Yanomami in the Brazilian Amazon Respond to Persistent Attacks from Illegal Miners, Remain Without Federal Protection

After a month of conflict, the Yanomami are now forced to carry out territorial surveillance due to negligence by the Bolsonaro government

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One of the many illegal gold mining sites in the Yanomami Territory. Photo credit: FUNAI

Roraima, Brazil – Illegal miners fired shots at yet another Yanomami village. On June 5, criminal miners entered Indigenous territory and threw bombs towards the Maikohipi village, in the Palimiú region, where seven Yanomami communities are located. These villages are on the banks of the Uraricoera River. Dário Kopenawa Yanomami, vice president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HYA), said that the criminals were in four boats and, threatened the 580 residents of Maikohipi with firearms "As the attack began, the Yanomami had to take refuge in the bushes before the miners entered their community."

In a new letter sent on Monday, June 7 to the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), the Federal Police (PF), the Army, and Funai, Dário Kopenawa demands immediate actions for the community. "We insist that they work to prevent the spread of illegal activity and the consequent spiral of violence to ensure the safety of Indigenous communities in Palimiú and the Yanomami Indigenous Land."

On Tuesday, June 8, HYA sent a letter to the Brazilian authorities about the attack and asking, once again, for action. "This new attack shows that the miners will continue to attack the Yanomami people. White people think the attacks are over, but they are still going on. We have already asked that you send permanent security protection to the region. Until now, the public institutions have not responded to our requests," said Dário to the Amazônia Real news agency. "They are attacking us and making our people sick, the situation remains tense, nothing has calmed down. The Yanomami are still at risk because they don't have any protection, we don't have security."

The miners' assault of the Yanomami began on May 10, when the Palimiú village (which bears the same name as the region) was targeted by invaders. The climate of terror ensued in the following days. Indigenous communities have not received, so far, police protection and permanent security from the federal government, despite a court order.

"Threats are advancing. The entire Palimiú region is at risk. There are many illegal miners. They are going up and down our territories trying to intimidate us. Taking pictures, swearing, showing firearms, something has to be done, and it has to be done urgently. The people are scared, very scared," shared Dário.

Indigenous leaders are receiving increasingly explicit death threats from the miners. Without police protection from the Brazilian government, the Yanomami decided to secure the communities on their own. Now the Yanomami are providing surveillance throughout the night.

"We are doing our part. The Yanomami warriors are protecting themselves there," said Dário Kopenawa. "The leaders are monitoring, staying one meter away from the river, when they see the miners they inform our brothers to hide and look for ways to protect themselves against attacks."

Background

Attacks in the Palimiú region began in early May when miners aboard seven boats and carrying firearms, fired at Indigenous people who fought back. Five people were injured, one Indigenous person, and four miners. Two Yanomami children drowned amid the panic throughout the village from the gunshots during the attack.

A day after the first attack, Federal Police agents were received at gunpoint by men who were on a boat on the Uraricoera River near Palimiú village. The violent reception surprised even the federal agents, who withdrew from the scene, leaving the Yanomami unprotected. On the 12th, the community reported to HYA that about 40 boats circulate through the Palimiú region, intimidating and threatening Indigenous people. On the evening of Sunday, May 16, they attacked the Yanomami again, this time using tear gas. The invaders arrived in fifteen boats.

The illegal gold market that exploits the Yanomami Territory, in addition to the environmental impacts, presents an escalation of violence against Indigenous peoples. A recent report by the Hutukara Yanomami Association shows aerial images of the unchecked expansion of illegal mining in Yanomami territory, with deep craters, camps adjoining Indigenous villages, and even restaurants and bars for illegal miners.

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