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‘Controlled Contact’ Illegal and Dangerous Say Indigenous Leaders

Indigenous people from Latin America are warning that the idea of controlled contact with un-contacted people is illegal and dangerous.
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Indigenous people from Latin America are warning that the idea of controlled contact with un-contacted people is illegal and dangerous; they've written an open letter of protest to the two U.S. anthropologists who advocated the idea in an editorial in Science magazine earlier this year.

"We the undersigned organizations wholeheartedly reject the proposal of U.S. anthropologists Robert Walker and Kim Hill to forcibly contact uncontacted tribes. The proposal is both dangerous and illegal, and undermines the rights that Indigenous Peoples have fought long and hard for," read the letter signed by 10 indigenous organizations from Brazil, Paraguay and Peru, and supported by Survival International (SI) an advocacy group supporting tribal peoples.

In the anthropologists’ editorial, published in June, Walker and Hill argued that "a well-designed contact can be quite safe" in comparison to the many disastrous interactions that have been occurring in this hemisphere for several centuries. The anthropologists asserted that with the trained and culturally competent personnel, the contacts could be "humane and ethical."

The indigenous leaders disagree. "The anthropologists claim that uncontacted tribes are unviable, but this dangerous myth plays into the hands of those who wish to invade and exploit tribal people’s ancestral homelands. The real threats against uncontacted tribes’ futures are genocidal violence, the invasion of their lands and theft of their natural resources, and prevailing racist attitudes," the wrote.

For SI, one of the glaring problems with the anthropologists plan involves their assertion about the “success” story of the Northern Ache people of Paraguay. The anthropologists did not mention that by the time of the cited interaction with the Ache, over 38 percent of their people had died “as a result of first contact.” The Ache are now suing the government of Paraguay for this genocide.

RELATED: Genocide of the Ache People of Paraguay Will Be Tried in Argentina

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One of the indigenous leaders who has joined the criticism of the anthropologists plan is the internationally known Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami shaman and President of the Hutukara Yanomami Association.

RELATED: ‘We Don’t Want to Die Again’: Yanomami Leader Kopenawa

“The place where the uncontacted Indians live, fish, hunt and plant must be protected. The whole world must know that they are there in their forest and that the authorities must respect their right to live there” Kopenawa said. The Yanomami have been advocating for the removal of gold miners on their lands in Brazil.

One of the other reasons why the pro-contact plan has drawn international attention is due to Peru’s announcement this year of their intention to attempt a controlled contact with the Mashco-Piro people. This effort was also met with strong opposition from indigenous and allied peoples.

RELATED: Protect the Uncontacted: Peru’s Plan for Isolated Peoples

As of press time, neither editors at Science nor Anthropologists Walker and Hill have responded to the open letter.