Indigenous peoples of Brazil

Missionary loses responsibility for peoples in voluntary isolation (Press Release)

The General Coordination for Isolated and Newly Contacted Indigenous Peoples of the Brazilian Indigenous Protection Agency (FUNAI) will be under new management. Indigenous organizations have been up in arms against the previous director – anthropologist and missionary Ricardo Lopes Dias – since his appointment nine months ago. Last Friday, November 27, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice announced his dismissal in the Brazilian Official Journal after lengthy legal battles.

"From the very beginning, there was a conflict of interest between the policy of zero contact to these peoples – as governed by the Brazilian constitution – and the missionary goals of the head of the agency," explained Juliana Miyazaki, expert on indigenous peoples at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "His dismissal is good news. His position within FUNAI had caused considerable feelings of unease among many indigenous people, and for good reasons." At the end of August 2020, Lopes Dias coordinated a mission that had almost breached the quarantine stations of the isolated indigenous peoples in the Javari Valley – the area with the most indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation.

Contacting these peoples by force can have catastrophic consequences for them. "Their immune systems are unresponsive to our common pathogens. Even without a pandemic, forced contact can be fatal for these peoples," Miyazaki reports. "As the corona virus spreads, the danger is even greater. Among the Yanomami and Ye'kwana alone – peoples under the responsibility of Lopes Dias – a third of indigenous people has already been infected". Evangelical missions are also often a gateway for criminals. "There are many invaders who want to lumber and slash-and-burn the areas in order to search for gold, or use them illegally for soybean cultivation and cattle breeding," Miyazaki said. "They often use violence and contribute to devastating deforestation and extreme forest fires." Only last Thursday, the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples, a non-governmental organization, reported on FUNAI's plans to halve the area of the Ituna Itatá indigenous territory. There, too, indigenous peoples live in voluntary isolation.

Ricardo Lopes Dias was appointed to his position at FUNAI in February this year. He maintains relationships with mission organizations, including the Missão Novas Tribos do Brasil (Mission of the New Tribes of Brazil, which pursue the evangelization of the indigenous peoples. In May, he was suspended by the National Court of the 1st Region. In June, the Supreme Court reversed the decision. Following an agreement with the then-president of the court, Minister João Otávio de Noronha, Lopes Dias was able to remain in office for the time being.