An indigenous land with a date set to end, a public study that points out the region where it is as a promise for the country’s mining and a fledgling mining cooperative that got ahead of all the big companies and divided the area for themselves.
This is the combination of factors that could soon lead to the extinction of the piripkura in northern Mato Grosso.
After surviving attacks that nearly decimated their people in the 1970s, the last piripkura live isolated on an indigenous land (TI) whose use restriction ordinance expires on 18 September.
If it is not renewed, the legal protection of the territory of Pakyî and Tamandua ends, as the only two known inhabitants of the area are called.
“Everything indicates that Funai will not extend it,” warns Ricardo Pael Ardenghi, the Republic’s attorney in Mato Grosso. He filed a lawsuit in court to force the maintenance of the reserve, but four days before the deadline (which ends on Saturday, 18), there has been no decision yet.
In addition to showing no signs that it will maintain protection for piripkura, nine months before the ordinance expires, in December 2020, the federal government chose precisely the region that covers the traditional territory to launch the first of a series of “maps of the gold”.
The Anomaly Charts, prepared by the Geological Survey of Brazil (CPRM), point out the places where there are more chances of finding precious metals in all of northern Mato Grosso — including the piripkura area.
After that, the Guaporé Valley Miners Cooperative, created in 2020, asked the National Mining Agency (ANM) for an area twice the size of the indigenous land itself to mine gold, diamond, manganese and tin.
There are 575,000 hectares required in 65 mining requests — 63 of them initiated after the CPRM study became public.
“Our expectation is to be the cooperative with the largest ore production in Brazil, in the short term”, projects Ezequiel Alves, one of the partners in the enterprise.
If authorized, according to Alves, the first extractions should take place within four or five months.
In addition to Vale do Guaporé, seven other cooperatives, companies and individuals requested authorization to explore the subsoil surrounding the TI after the disclosure of the Letters of Anomalies.
From 1994 to 2020, the region registered 119 applications. After the National Geological Survey charts were published, there were 202, an increase of 70% in just eight months.
To follow up on requests for subsoil exploration, InfoAmazonia consulted the bases of ANM’s Geographic Information System for Mining (Sigmine), with data referring to August 26, 2021.
The director of Geology and Natural Resources at CPRM, Marcio Remédio, however, rejects the idea that the state-owned documents are stimulating greed for the area.
“The data indicate potential areas for occurrences of mineral resources, but also areas of aquifer recharge and other fundamental information for understanding the physical environment. The view that geoscientific data are only for discovering mineral resources is outdated and wrong”, he defends.
There are also 55 requests for mining exploration superimposed on the traditional territory, which are listed as inactive in the ANM database. Mining within indigenous lands is not allowed in Brazil.
“I have no doubt that [a portaria] it’s what holds the miners out. Today there is a certain respect. There is no point in making the application inside the land because the process will not progress”, believes the indigenist Fabrício Amorim, a member of the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated Indigenous Peoples and Recent Contact (OPI).
“Certainly the great hope of the miners is that the ordinance will not be renewed”, agrees Ricardo da Costa Carvalho, a researcher at Opan (Operation Amazônia Nativa), an entity that has released a report on the threats to isolated indigenous peoples in Mato Grosso.
The mining siege adds to the old threats from loggers, land grabbers and ranchers who invaded the territory even after the TI gained temporary protection.
“The few remnants of the piripkura are already at risk of life. The moment the ordinance ceases to apply, the invaders will go inside and kill the indigenous people. And then there is no turning back,” predicts Ardenghi.
The fear is the same as that of Rita Piripkura, the third known indigenous person of the ethnic group, who lives outside the TI.
“There are a lot of people walking there. They’re going to kill them both. If they kill, then there’s no more,” says Rita in a video released by the NGO Survival International to press for the renewal of the ordinance.
The decision that restricts the entry, movement and permanence of people within the 240,000 hectares of the TI, with the exception of the staff of the National Indian Foundation (Funai), has been continuously renewed since 2008, with a duration of three years. The last time was in 2018, during the Michel Temer (MDB) government.
It is a stopgap given the delay in completing the demarcation, which has dragged on since the indigenous people were contacted in the 1980s.
Elias dos Santos Bigio, a researcher at Opan and former general coordinator of Isolated Indians and Newly Contacted at Funai, says that he has already heard from Pakyî, Tamandua and Rita Piripkura that there are other relatives living in the area.
They are the survivors of an extermination process that began in the 1970s, when landowners settled in the region, with the support of the Mato Grosso government, and deforested gigantic areas.
In the following decade, —at the time of Funai’s first contacts with the piripkura — there were still between 15 and 20 indigenous people living in voluntary isolation in the region.
“It’s a mystery: where are the rest of the piripkura that existed in the 1980s? Have they died? It’s hard to know, they don’t talk about it much,” ponders Amorim, from OPI.
“In our opinion, as long as there is doubt about the existence [de outros remanescentes], it is necessary to keep the indigenous land as big as it is”, he says.
Until 2007, when a Funai expedition located Pakyî and Tamandua, they had remained without any kind of contact for ten years.
Even after that, they were rarely seen, such as the day the pair went to the Funai base to ask for a fire to relight their torch, a moment that made history in the documentary “Piripkura” (2017).
Although the remnants maintain their traditional culture and language, there are doubts about how long they will resist the pressures.
“Everything indicates that they abandoned the fields and villages to adopt a somewhat nomadic way of life. They became collectors, fishermen and hunters, because the enemy is coming after them, occupying their territory and usurping natural resources”, says Ariovaldo José dos Santos, a retired Funai employee who participated in the first expeditions to locate the piripkura.
Watch below a rare encounter between the three known piripkura, recorded in 2010 during a Funai expedition.
In addition to the piripkura, the OPI, ISA, Coiab and Survival International campaign alerts to the need to renew the ordinances of three other TIs of isolated peoples: the territories of the pirititi, in Roraima, and the jacareúba/katawixi, in Amazonas, both with legal protection until December 2021, and Ituna/Itatá, in Pará, which expires in January 2022.
When contacted, Funai did not say whether the ordinance would be renewed, but declared that it “will adopt administrative and technical measures” on studies that are being prepared to “support decision-making”.
He also added that there is a trained technical group working on issues related to the Piripkura TI and stressed that “territorial protection actions are the main mechanism for the protection of isolated and recent contact indigenous peoples”.
The report was produced by InfoAmazonia with support from Opan (Operation Amazônia Nativa).