The Yanomami struggle against illegal mining in Brazil
The massive invasion of illegal miners in the Yanomami lands in Roraima and Amazonas states in Brazil is causing irreversible damage to the environment and threatening the very survival of indigenous peoples. A new shocking report released by the Hutukara Yanomami Association, 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate, reveals that illegal groups of miners destroyed around 200 hectares of forest (approximately 200 football fields) in the first quarter of 2021 alone.
According to a report released in May 2021 by the Hutukara Yanomami Association, two flyovers on April 7 and 9 obtained evidence of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, confirming information from satellite images that monitor illegal mining in the region. Panoramic photos show the devastating impact of gold mining on the upper of the Catrimani, Mucajaí, and Parima rivers, areas that were subject to recent police operations. The images demonstrate complex prospectors’ camps with clandestine airstrips, bars and an undercover ferry operation on the Ajarani River. They also show how airstrips that are exclusive to the communities of Homoxi and Kayanau, which allow the community to access urgent medical care, are regularly used by miners to illegally access the territory.
Furthermore, the miners’ presence directly threatens the Yanomami’s lives by bringing diseases like COVID-19 that, according to the National Indigenous Life and Memory Committee, has killed more than 1000 indigenous people in Brazil since the outbreak of the pandemic. In June 2020, Yanomami leaders had launched the global campaign #MinersOutCovidOut which demanded the Brazilian government the immediate removal of miners operating in their territory.
The Yanomami lands have been under attack for decades, but in recent years violence has reached unprecedented levels. In June 2020, two indigenous youth aged 20 and 24 died during a conflict with two illegally armed miners. In May 2021, the Palimiú region saw approximately ten days of conflict that resulted in three miners killed, four injured, and one indigenous person with a gunshot wound. On May 12, Dario Kopenawa, vice president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association, reported to the Brazilian authorities that two Yanomami children, aged 1 and 5, had died on May 10 in connection to an armed attack. Frightened by the gun fires, the Yanomami children ran towards the Uraricoera river, where they were found drowned two days later.
On May 24, the Brazilian supreme court issued a decision ordering that Bolsonaro’s government take immediate measures to ensure the protection of indigenous peoples living in Yanomami lands. The decision authorised environmental inspectors to destroy machinery and instruments used in illegal mining and criticised the federal government’s lack of transparency in protecting indigenous peoples.
The Right Livelihood Foundation remains deeply concerned at the recent escalation of violence and reiterates its unconditional support to the Yanomami people and all indigenous people in Brazil who are suffering this social and environmental catastrophe.
We urge that illegal gold miners, equipment, and instruments be removed immediately from Yanomami territory and that those responsible for the clandestine activities be properly prosecuted. The competent Brazilian authorities such as the Federal Police, the Federal Public Ministry, FUNAI (National Indian Foundation), and the Ministry of Defense must promptly act to protect the safety of indigenous peoples, with due respect to Brazilian law and Constitution.
No more indigenous lives should be unjustly lost and the forest needs to be left in peace, to breathe and recover.