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“A cry for help against an old nightmare which has turned even more deadly”: that is how Yanomami and Ye'kwana leaders define the #MinersOutCovidOut campaign, launched in Brazil on Tuesday, June 2nd. The campaign, led by a coalition of Yanomami and Ye'kwana organizations, demands that the federal government urgently removes the more than 20,000 gold miners currently operating in the Yanomami Territory in Northern Brazil.
The recent history of the Yanomami is marked by the spread of diseases carried by gold miners and other invaders. In the 1970s and 80s, the opening of roads and gold rushes caused the death of 13% of the Yanomami population from diseases such as malaria and measles. Many old people still carry the pain of that memory. Now, the thousands of miners in the territory are potential vectors of transmission of Covid-19, and could bring about mass contamination of an already very vulnerable population. Learn more about the potential impact of the pandemic on Yanomami communities here.
"We are following the spread of Covid-19 in our land and are very saddened by the first deaths of the Yanomami. Our shamans are working non-stop against the xawara," says Dario Kopenawa Yanomami, a young leader of his people and vice president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association . "Xawara" is the Yanomami word for epidemics brought by outsiders. "We will fight and resist. But we need support from the Brazilian people and from people all over the world", adds Dario, who is the son of Davi Kopenawa, one of the best known shamans in the Amazon.
The #MinersOutCovidOut campaign is an initiative of the Yanomami and Ye'kwana Leadership Forum, which is a coalition of organizations including Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), Wanasseduume Ye'kwana Association (SEDUUME), Kumirayoma Yanomami Women’s Association (AMYK), Texoli Ninam Association of Roraima (TANER) and the Yanomami Association of the Cauaburis River and Tributaries (AYRCA).
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The campaign includes a petition to legislative authorities, Rodrigo Maia and Davi Alcolumbre, Eduardo Fortunato (president of IBAMA), ministers Fernando Azevedo (Defense) and André Mendonça (Justice) and Vice President General Hamilton Mourão to free the Yanomami from exposure to the pandemic spread by garimpeiros. The campaign calls on all authorities to mobilize efforts for the complete and immediate removal of miners from the Yanomami Territory, at the risk of going down in history as responsible for thousands of deaths and the genocide of the Yanomami.
#MinersOutCovidOut also takes the message of the leaders of the Yanomami Territory to the Brazilian public through a film created by the agency Wieden + Kennedy, with historic images of the villages and people impacted by other epidemics in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Dário Kopenawa is in the town of Boa Vista, far from his community, to guarantee the defense of his people and their territory. Back home in the village, his father Davi Kopenawa and other shamans are watching over his health and fighting xawara with shamanism. Dário contracted Covid-19, but has recovered. Now, restored, he will take the Yanomami's voice and call for help to the world. To increase direct dialogue with government authorities and opinion leaders, the young Yanomami leader has joined Twitter, and will use it to inform his followers of the pandemic's progress in the Yanomami Territory and to mobilize support for the campaign.
The #MinersOutCovidOut campaign is supported by the Coalition of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), Coordination of Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), Survival International, Greenpeace Brasil, Conectas Human Rights, Amnesty International, Amazon Cooperation Network (RCA), Igarapé Institute, Rainforest Foundation US and Rainforest Foundation Norway.