buen Jardin de Callarú, Peru. We are using smart contracts to get funds directly to this frontline rainforest community based on verified evidence that they are protecting their forests.

By drastically reducing typical upfront project costs and aligning short term economic gain with long term ecological health, we are rebuilding the economics of community based forest protection. 

We aim to expand this cost effective system to communities across the Amazon, dramatically increasing the scale of investment to these frontline forest protectors that produce results that will have a global impact on our climate.

How it works

We use near real time satellite data to detect deforestation and forest cover, smartphone apps to track community level actions, and blockchain technology to issue smart contract payments to communities that have proven to protect or regenerate their forests.

Regen Network has created a blockchain based direct payments system where local communities can interface with investors and donors. This immutable system ensures that donor payments get where they need to go, and anyone can track how much went where and when.

Using a user friendly interface, businesses, institutions, governments, and individual donors can now find and pay for verified and unalterable evidence of forest protection from data sourced directly from a community and satellites.

Why we are doing this

One of the biggest challenges in tropical conservation and reforestation is ensuring that the limited funding available for on-the-ground work actually reaches the people on the ground.

All too often, funding for frontline defenders disappears in the hallways of well intentioned NGOs and what reaches the people who could put it to best use – such as indigenous communities – is only a fraction of the original sum. At the same time, foundations and corporate institutions interested in investing in front-line conservation often lack viable options that meet their monitoring, verification and transparency requirements. 

Rainforest Foundation US along with our indigenous federation partner ORPIO and tech partner Regen Network, are exploring alternatives to the traditional funding/transparency paradigm through blockchain technology. 

While the blockchain is most commonly referred-to in the same breath as cryptocurrency and feverish market runs, many believe that the real potential of blockchain tech goes far beyond digital coins. At its core, blockchain technology is essentially a transparent and immutable ledger for any type of transaction, including transactions between funding agencies and on-the-ground actors.

Through our pilot project we are exploring the possibility that communities interested in protecting their forests and reforesting destroyed or degraded habitat can connect directly with international funders via a transparent blockchain ledger and eliminate costly intermediaries. 

Our straight-forward hypothesis is that since forest cover and reforestation efforts can be easily detected by satellite, each acre protected or reforested can trigger payments from investors directly to the people or communities responsible for the work. The technology that could make this happen is already here. Frontline forest communities are ready to work. And we think impact-oriented investors are due a new and transparent model for protecting and recovering the forests of the world. 

Our Pilot Project

We are piloting this project in the Ticuna community of Buen Jardin de Callarú in the Loreto district of northern Peru. This community has agreed to collectively conserve 1,000 hectares of Amazon forest, and simultaneously undertake an ambitious reforestation project in currently degraded land. 

The community has set strict conservation rules, committing to zero deforestation for next year and beyond. The community will actively patrol their territory and monitor deforestation using their existing community monitoring program. The community investigates deforestation alerts they receive from the WRI Global Forest Watch system and investigate them using drones and other tools.

The community will be compensated for maintaining net zero deforestation through direct encrypted transfers using Regen Network’s blockchain based payment system. The community will collectively manage the funds, and funding transfers will be conditional upon the community’s compliance with an agreement signed between Buen Jardin de Callarú and Rainforest Foundation US.

The community has agreed to use the funds they collectively receive for maintaining forest cover to invest in reforestation of degraded lands. Buen Jardín de Callarú has suffered from historical deforestation from illegal logging, cattle ranching, and the cultivation of coca plantations. Families in the community have agreed to protect their collective forest and reforest at least 70 hectares in year one of the pilot project with native species. On average each hectare will be planted with 110 trees, with 100 trees expected to be successful.

Therefore, over 70 hectares, the project plans to grow 7,000 trees in year one. A hectare of Peruvian Amazon forest holds approximately 128 tons of carbon, according to official Peruvian government analysis.

The funds they receive for protecting their forest will be deposited into a communal bank account, which they are calling their “tree account” since they have collectively agreed to use these funds to cultivate seedlings that will be distributed to families to plant, tend, and monitor over the coming years.

Compliance with tree planting will be measured and verified by satellite data, as well as by the community forest monitors who will provide quarterly updates on the trees planted and their growth. This system will provide for continuous monitoring of reforestation and estimated net increase in carbon capture. This data will be attached to the blockchain. 

