These are the latest news from the Uru-eu-wai-wai who when they were first contacted in 1981, disease and death followed shortly thereafter. They had limited antibodies to fight foreign pathogens, infectious diseases which took a toll. From a community numbering in the thousands more than half died. When the coronavirus epidemic arrived in Brazil in March 2020, the events of the 1980s loomed large in the community collective memory so they took the quick decision to isolate their seven villages completely from the rest of the world. No visitors, no outside contacts, this decision was taken by a new young emerging leader BITATE who experienced the devastating loss of his grandfather. BITATE also took the decision to create a self-documentation team and teach the youth to use the video camera for recording during their lockdown considering that the federally demarcated territory suffers from an onslaught of invaders, including illegal miners, loggers and land grabbers which needed to be recorded as far as possible.
Today the Uru-eu-wai-wai are the guardians of an expansive indigenous territory covering 18,670 square kilometers of Amazonian rainforest, and are also the guardians of three different indigenous groups of yet-uncontacted people living within the confines of the demarcated territory. These isolated indigenous groups are among the most vulnerable in Brazil and are completely unaware of the ongoing pandemic.
Therefore more than ever they need to be protected and the URU-eu-wai-wai are very aware of the danger as some uncontacted groups have begun emerging from the forest, which suggests that the presence and pressures of illegal loggers and miners has been increasing within the territory.
Observers point to President Bolsonaro ‘s aggressive policies and anti-indigenous rhetoric as the drivers of these invasions by those involved in Amazon extractive industry.
Along with all this, indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon face a severe lack of public health infrastructures which does not help the monitoring and cure of the COVID 19.
As of June1,2021 Brazil has confirmed more than 16,5 million COVID 19 cases and around, 462,791 deaths, with 229,566 cases and 5,758 deaths in Rondonia.
But the URU- eu- wau- wau were well prepared for the self- reliance required under BITATE leadership and the exemplary work of Kaninde and ECAM who with the financial support of RAINFOREST FUND, its constant contact were instrumental In monitoring and helping the communities.
The good news now is that after a year of isolation the URU-eu-wai-wai welcomed health professionals into their territory to administer the first vaccine recently.
As Rainforest FUND we shall reflect on the lessons learned so far from the indigenous voices at the front lines of intersecting cultural conflicts, and welcome leaders like BITATE who are charting new paths in environmental leadership who managed to assert a long overdue control over their territory and their own story. by creating a youth documentation team who can tell their real story.
Dr. Franca Sciuto