Survival Alert: Brazil Misses Deadline to Save the Awá From Extinction

One year ago, a Brazilian judge ruled to protect the world’s most endangered tribe of human beings. That ruling must be put into effect.

the Awá tribe illegal loggers brazilian rain forest

Time is running out for the Awá tribe, as illegal loggers keep destroying their forest home. (Photo: © D Pugliese/Survival)

Sarah Shenker is a campaigner with Survival International.

Survival Alert is a fortnightly update on the state of indigenous peoples around the world from Survival International. Founded in 1969, Survival International is the globe’s foremost organization working for tribal peoples’ rights.


Exactly a year ago, Jirair Aram Meguerian, a federal judge in Brazil, recognized that the situation of the Awá tribe was so critical that he ruled all invaders in the tribe’s heartland must be evicted within 12 months. He was following the advice of several experts who had warned of “genocide” and the possible “extinction” of the Awá, who live in the northeastern Brazilian Amazon, if nothing was done to protect their land.

The deadline has come and gone, and Brazilian authorities have not evicted a single person from the Awá territory most devastated by logging.

The Awá have become known as Earth’s most threatened tribe. Their small population, severely outnumbered by the invaders on their ancestral land, is witnessing the forest around them being destroyed quicker than almost any other Indian tribe in the Amazon.

The uncontacted Awá are at great risk of attacks by loggers, and vulnerable to diseases brought in from the outside to which they have little immunity. A common cold could kill them.

Time is of the essence. As the rainy season comes to an end, a growing number of illegal loggers are flooding into their forest yet again. Logging trucks carry lumber out of the reserve around the clock, rapidly decimating the forest the Awá depend on for food, shelter and a spiritual home.

The Awá are also increasingly scared to leave their communities to go into the forest to hunt. Loggers have been spotted only three miles away—less than an hour’s walk—and trees have been marked for felling as little as two miles away. The Awá live in constant fear of attacks by the loggers. Entire families have been massacred in the past.


Children of Brazil’s Guarani tribe have come out in support for the Awá. (Photo: © Survival)

At this rate, soon there will be no forest left for the Awá to live, hunt and gather food in. They are particularly concerned about their estimated 100 relatives who are still uncontacted (meaning they avoid contact with mainstream society). The uncontacted Awá are at great risk of attacks by loggers, and vulnerable to diseases brought in from the outside to which they have little immunity. A common cold could kill them.

Haikaramoka’a, an Awá Indian, recently told a Survival International researcher: “The loggers are ruining our forest. They have built roads. We are scared; they could go after the uncontacted Indians. We are scared because the loggers could kill us, and the uncontacted Indians.”

But a global movement has been gathering for the Awá, as celebrities lend their profiles and supporters spread the campaign’s symbol, the awáIcon, on famous landmarks around the world. The icon has been photographed in London’s British Museum, over Rio’s Sugarloaf mountain, above Berlin’s TV tower, near the Eiffel tower in Paris and even as street art. The Guarani and Awá Indians themselves have been showcasing the campaign’s urgent message of “Brazil: Save the Awá,” and Brazil’s football fans preparing for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil have joined in too.


Actress Gillian Anderson has called on Brazil to save the Awá. (Photo: © Survival)

Hollywood actress Gillian Anderson said, “We must as human beings collectively wake up and help save the Awá, the Earth’s most threatened tribe. We cannot have another people become extinct due to the negligence and greed of others. We all have a duty.”

All it needs now is for Brazil’s Justice Minister to put a stop to the illegal invasion of the Awá’s land. He has already received nearly 50,000 letters in support of the tribe. Now he needs to act and send in the federal police to evict the invaders for good.

Take part to Save the Awá and send an urgent message to Brazil’s Justice Minister here.

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