Pubdate: Tue, 09 Aug 2011
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2011 The Toronto Star
Author: Kenyon Wallace, Toronto Star 


One of the world's last uncontacted Indian tribes in the Amazon
rainforest is nowhere to be found after a guard post protecting the
indigenous clan was attacked by suspected drug traffickers, Brazilian
authorities say.

A preliminary survey of the tribe's lands near the Envira River on the
western Brazil-Peru border by government officials has revealed no
trace of the tribe, the existence of which was made public in February
with the release of rare aerial photographs.

Fiona Watson, research director of the tribal peoples' rights group
Survival International, which is working with the Brazilian
government's Indian Affairs Department, told the Star her organization
fears for the survival of the indigenous tribe -- believed to have
about 200 members -- after a backpack believed to have belonged to a
drug trafficker was found with a broken arrow inside.

She said the reported discovery of a package containing 20 kilograms
of cocaine in tribal lands has authorities worried that drug
traffickers are using the Envira as route to gain entry into Brazil.

"The fear is that even if these uncontacted Indians haven't been
targeted and killed by drug traffickers, the more people that come
into the area increases the likelihood that there will be some sort of
encounter with the tribe, meaning the risk of transmitting diseases
becomes higher," Watson said. "These people have been isolated for so
long that they have no immunity to things like colds and the flu.
That's a huge concern."

Carlos Travassos, the head of Brazil's Indian Affairs Department
(commonly referred to as FUNAI, its Portuguese acronym), said arrows
are the "identity cards" of uncontacted Indians. He believes Peruvians
crossing the border forced the tribe to flee.

"We are more worried than ever," he said in a statement released by
Survival International. "This situation could be one of the biggest
blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in
recent decades. It's a catastrophe."

The government has a strict non-contact policy concerning isolated
tribes. It opts to set up guard posts to ensure that others do not
encroach on their territory.

The guard post within the tribe's territory was ransacked late last
week, with the perpetrators making off with large quantities of
ammunition, Watson said. It is believed that some of the attackers are
taking refuge in the nearby jungle.

Another possible cause of the tribe's disappearance, Watson said, is
the proliferation of illegal logging along the Peruvian side of the
border, which is believed to be forcing other uncontacted tribes to
cross over into Brazil.

"The Brazilian authorities are very worried about this, because they
feel sooner or later there will be violent clashes between various
different uncontacted groups who have very clear notions of
territory," she said.

The tribe, likely part of the Pano linguistic group that inhabits the
border between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, is one of 14 uncontacted
settlements in the region, according to FUNAI. All groups face threats
from logging, mining, illegal fishing and hunting, and even missionary
work, the department says. 
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