By Rosa Gauditano
There are currently 305 tribes in Brazil, totalling around 900,000 indigenous people that speak 274 different languages.
The covid-19 pandemic has so far reached 71 tribes, according to APIB (Association of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil). By the 26th May, 1350 individuals had been infected and 147 had died.
Currently, the epicentre of the epidemic is the State of Amazonas, where 28 indigenous health professionals were found to have been contaminated with covid-19. In the Kokama tribe, on the Alto Solimões river, 42 individuals have died and after the death of a Yanomami in the State of Roraima the Hutukara Yanomami Association decided that they should move further inside the forest to escape contamination. Yanomami lands have been invaded by more than 20,000 gold prospectors.
Manaus, the capital of the State of Amazonas, is in total chaos. The Special Indigenous Health District (DSEI) confirmed that many indigenous patients who were being treated for other illnesses were contaminated at the Indigenous Health Centre, as well as in state and municipal hospitals, then returned to their villages.
The hospitals in the city of Manaus were at full capacity and now the situation is more critical outside the capital. The only hospital with an ITU outside Manaus is in the city of Tefé, approximately 522km from the capital.
The second Brazilian region most affected by covid-19 is the northeast, where indigenous people inhabit very impoverished areas. There have been 15 deaths so far in this region.
As is the case throughout Brazil, covid-19 numbers are undernotified. Sonia Guajajara, president of APIB, states that “when the numbers published by the Indigenous Health Secretariat (Sesai) are compared with those observed by the indigenous movement, they reveal startling discrepancy. In addition to the negligence of the Brazilian State, there is also institutionalised racism”.
Brazil has 34 Special Indigenous Health Districts (DSEI). They are responsible for the health care of those living in indigenous villages. However, 36% of indigenous people in Brazil live in urban areas and are not under the care of DSEI but of SUS, the Brazilian Health System, where they generally suffer discrimination.
The National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) is not fulfilling its duties as it should. It is currently headed by former police chief, Marcelo Xavier. He advisor for the Farmers’ Parliamentary Caucus in the Parliamentary Enquiry on INCRA and Funai.
Bolsonaro government’s failure to combat the coronavirus pandemic is affecting indigenous peoples in every region, aggravating what was already a very dramatic situation. In the last year, 150 indigenous territories were invaded by landgrabbers, loggers and gold prospectors, instigated by the Federal Government. They are burning forests and killing indigenous leaders. In addition, the federal government is supporting the conversion of indigenous people to Christianity by evangelical missionaries.
This week Brazilians were perplexed by a video the Brazilian Supreme Court divulged of a meeting between President Bolsonaro and his ministers. In the video, the Education Minister, Abraham Weintraub, said he hated the indigenous people, whilst the Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, talked about using this period of the coronavirus pandemic to approve deregulation reforms, simplify rules and change environmental laws to benefit the most powerful.
Between the 22nd and 28th May, the Supreme Court is deciding on draft bill PL2633, which establishes the so-called “Marco Temporal” posing a limit to indigenous claims as opposed to recognising their traditional or historical demands for land. The Decision 001/2017 by the Federal Government’s Attorney General (AGU) is unconstitutional and is being used to legalise invasions, legitimise expulsions and conceal violent acts which afflicted the indigenous peoples before the enshrinement of the 1988 Federal Constitution. If the decision goes against the indigenous people, both Brazil and the world’s environment will be directly affected.
However, it is important to stress that Brazilian indigenous people have never been better organised. This month APIB set up a large online National Assembly of Indigenous Resistance to address issues such the diagnosis of covid-19 in villages by region.
Indigenous people have been fighting for their rights for the last 520 years, so they are used to it. They are coming together to find new ways to demand better health care provision, and defend their lands and the environment.
Rosa Gauditano is a photographer, journalist and activist. She has registered indigenous people of the most varied ethnicities and regions in Brazil for over 30 years. Rosa has already documented the Karajá, Kayapó,Tucano, Waurá, Yanomami, Xavante, Guarani and Pankarau ethnic groups. In 2004, in partnership with the Xavante ethnic group, she created Nossa Tribo (Our Tribe), an NGO whose aim is to build bridge between cities to indigenous villages. She taught photography at PUC (Catholic University of São Paulo) and worked for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper and Veja. She is the author of the following books: Indios. Os Primeiros Habitantes, Raízes do Povo Xavante, Festas de Fé, Guarani M’Byá na Cidade de São Paulo and Povos Indígenas no Brasil.
Donations for food and covid-19 protection equipment:
APIB (Association of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil ) @apiboficial
vaquinha.com.br – vaca.me/952341
Mulheres Indígenas do Alto Rio Negro, Amazonas.
Zagaia Association – www.amazonzagaia.com.br
Account N.: 26585-3
Povo Mura (Rondonia e Amazonas)
Contact: Marcia Mura Maciel Tel 69 99 698 0266
Banco do Brasil:
Branch n.: 2290-X
Account n.: 20541-9
Apoime (Association and Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Northeast of Brazil and the States of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo)
vaquinha.com.br ID: 894829
Account n.: 131829-2
Guaranis (SP)- Aldeia Taquari
FEPOINCE (Federation of Indigenous Peoples of Ceará)
Bank: Caixa Economica Federal
Branch: 0919- OP003
Account n.: 5489-6
Support the peoples of the Indigenous Territory of Xingu
ATIX Mulher is raising funds. Indigenous women are the guardians of the welfare of indigenous families.
Click and donate: https://isa.to/3ceiiad
CIR (Indigenist Council of Roraima)
Banco do Brasil Bank
Account n.: 8198-1
Povo Xetá – Paraná
Aldeia Kokani Porã – Guarani M’Byá-Curitiba, PR
Kabu Institute – Kayapó Mekragnotire, Bau Indigenous Territory, Pará
Guarani Kaiowá, Mato Grosso do Sul
Chief Elizeu Pereira Lopes Guarani Kaiowá
Banco do Brasil
Bank Branch: 0743-9
Current Account: 55889-3
CPF: 847.386.501-49 (necessary to transfer money)
Povo Fulniô de Pernambuco:
Chief Itamar de Araújo Severo
Current Account: 0103358-1
Foirn (Rio Negro Indigenous Federation), Alto Amazonas
Banco do Brasil
Current Account: 17563-3
Swift Code :BRASBRRJBHE
Whatsap : +55 97 981044598
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