Deep in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, the Munduruku tribe has been searching out and expelling illegal “wildcat” miners encroaching on their territory.
The tribe’s actions come after their leaders travelled to the capital last year to demand the government remove non-indigenous miners from their land. Rather than wait for a court decision to start the process - which could take years - the Munduruku took matters into their own hands.
20 Jan 2014. CABURUA RIVER, Brazil. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho
With the help of boats they said were supplied by Brazil’s Indian affairs agency, Funai, the Munduruku have already dismantled several wildcat mines.
Miners operating without government licenses independent of large companies are common in both the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon. They are known for using high levels of mercury that pollute local water sources.
Tribe members told Reuters that the Munduruku are sometimes called upon to do heavy labour for the miners, known as garimpeiros, in exchange for food, a small amount of gold or small sums of money. They also fear they may already be the targets of hired hit men.
Indians across Brazil say non-indigenous presence in their territories threatens their safety and unique culture, both of which are protected by the constitution.
25 Jan 2014. KADIRIRI RIVER, Brazil. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho
In addition to the wildcat miners, the Munduruku’s territory is also being affected by efforts to dam the Tapajos river and build new roads for exporting soy and corn crops.
Tribal leaders plan to resist the construction of the Teles Pires and Tapajos hydroelectric dams in Mato Grosso and Para states and have previously joined other tribes in protesting Belo Monte, which will flood large swathes of the Amazon once complete.
Their struggles come as South America's largest country is still grappling with unresolved indigenous land issues and has become one of the world's clearest examples of the conflict between preserving indigenous culture and promoting economic development.
The government says indigenous groups are consulted before energy projects that affect them are built, in accordance with international law.
28 Jan 2014. TAPAJOS RIVER, Brazil. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho
The area around the Tapajos River, inhabited by the Munduruku.