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Last uncontacted tribe in Paraguay rapidly losing homeland

Last uncontacted tribe in Paraguay rapidly losing homeland

Last uncontacted tribe in Paraguay rapidly losing homeland
November 19, 2008

An indigenous rights’ group has sounded the alarm over a new threat to an uncontacted tribe in Paraguay.

Survival International, a London-based NGO that campaigns on behalf of indigenous people, has sent an emergency submission to the United Nations about destruction of forest occupied by the members of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe, the last of Paraguay’s uncontacted Indians. The Totobiegosode’s land is being converted to cattle pasture by two Brazilian companies: Yaguarete Pora SA and River Plate SA. Yaguarete’s environmental license to work in the area has recently been revoked by the country’s Environment Ministry.

A group of Totobiegosode emerged from the forest in 2004, including these men pictured, but some remain uncontacted. Image courtesy of Survival International.

Ojnai Etacori, a Totobiegosode leader, voiced her concern.

“All this land belonged to our ancestors, but the white men are going to destroy it all,” she told Survival. “I am also very worried about this destruction, because we don’t know where exactly the people still in the forest are living. I have a sister among them. This is why we don’t want the white people to destroy more of the forest with their bulldozers.”

Aerial photo of Chaco forest being cleared for cattle pasture. © GAT

‘We believe this is currently the most serious threat to tribal peoples anywhere in the world,’ reads a statement from Survival to James Anaya, the UN’s ‘Special Rapporteur’ on indigenous issues.

‘Unless the Paraguayan government takes urgent measures to stop the deforestation extremely quickly, the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode will have little chance of surviving.’

The statement warns of potential for violence between the Totobiegosode and company workers as well as the risk of disease to the tribe upon contact with outsiders.

“We hope that the UN can step in and help save the Totobiegosode from being wiped out,” said Stephen Corry, Survival’s director.

The land in question is owned by the companies but their title is in dispute given that the area is the traditional territory of the tribes. Satellite imagery indicated the companies have been illegally clearing forest land and the government has launched an investigation. Earlier this month, Yaguarete barred a government team from entering the area.

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