By Artur Sgambatti Monteiro* and Dr. Nicole de Paula
The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be an unprecedented challenge for different aspects of our global society and made the unbalance among our countries and continents even more striking. Beyond the tragedy, this crisis also opens a window of opportunity for a healthier future, if we make the right choices and support the most vulnerable groups. We write to share the painful reality of the Indigenous peoples in Brazil, exponentially worsened since the COVID-19 has hit the world.
Brazilians from the Kokama people mourning the death of Messias, chief of their tribe. In the mask states “Indegenous lifes matter” (AlJazeera – Michael Dantas, 2020).
“Whereas the middle and upper classes are dealing with the boringness, familiar tensions and daily personal neurosis; the poor face hunger, fear of unemployment and of death.” (Brazilian historian Leandro Karnal, 2020)
This quote encapsulates the spiritual and physical state of many people around our planet, our common home. However, the quote also showcases how the COVID-19 pandemic is differently impacting people according to their social and economic status. The experience of the pandemic engulfs all levels of inequalities and disparities in our societies. It could not be worse for traditional native communities around the world. In fact, the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil are going through a double crisis. One is the new lethal virus and the other is an attack to their homes to serve the hunger of a fast-paced economy that continues to measure success based on an equation directly linked to environmental degradation.
The problem is that their home is our home too. As Brazilians and professionals working for a healthier and more sustainable future, we are personally touched by this degrading situation.
The current crisis has been particularly violent for the Brazilian indigenous communities. For instance, in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, apart from the well-known rampantly expanding deforestation, we are facing one of the worst Corona related carnages. Counting with a poor health system, completely isolated cities and a schizophrenic political (un)commitment the impact of the pandemic is devastating.
While federal and states governments are fighting for the “final word” of how dealing with the problem, the population doesn’t receive clear guidance or sufficient information and hundreds are dying at home with no medical assistance.1 Despite the considerable smaller population and density, the Brazilian state of Amazonas has over 6,800 cases per million inhabitants (As of 25nd May, Germany has~2,160).
Beyond the still pressuring deforestation, a concerning reality comes from the indigenous populations. They account for 0.5% (900,000) of the Brazilians and live in both towns and indigenous territories (mostly located in the Amazon, occupying around 13% of the country’s area). Adding to a centuries long persecution the pandemic imposes a new challenge for them, due in part to their usually weak immunological system and precarious infrastructure (see Science, 2020).
Different indigenous organizations in Brazil, such as Coiab4, Apib5 and Foirn6, are stressing the eminent genocidal scale of the governmental omission and organizing donation channels as an international strategy for awareness raising and commitment building. They also appealed to the World Health Organization (WHO) to create an urgent emergency fund to fight Coronavirus impact in indigenous lives. It is important to state that 1) most of them are lacking the provision of food, medical equipment and, most importantly, health assistance and 2) such traditional native communities by occupying and living in the forest must be perceived and supported as the uttermost protectors of the forest and its biodiversity, which is essential to safeguard planetary health.
Given this bleak scenario and the indifference of top Brazilian governmental leaders, we count on your solidarity to protect the guardians of our forests.
We are sharing a list of trusted organizations, which would immensely benefit from your support and attention. Every little wave of solidarity can turn into a tsunami of good will and help to safeguard the megadiverse region of the Amazon. Lastly, once you think this message is pertinent, I would like to ask for you to forward the message form persons and groups you believe could be interested in supporting them.
APIB – (Articulation from the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples)
APIB is one of the biggest indigenous organizations in the country, represents a vast range of peoples and are working in different areas combating the outbreak. They organized the Indegenous Quarentine site together with other organizations to monitor the spread. They have a crowd funding campaign called Vakinha for major Corona related actions in different territories.
CIMI – (Missionary Indigenist Council)
Historically, CIMI is one of the most prominent institutions supporting indigenous populations in Brazil. They act in the whole country and support their organization, also politically in different scales and against various threats (persecution, land grabbing and invasion,). Even not being a grass root organization their support is been fundamental for decades. Sadly their site does not have an English version but their support link follows here.
ATIX – Xingu – (Womens from Xingu Indigenous People Territory, State of Pará)
Support to 875 families in the region to buy food and hygiene materials to families isolated due to the Covid 19. Donation link.
CITA – (Indigenous Council Tapajos-Arapiuns)
Support to indigenous families in the lower Tapajós river, in the State of Pará. A region of many conflicts and the expansion of the agribusiness boarder and illegal gold miners. Link to donation.
Solidarity Fund to Kayapo Mekragnotire People – Support to 294 families (3,000 people) from 12 tribes in voluntary isolation to stay in their villages. Link to donation.
2- Check Sebastião Salgado appeal, Brazilian photographer and winner of the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels.
3- Check ISA (Socio-Environmental Institute) Covid-19 and indigenous peoples monitoring initiative (English available).
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
* Artur Sgambatti Monteiro is a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainable Studies (IASS-Potsdam) & Alexander von Humboldt Foundation International Climate Protection Fellow
** Dr. Nicole de Paula is the Executive Director and founder at the Women Leaders for Planetary Health & the first Klaus Töpfer Sustainability Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainable Studies (IASS-Potsdam).