A group of illegal prospectors fired shots at an indigenous village in the state of Roraima in northern Brazil on May 10.
A video of the attack, filmed by members of the Yanomami community living there, is proof of what the Yanomami have been saying for years. , that violence in their territory has increased sharply since the arrival of nearly 20,000 illegal gold miners.
As the clashes continue throughout the week, local organizations are calling for more security forces.
Locals filmed the video on May 10 in the village of Palimiú, which is part of the Alto Alegre municipality, located in the northern part of Roraima state. The video shows a motorboat passing a village on the banks of the Uraricoera River. Several shots sound and a number of people, including children, run to seek shelter.
The following day, a federal police team was sent to Palimiú to investigate these clashes and the possible presence of criminal groups among the illegally operating gold miners in Yanomami territory. During this intervention, there was a shootout between police and miners, according to research media agency Amazonia Real.
‘There is a massive invasion of illegal miners in Yanomami territory’
Since 2019, nearly 20,000 prospectors have entered Yanomami territory illegally and started working there. Social media reports from local indigenous rights organizations denounce the invasion and highlight the environmental damage: mining pollutes the soil and waterways with toxins such as mercury, which is used to separate gold from stone. In 2020, these groups launched a mass campaign to remove the miners from the Yanomami area.
But as local communities resist illegal mining, so does the violence and intimidation they experience. The JowharObservers team spoke with Júnior Hekurari Yanomami, the Chairman of the Council for Yanomami and Ye’kuanna Indigenous Health (Condisi-YY), who said the most recent attack by miners is the third they have launched against Palimiú in less than a month.
He says the miners lashed out at the residents of this village, which re-established a “health barrier” in April to prevent people from entering the territory during the pandemic. These barriers also make it possible to control the entry of miners, and sometimes their equipment is confiscated. Júnior Hekurari Yanomami explains:
The miners are used to crossing Palimiú to bring food and materials to the main mining sites in Yanomami territory. However, the Palimiú community established a health barrier in a strategic location, which the miners struggled to pass by. On April 24, the Yanomami intercepted the miners’ boats and their fuel. That same day there was a shootout in Palimiú, which we reported to the authorities. A second attack took place on April 27. However, the heaviest attack took place on Monday, May 10.
Authorities know that a massive invasion of illegal prospectors has taken place in Yanomami territory and the number has been increasing since 2019. Threats to the local population have also increased. Last year, miners killed two young people. In February, a group of illegal miners carried out an attack in the Uraricoera region and seriously injured a Yanomami.
In this video, Júnior Hekurari Yanomami and several other residents of Palimiú explain that a group of miners drove to their village in three different boats around 11 a.m. on May 10, and that a gunfire lasted about 10 minutes. © Condisi-YY
The days after the attack remained tense. In a letter to the United Nations that the JowharObservers team was able to view, a local group, Hutukara Yanomami, explained that on May 12 they were told that miners’ boats were near the site of the attack. occurred. place two days earlier. On May 13, there was a firefight between miners and the army. The organization called for “the permanent presence of authorities in the region” to ensure the safety of communities “left alone to defend themselves”.
“We demand immediate intervention from the federal government and the deployment of federal troops,” said Júnior Hekurari Yanomami. The federal prosecutor’s office has also called for security forces to be deployed to Palimiú to protect the population from new attacks.
This screengrab is from a video posted on social media by miners in Palimiú. © DR
On May 17, Hutukara Yanomami and another local organization, Condisi-YY, reported new clashes in Palimiú. The night before, 15 boats approached the village and men on board the boats fired at villagers and released tear gas canisters.
An uncertain toll
Júnior Hekurari Yanomami says locals told him that three miners were killed in the skirmishes on May 10, when villagers responded to the attack by firing arrows and firing shotguns. The federal police have not confirmed this toll.
In a statement released on May 15, the Hutukara Yanomami group reported the deaths of two children, who were believed to be lost and then drowned while fleeing the gunfire.
On May 12, police in Roraima reported that a miner was killed after being shot in the head near an illegal mining area in Yanomami, although they did not link this incident to the Palimiú conflict.
‘We are at risk of another bloodbath’
Several indigenous rights organizations in Brazil condemned the violence.
“We are at risk of another massacre,” wrote an organization called APIB, whose name roughly translates to the expression of Brazil’s indigenous people in a note published May 13. The Roraima Indigenous Council called on the institutions to act rather than “remain inert.”
While Brazilian law currently prohibits mining in indigenous areas, President Jair Bolsonaro is strongly in favor of changing that. In February 2020, Bolsonaro signed a bill that would open up indigenous areas to mining. It hasn’t been approved yet, but activists say this pledge has fueled the gold rush.
>> Read more about the observers: how illegal miners are invading the indigenous areas of Brazil
Despite a judge’s ruling calling for the removal of prospectors from Yanomami territory, mining continues. Other indigenous areas in Roraima state have also been invaded in a similar fashion, including Raposa Serra do Sol, where aerial photographs documented the presence of illegal miners.