Yanomami Fighting Gold Miners

It's all about the gold.
There has been another invasion of Yanomami lands in the Brazilian Amazon, and this one is looking the same as the last. In the 1980s, there was a similar gold-rush to the Yanomami lands, and they took up arms to fight it. That fight was less than successful as upwards of 4000 Yanomami perished due to a combination of the violence and disease from the gold prospectors. Today, the Yanomami are prepared to fight again.

An article in the New Internationalist details this new gold rush through the eyes of a Yanomami shaman who has traveled to Europe in efforts to gain international support. The article claims that about 3000 miners are now working illegally on Yanomami lands, and their work not only threatens the Yanomami, but also the environment. According to the shaman:
‘They come on illegal runways and bring food and material for mining,’ Davi explains. ‘They cut the trees and make holes about three or four metres deep. All the dirt that comes out fills the river, and the mercury they use is dangerous. The fish get ill and die and the animals that drink the water also die. The huge puddles of dirty water they leave behind spread malaria because they attract mosquitoes. We get ill from bathing and drinking. This is why I have come to Europe – I’m going to try talking to politicians to see if they can put pressure on the Brazilian Government to stop this.’
The story doesn't end there however, as the miners are not the only threat to the vitality of the Yanomami and the land on which they live:
"Gold mining is not the only threat faced by this community. Davi tells me that three military barracks have already been built on Yanomami land by order of the Brazilian Government, and that more are planned for the border with Venezuela. The barracks are allegedly to bolster national security, but they are more likely to please the US, which is anxious to support any policy that threatens Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. At best, the Yanomami people will have their way of life disrupted by more illness and intrusion; at worst, they’ll be caught in a crossfire beyond their control."
The story of the Yanomami brings to light the plight faced by indigenous peoples around the globe. When granted land-use rights at all, indigenous peoples have historically been forced to live on parcels of land that have been marginal to the dominant society. Unfortunately, it is on these very lands that new pockets of wealth are being found - gold in the Amazon, oil in Belize, timber in Asia. In the end, indigenous peoples can not seem to find any respite.

And check out this short video about gold mining in the Amazon:

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  1. Glad to see they fight back. How did the 1980 conflict end? Government ever step in?

  2. Anonymous10:31 AM

    It's crazy that this hybrid of colonization/invasion/blatant theft and disregard happens so frequently and yet is so ignored. ARghh.

  3. From Survival International:
    "During the 1980s, the Yanomami suffered immensely when up to 40,000 Brazilian gold-miners invaded their land. The miners shot them, destroyed many villages, and exposed them to diseases to which they had no immunity. Twenty percent of the Yanomami died in just seven years.

    After a long international campaign led by Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, Survival and the CCPY (Pro Yanomami Commission), Yanomami land in Brazil was finally demarcated as the ‘Yanomami Park’ in 1992 and the miners expelled.

    However, after the demarcation gold-miners returned to the area, causing tensions. In 1993, a group of miners entered the village of Haximú and murdered 16 Yanomami including a baby. After a national and international outcry a Brazilian court found five miners guilty of genocide. Two are serving jail sentences whilst the others escaped. This is one of the few cases anywhere in the world where a court has convicted people of genocide."


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