Alleged Massacre of Uncontacted Tribe Members Spurs Probe in Brazil

Uncontacted Indians in the Brazilian Amazon, filmed from the air in 2010.
Uncontacted Indians in the Brazilian Amazon, filmed from the air in 2010. (Image credit: Survival International)

Brazilian authorities are investigating reports that gold miners killed about 10 members of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon rainforest.

The alleged killing took place last month along the Jandiatuba River, in a remote part of the Amazon near Brazil’s border with Peru, according to FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs department.

The probe began after two illegal gold miners, known as "garimpeiros," were overheard talking about the attack in São Paulo de Olivença, a town in the state of Amazonas. [Gallery: Images of Uncontacted Tribes]

The miners allegedly bragged about the killings in a bar, showing off a carved paddle taken from the tribe as a trophy, The New York Times reported.

The miners were arrested but so far no physical evidence has been found to prove the massacre, according to a statement from FUNAI.

The indigenous rights group Survival International warned that such an attack could mean that a large percentage of the tribe has been wiped out.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, said in a statement that the Brazilian administration under President Michel Temer would "bear a heavy responsibility for this genocidal attack" if the reports are confirmed.

These burnt communal houses of uncontacted Indians were seen in December 2016 and could be signs of another massacre in the so-called Uncontacted Frontier. (Image credit: Survival International)

The Guardian reported in July that FUNAI’s budget under the current administration was nearly halved this year, forcing the agency to close dozens of its regional offices and three bases that are involved in protecting isolated tribes. One FUNAI official told The Guardian that land grabbers, loggers and miners were taking advantage of the situation to encroach on indigenous territories.

"All these tribes should have had their lands properly recognized and protected years ago," Corry said. "The government’s open support for those who want to open up indigenous territories is utterly shameful, and is setting indigenous rights in Brazil back decades."

In recent years, groups like Survival International have raised the alarm about an increase in sightings of uncontacted tribes in Brazil, warning that encounters with loggers, miners, drug smugglers and tourists could be deadly for tribe members, not only due to violence but also disease.

Original article on Live Science

Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.