June 08, 2008

Protecting isolated Natives

Twilight for the Forest PeopleSydney Possuelo, a former director for unknown tribes at Funai, is given much credit for establishing the practice of not contacting isolated people. The government’s policy now is to demarcate lands where they still live and put them off limits to developers. Though the settlements are monitored from time to time, no attempt is supposed to be made to intrude or assimilate the people into the outside culture.

In an interview two years ago with BrazilMax.com, a travel Web site, Mr. Possuelo said he once believed that contact and assimilation benefited these people. “But as I went about my work, I saw that it was really bad for them,” he said. “They get diseases. They lose their autonomy. They become dependent on our world.”

This attitude is a far cry from previous experience. Almost ever since the rubber boom in the 19th century, indigenous people have been forced off their lands to make way for rubber extraction, logging, mining and ranching. Lately, cocaine trafficking in some parts of South America has contributed to the problem. As a result, the uncounted numbers of those surviving on their original land are now few.
Comment:  Too bad Westerners didn't figure out 500 years ago that contacting Native tribes inevitably harmed them. Or rather, too bad they didn't listen to the few people who undoubtedly did figure it out.

For more on the subject, see Those Evil Europeans.

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