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Yanomami woman and her child at Homoxi, Brazil, June 1997.

Yanomami woman and her child at Homoxi, Brazil, June 1997. Foto: Cmacauley/Wikimedia

Yanomani Genocide: The Brazilian state reacts and takes measures

27 January, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

On January 24, 2023, the Minister of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, Sonia Guajajara, said that the PF (Federal Police) and the IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) with the support of the Ministry of Defense, will take the miners out of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, an area that suffers from a lack of medical attention and faces cases of severe malnutrition and malaria.

In statements to the press, the minister explained that illegal mining is at the base of this serious situation, because it leads to mercury contamination in the water they drink and in the land where the indigenous people live, which prevents them from producing their own food as they have always done – from cassava to pumpkin and potato – and generates insecurity to circulate within the territory, to collect the food they need.

Although the use of mercury to separate gold from other sediments is old, the situation worsened exponentially during the management of the previous government as public policies were dismantled, the legalization of mining was defended, agribusiness was promoted, mining companies and even standards aimed at guaranteeing indigenous people access to basic services such as drinking water, hygiene material or basic food baskets were vetoed.

On January 23, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) released the Public Notice “Tierra Indígena Yanomami”, in which it makes public its judicial and extrajudicial actions in the search for effective solutions for the protection of this people and others who inhabit the same territory[1]. It highlights the firm commitment of the institution to continue acting to curb illegal mining and other illegal activities in indigenous territories, to expel invaders from Yanomami Lands and other peoples, such as the Munduruku and Kayapó, as well as to strengthen the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI) and the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (SESAI).

The document mentions several actions taken by the MPF demanding, for years, concrete actions from state institutions to address the serious situation of these Indigenous Peoples, without adequately addressing them.

However, the measures adopted by the Federal Government were limited, which is why, already in 2020, the MPF filed a new public civil action (ACP 1001973-17.2020.4.01.4200) that intended to condemn the Union, FUNAI, IBAMA and ICMBio to the presentation of an emergency plan for an effective territorial monitoring of the Yanomami Indigenous Land, fight against environmental crimes and the expulsion of environmental violators (mainly garimpeiros), in the context of the covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, so far, neither these actions, nor any others recommended, have been taken for which, in the opinion of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, the serious health and food safety problems suffered by the Yanomami people, among others, result from the inability of the State to guarantee the protection of their lands for Brazilians. In fact, in recent years there has been an alarming growth in the number of garimpeiros within the IT Yanomami, estimated at more than 20 thousand by the Hutukara Associação Yanomami.

Let us recall that, in July 2022, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights accepted a request from several indigenous organizations in Brazil ordering the Government to protect the basic rights of indigenous peoples, such as access to food and drinking water, as well as prevent sexual exploitation and violence against women and children, among other actions.[2]

President Lula, already since his electoral campaign, promised to protect the Amazon and especially the indigenous territories. Upon arriving at the government, he created the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, appointing Sonia Guajajara, who became the first indigenous minister in the history of Brazil, as well as Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous deputy in this country, to head the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), which was renamed the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, several dozen officials of military origin of FUNAI were dismissed, ratifying the change of direction of the institution.

So far, the set of actions taken is very auspicious, being desirable that it is the beginning of a sustainable change in favor of the individual and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples and the environment, an essential objective in Brazil and the whole world.


[1] From the Federal Public Ministry, Attorney General’s Office, 6th Chamber of Coordination and Review, Indigenous Populations and Traditional Communities, in Public Note – Yanomami Indigenous Land, PGR-00022463/2023, Brasília, January 23, 2023. https://www.mpf.mp.br/pgr/documentos/pgr-00022463-2023-ti-yanomami-1.pdf

[2] Inter-American Court of Human Rights, adoption of Provisional Measures, Subject members of the Yanomami, Ye’kwana and Munduruku indigenous peoples with respect to Brazil, July 1, 2022. https://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/medidas/yanomami_se_01.pdf