Update as of 25 June 2020

Thanks to the existing community-based territorial monitoring program, the community of Buen Jardín de Callarú has been able to reduce deforestation rates from approximately 10 percent annually to zero from 2018 to 2020. The community is now turning the page, from responding to deforestatino to proactively reforesting and maintaining existing forests in one of the most threatened areas of the Peruvian Amazon. The process was designed and is currently being implemented through community governance systems, such as the minga, or collective community action. The minga has revitalized community coordination to construct a local tree nursery, encourage a seedling exchange with surrounding communities, and facilitate cooperative tree planting. Since the beginning of the year, the community has planted nearly 1,000 trees in plots of previously degraded areas that are now under active management by individual families. In the region of Loreto, this system will be scaled up to plant more than 7,000 more trees in the pilot community of Buen Jardín de Callarú and in at least 12 other communities, covering upwards of 500 hectares.

Reforestation and the growth of every tree in the community plots are tracked by GPS and photographic image. The plots featured are those of community members Humbert Pisco (above) and Cahuachi (below).

Since March, COVID-19 has hit the Peruvian Amazon and the Ticuna communities engaged in the project particularly hard. Rainforest Foundation US joins the community in mourning their losses and is in regular communication to provide any additional support at this time. Though the impacts of the pandemic are tragic and real for Buen Jardín de Callarú, their continued efforts around forest protection and restoration shows their resilience as a community. Rainforest Foundation US and Regen Network will be working with Buen Jardín de Callarú to scale up the blockchain project over the coming year as conditions improve.

Rainforest Foundation US and Regen Network are initially partnering with the indigenous community of Buen Jardín de Callarú and neighboring communities in the eastern Peruvian Amazon. We intend to scale up projects in the northwest Peruvian Amazon along the Napo river basin, representing approximately 30,000 hectares in total. Remote, impoverished, and neglected tropical forest indigenous communities such as Buen Jardín de Callarú, have experienced rapacious degradation of their collectively owned forests for decades. With this partnership model we aim to reverse this trend and provide avenues for direct finance to communities to allow them to continue to protect and regenerate their forests.

We invite you to learn more or get involved by contacting: 

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Miners Out, COVID-19 Out: The Yanomami and Ye’kwana people of the Brazilian Amazon launch a global campaign to expel miners from their territory

Miners Out, COVID-19 Out: The Yanomami and Ye’kwana people of the Brazilian Amazon launch a global campaign to expel miners from their territory

Miners Out Petition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 11, 2020

MEDIA CONTACTS
Maryka Paquette: or +1.619.517.4126
Camila Rossi: or +55.11.98152.8476

Indigenous leaders demand the urgent removal of 20,000 illegal gold miners from their lands to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through their villages. The disease could infect up to 40% of Yanomami communities if wildcat mining remains, threatening a new ethnocide.

Photo Galleries
Amazon Watch
Dario and Davi Kopenawa
Yanomami People and Territory
Mining in Yanomami Territory 

Roraima State, Brazil – In a new global campaign led by a coalition of Yanomami and Ye’kwana organizations, indigenous leaders define the #MinersOutCovidOut campaign as “a cry for help against an old nightmare which has turned even more deadly.”  Launching internationally today, the campaign demands that the Brazilian government immediately remove more than 20,000 gold miners currently operating illegally in Yanomami territory.

“We are following the spread of COVID-19 in our land and are very saddened by the first deaths of the Yanomami. Our shamans are working non-stop against the xawara,” said Dario Kopenawa Yanomami, a young leader of his people and vice president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association. “Xawara” is the Yanomami word for epidemics brought by outsiders. “We will fight and resist. But we need support from the Brazilian people and people all over the world,” said Dario, who is the son of Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami leader and one of the best-known shamans in the Amazon.

The Ye’kwana is a smaller indigenous group that lives alongside the Yanomami land. Together they comprise a total of 27,000 people dispersed across one of Brazil’s largest indigenous reserves that stretches between the Roraima and Amazonas states, straddling Venezuela’s border.

The mortality rate from COVID-19 for indigenous people is double the rate of the rest of the Brazilian population. So far, more than 2,900 indigenous people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and almost 260 have died according to the Association of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil (APIB). The disease has already killed four Yanomami and there are 95 more confirmed cases among the Yanomami and Ye’kwana.

