Forest people elders are typically leaders and keepers of culture, so their loss is especially destabilizing.
COVID-19 kills the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, the poor and vulnerable. It is now doing so in the Brazilian Amazon where the virus killed nine Munduruku indigenous elders in just a few days. Forest people elders are typically leaders and keepers of culture, so their loss is especially destabilizing.
Officially, 218 indigenous people had died of COVID-19 and 2,642 were infected as of 7 June. But experts say that the numbers are at least three times higher, with poor government recordkeeping and Amazon community remoteness resulting in a severe undercount.
The Munduruku, Kokama, and Xavante groups are already seeing cases, with the virus now threatening Brazil’s two largest indigenous territories: Yanomami Park and Javari Valley Indigenous Territory. These two reserves are home to most of Brazil’s uncontacted peoples. COVID-19 spread there would be a disaster.
Indigenous groups are pursuing independent efforts, such as setting up COVID-19 communication websites, to protect their communities. In response to what they call government inaction, indifference and blundering, advocates remind the Brazilian government and the world that “indigenous lives matter.”