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Brazilian indigenous chief fears tough times ahead for own people

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Yanomami and Yek’wana leaders gather at a meeting in the center of a village, holding hands, and spell out the message they want to send to Brazil and the world: no more mining! (File photo)

Shaman Davi Kopenawa, chief of the Yanomami people who live on Brazil's largest indigenous reservation, fears a pending Supreme Court decision on native land claims could worsen an onslaught of aggressive mining encouraged by President Jair Bolsonaro.

"The machines will scrape off the skin of Mother Earth and wound it," he told Reuters in Brasilia, where thousands of indigenous protesters gathered last week to protest ahead of the landmark ruling.

Kopenawa said illegal gold miners, emboldened by Bolsonaro's criticism of native land protections, are invading his people's ancestral lands on the border with Venezuela in growing numbers and using automatic weapons to intimidate the Yanomami.

In the past, wildcat miners brought influenza and malaria that killed hundreds of Yanomami, but today the danger is the spread of COVID-19 that has taken nine of their people so far.

On Wednesday, the top court will discuss an appeal by the Xokleng tribe against a position adopted by Brazilian governments since 2016 that claims to indigenous land can only be recognized if tribes were living there when the constitution was ratified in 1988. The Xokleng were expelled from much of their land in 1952.

The ruling will affect 230 pending land claims, many of which offer a bulwark against deforestation in the Amazon. A defeat in court for the indigenous people would set a precedent for the rollback of native rights advocated by Bolsonaro and backed by powerful farming interests.

"Our territory was registered and signed by the federal government in 1992, but they want to reduce its size because Bolsonaro says it is too large for so few people," the 66-year-old shaman said in an interview.

Some 29,000 Yanomami live in 360 villages spaced out over the 96,650 square kilometers (24 million acres) of reservation, about the size of Portugal, stretching from northern Brazilian savannah into the Amazon rainforest.

An internationally renowned spokesman for the Yanomami, Kopenawa is the author of "The Falling Sky," a poetic account of his initiation as a shaman, his first encounters with outsiders and an appeal to save his people's culture and the rainforest.

(Source: Reuters)


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