Roughly half of the Yanomami territory’s population lives in communities less than five kilometers (3 miles) from an illegal mining site. A new study by Brazilian NGO Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) calculates possible transmission rate scenarios for those villages. According to their study, in one region of the Yanomami territory, a single case of COVID-19 could result in 962 new cases after 120 days. In the worst-case scenario, 5,603 Yanomami – 40% of the population in those communities – could become infected with the virus. The study also estimates that if the illegal miners remain, between 207 and 896 Yanomami could die as a result of COVID-19 – up to 6.4% of the population in those areas. The Yanomami face a real risk of an ethnocide.

To avert a tragedy, the Forum of Yanomami and Ye’kwana Leaders is asking the Brazilian public and the global community to sign a petition to pressure Brazilian authorities to mobilize efforts for the complete and immediate removal of miners from their territory. Dario, a Yanomami leader, is the principal voice of the campaign and aims to mobilize national and global support for this critical cause.

Unfortunately, the spread of deadly diseases carried by gold miners and other invaders is not a new threat for the Yanomami. In the 1970s and 80s, the opening of roads and a major gold rush caused the death of 13% of the Yanomami population, from diseases like malaria and measles. Many elders still carry the pain of that memory; it is a part of Yanomami history. It is unfathomable that right now, thousands of miners are operating with impunity in the territory potentially exposing an entire people to COVID19, of an already acutely vulnerable population due to systemic racism and lack of access to public health resources.

According to the ISA report, the health centers that serve the Yanomami are among the least equipped in all of Brazil, as they have the lowest availability of beds and ventilators. The health centers closest to the miners invading their territory were scored worst of all. There are no pulmonary ventilators in most Amazonian municipalities. The average distance between indigenous villages and the nearest intensive care unit (ICU) in Brazil is 315 kilometers (196 miles), and for 10% of villages, that distance is between 700-1,079 kilometers (430- 670 miles). Yanomami people will have to travel almost three hours by plane to get to Boa Vista if they need an ICU with a ventilator. There are no land or river connections between the village and the capital of Roraima.

The campaign is supported by the Association of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil (APIB), Coordination of Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), Survival International, Greenpeace Brazil, Conectas Human Rights, Amnesty International Brazil, Amazon Cooperation Network (RCA), Igarapé Institute, Rainforest Foundation US, Rainforest Foundation Norway, and Amazon Watch.

Learn more and participate at MinersOutCovidOut.org

Notes

The study was carried out by the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) in partnership with the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), and reviewed by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation for Public Health (Fiocruz). Read the full study here.

The Yanomami and Ye’kwana Leadership Forum is a coalition of organizations including Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), Wanasseduume Ye’kwana Association (SEDUUME), Kumirayoma Yanomami Women’s Association (AMYK), Texoli Ninam Association of Roraima (TANER) and the Yanomami Association of the Cauaburis River and Tributaries (AYRCA).

The study looked at a number of critical health units in the territory, estimating how the transmission of the disease in these places could happen. For example, in Surucucu, a representative of the District Council for Indigenous Health (Condisi) who tested positive for Covid-19 visited the area covered by the health unit. In the worst-case scenario, assuming the most intense transmission, this single case in the region could result in 962 new cases after 120 days. If nothing were done, that means that 39% of the population served by the health post would be infected. If the mortality rate is twice as high as in the non-indigenous population, there would be between 35 and 153 deaths, using the rates in Roraima and Amazonas states respectively. 

According to a study by the non-profit InfoAmazonia, read it here.

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Rainforest Foundation US was founded 30 years ago to promote the rights of indigenous peoples living in the rainforest and to support them and other forest communities in their effort to protect and defend their territories. 

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SOS Rainforest Live: Major artists unite in support of indigenous guardians of the rainforests threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic

SOS Rainforest Live: Major artists unite in support of indigenous guardians of the rainforests threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 3, 2020

Updated as of June 17, 2020

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Kim Chaix: or +1.917.378.8670
Other media contacts listed below

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – On June 21st, major international artists will join in solidarity with indigenous peoples for a livestream concert to raise awareness and support for indigenous forest guardians under extreme threat from the coronavirus.

Participating artists include Sting (Rainforest Foundation Founder), Gilberto Gil, Caetano, Veloso, Milton Nascimento, Carlinhos Brown, Aurora, Jorge Drexler, Ana Vitoria, Manu Gavassi, Anitta, Sandy, Maná, Seu Jorge, Manu Chao, Gaby Amarantos, Tony Garrido and Maria Gadú.  They will be joined by indigenous leaders, activists and celebrities including Actress Oona Chaplin, model and activist Gisele Bündchen, photographer Sebastião Salgado, Expert Climatologist Antonio Nobre, and Actor, Comedian and Writer Stephen Fry. For a full list, please visit SOSRainforestLive.org

All net proceeds from the event will go directly towards the COVID-19 relief effort in rainforest areas and on projects and advocacy to support indigenous and local communities in their efforts to protect their environment.

