Two Yanomami men who were killed recently were illegal gold miners on their reservation in the northern Amazon region, according to a statement released by the tribe, the largest in Brazil that is relatively isolated from the outside world.
The two men were killed with shotguns after a group of Yanomami approached the miners’ camp on June 12 to ask for food in the mountainous Serra de Parima region, a remote corner of the vast reservation on the Venezuelan border in Roraima state, the Hutukara Yanomami Association said on Saturday.
The tribe is imploring Brazil’s government to evict more than 20,000 miners illegally prospecting for gold on their land in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 160 people and killed five members of the tribe.
One young tribesman was killed as the group departed from the camp and another died after a chase by armed miners, the statement said.
The tribe’s leadership only learned about the June 12 clash on June 23 and the circumstances are being investigated by the federal police, who went to the area where the bodies of the men, aged 24 and 20, were still lying in the rainforest.
“They were killed for no reason,” Junior Hekurari, head of the Yanomami health council, Condisi, told Reuters news agency. “It is so sad to die on your own land.”
Mining threatens Indigenous lands
Brazil has experienced a new gold rush in recent times, with illegal miners emboldened by lax enforcement and looking to stake their claim to parcels of land as president Jair Bolsonaro works to open Indigenous reservations to legal mining.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, fears have also grown that the miners have spread infections among remote Indigenous communities. A court last week ordered the government’s Indigenous affairs agency, Funai, to reopen three abandoned posts for monitoring the reservation and work to remove the gold miners in light of the health threat.
Meanwhile, Indigenous rights organisation Survival International has called on Brazilian authorities to take urgent and decisive action to remove the illegal gold miners and bring to justice those responsible for the most recent killings.
“If not, we fear there will be will an escalation in violence which could result in further bloodshed, as happened in the gold rush of the 1980s-90s,” said Fiona Watson, advocacy director at Survival International.