Illegal mining in Brazil not only devastates the environment, it also threatens the existence of the country’s last major isolated indigenous community through the spread of coronavirus. Emily Goddard reports.
Isolated in the heart of the Amazon, Dario Kopenawa Yanomami’s father is working with shamans and the spirits of the forest to weaken the xawara, the word Brazil’s indigenousYanomami community uses for epidemics brought in by outsiders.
As the eldest son of respected Yanomami leader and shaman Davi Kopenawa and vice president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association, Dario is in the fight too and is being led spiritually to prevent his community from being decimated by the novel coronavirus brought to the area by non-indigenous people.
“We, the Yanomami people of the forest, are not responsible for the emergence of new diseases,” he says. “We live with nature, we know the forest system, and how the environment works. We know that we should not cause problems for her, we know about the balance between Yanomami life and Mother Earth.”
But Covid-19 has already reached Brazil’s indigenous population of around 850,000 people. Some 43,524 indigenous people from 161 different communities have been infected with the virus in the country, and 901 have died, according to the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples.
Cases of coronavirus rose by more than 250 per cent in Yanomami territory in the states of Roraima and Amazonas from August to October, according to a report produced by the Yanomami and Ye’kwana Leadership Forum.
About 5,600 Yanomami – about 40 per cent of the population – could be infected with Covid-19, according to a study that considered only the villages close to illegal mining areas. The loss must not be underestimated and could render the community endangered.
“This moment is causing my people and I a lot of pain,” Dario says. “Elderly people have survived a long time, cared for many families, and led our community. The elderly hold generational memory and pass on Yanomami history. When they die, we lose a piece of history from the first peoples born in the forest, even as other leaders continue to teach the new generations.”
Dario is the leading voice of a campaign, Miners Out, Covid Out!, that demands the Brazilian government removes miners to curb the advance of Covid-19. […]