The livestream will be broadcast on TikTok, YouTube and other platforms in Brazil and around the world: 3:00pm New York City and Manaus, 16h00 São Paulo, 20h00 London and 21h00 Oslo.

In addition to broadcasting the livestream, TikTok, the platform for short cell phone videos, has committed to donate up to $300,000 to the SOS Rainforest LIVE event through livestream viewership and by hosting a dance challenge following an official SOS Rainforest Dance. All dance videos uploaded to the platform between 21-28 June 2020 that include the hashtag #SOSRainforestChallenge will qualify. See more dances on Rainforest Foundation’s TikTok account.

With destruction of tropical rainforests a key driver of global emissions, biodiversity loss and increasingly linked to disease outbreaks, protecting these forests is more critical than ever. Evidence is building that the best way to achieve this is to empower indigenous peoples and other forest guardians to secure, manage and protect the rainforests they call home.

But while the world is looking elsewhere, many areas are witnessing a surge of forest destruction and land invasions from illegal miners and loggers – further exposing local communities to COVID-19 and exacerbating the climate crisis.

Suzanne Pelletier, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation US, said “indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus due to their greater susceptibility to respiratory and viral diseases and poor access to adequate medical facilities. Yet they are the ones protecting the ecosystems that safeguard the world from the rise of major pandemics in the first place. We must join together to support indigenous peoples now.” 

SOS Rainforest LIVE is being organized by Rainforest Foundation Norway, UK and the US.

Learn more and participate at: sosrainforestlive.org

Notes

SOS Rainforest LIVE will include featured artists such as Sting, one of the founders of the Rainforest Foundation, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, Carlinhos Brown, Aurora, Jorge Drexler, Ana Vitoria, Manu Gavassi, Anitta, Sandy, Maná, Seu Jorge, Mathilda Holmer, Maria Gadu, Tony Garrido, Aurora, Aterciopelados, Manu Chao, Allan Parsons, Gaby Amarantos, Tropkillas + Duda Beat + Afro B, Lyla June, Lisa Simone, Jupiter and Okwes, Sandrayati, OMI, Dj Soul Slinger and Jorge Mautner, Evandro Mesquita, George Israel, Vanessa Falabella and Zeca Baleiro.

SOS Rainforest LIVE will have the distinguished presence of indigenous peoples’ and other environmental defenders from the world’s major tropical rainforests including : Sonia Guajajara from the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB) and Dario Kopenawa Yanomami from Hutukara Associação Yamomami from Brazil and Rukka Sombolinggi of the Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), among others.

The event will also feature messages from experts such as renowned climatologist Antonio Nobre and high-profile figures such as photographer Sebastião Salgado and Wagner Moura. The event will be co-hosted by Oona Chaplin of Game of Thrones and Avatar, and Brazilians Letícia Sabatella, Camila Pitanga, Maria Gadu and Toni Garrido.

Indigenous and NGO partners include: The Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB), the Hutukara Associação Yanomami, Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), and Conselho Indígena de Roraima (CIR) in Brazil; Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN); DRC’s APEM and Cameroon’s APIFED; and Peru’s Organización Regional de los Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente (ORPIO).

See for example: https://rightsandresources.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Stockholm-Prorities-and-Opportunities-Brief.pdf

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Rainforest Foundation was founded 30 years ago to promote the rights of indigenous peoples living in the rainforest and to support them and other forest communities in their effort to protect and defend their territories. Since its founding, the Rainforest Foundations of Norway, the UK and the US have together supported indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect more than 72 million hectares across four continents.

The event is being produced by Pedro Paulo Carneiro (general director), Analuisa Anjos (executive producer), with Ivan Sawyer (production assistant), Maryus Rydal (production assistant) and Lucas Tomas Neves (transmission coordinator).

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Daniela supports the overall administration of Rainforest Foundation US’s work in Peru, with a recent focus on supporting the program’s COVID-19 response. Prior to joining Rainforest Foundation, Formerly, Daniela administered the Casa Andina hotel network in Peru. She holds a degree in Business Administration and is a native Spanish language speaker.