Covid-19 is a serious threat to indigenous peoples

Voluntarily isolated communities fear forced contact (Press Release)

Picture: Katie Mähler via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to Regina Sonk, expert on indigenous peoples at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), the corona pandemic is an especially serious threat to indigenous peoples all around the world. "Indigenous peoples are especially treatened due to their marginalized social situation. Access to healthcare is often restricted, and the scope for political campaiging is currently very limited."

"Naturally, those who actually want little or no contact with the outside world and live in voluntary isolation are extremely vulnerable," Sonk explained. "On Tuesday, the indigenous protection agency FUNAI authorized its regional coordination offices to make direct contact with isolated indigenous communities because of the pandemic, if they consider this necessary." According to Sonk, this is deeply worrying, although actual steps like this have not yet been taken – and, hopefully not be taken in the future. "In addition, indigenous communities in Brazil's Amazon region have informed us that Evangelicals have been increasingly active in missionary work for some weeks now," Sonk added. "The notorious evangelical Missão Novas Tribos are planning a helicopter visit soon. In view of a possible corona infection, visits like this are utterly irresponsible."

For indigenous people who live far away from large cities, it is difficult to access hospitals and possibly needed intensive medical care. Preventive measures such as working from home are a privilege that indigenous people cannot fall back upon. Those who work in agriculture must continue to sell their produce at markets or in some informal manner.

At the political level, the fight for indigenous rights is currently on hold. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, the main forum for indigenous peoples from around the world, has been postponed indefinitely. The same applies to the Brazilian land rights camp 'Acampamento Terra Livre', in the scope of which several thousand indigenous people demonstrate for their land rights every spring in the capital Brasília.

"Indigenous communities are now facing the challenge of defending their rights even in these times. Understandably, health precautions don't allow for larger demonstrations or gatherings. But meetings among themselves are central to organizing the political struggle," Sonk emphasized. This is a welcome opportunity for many governments to quietly pursue their anti-indigenous policies. Therefore, international observers should pay particular attention to the laws and regulations that are emerging in the shadow of the corona crisis.

Header image: Katie Mähler via Flickr