Photos Spur Debate on Protecting "Uncontacted" Tribes

June 3, 2008

New photos of an "uncontacted" Amazonian tribe and aerial video of their camp (watch below) have intensified the longstanding debate over how such tribes are labeled and what strategies to employ to protect them from developers.

Among the key questions: Should these people be contacted? And are they truly uncontacted in the first place?

The photos, released last week by the Indian affairs agency of the Brazilian government, or FUNAI, show several Amazon natives in loincloths firing arrows at a passing aircraft from near palm huts. (See the new photos.)

A statement by Survival International, a tribal-rights group, quoted Jos Carlos dos Reis Meirelles of FUNAI as saying the photo was taken to "show they are there, to show they exist."

The group's statement referred to comments made last year by Peruvian President Alan Garcia, as well as top officials at the country's oil agency, PeruPetro, casting doubts on the existence of the uncontacted native groups. (PeruPetro did not respond to interview requests for this story.)

(Related: "Oil Exploration in Amazon Threatens 'Unseen' Tribes" [March 21, 2008].)

In response to the photos, an umbrella group of native rights organizations in South America called CIPIACI on May 30 asked Peruvian authorities to stop native displacement, which it said is caused largely by illegal logging and evangelists.

Ronald Ibarra Gonzales, an official with Peru's agency for indigenous peoples, DGPOA, told the newspaper El Comercio the same day that officials are mobilizing to investigate the matter.

"A professional team will go to the place to gather information and determine if illegal logging has displaced this community," Ibarra said.

Really Uncontacted?

The FUNAI photos, as well as others taken in Peru this year, are prompting many to ask what the term "uncontacted" actually means.

Continued on Next Page >>


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