Isolated tribes celebrate land victory

Two of Brazil's smallest and most isolated tribes now face a more secure future after President Lula ratified (signed into law) their land. The signing of the decree took place on Brazil's national 'Indian Day', April 19.

The six members of the Akuntsu tribe are believed to be the last survivors of their people. The Akuntsu and the Kanoê tribes were contacted in 1995 by field workers from FUNAI, the government's Indian affairs department. The rapid invasion of their forest by cattle ranchers has killed most of their people and destroyed their homes and livelihood. Just three Kanoê survive in this region.

The survivors tell of bulldozers flattening their communal houses, and family members being killed in violent clashes with armed farm hands or dying from introduced diseases.

The six Akuntsu and three Kanoê Indians live in two villages in the Omerê area of Rondônia state. They are surrounded by vast cattle ranches whose owners have already succeeded in substantially reducing the size of their territory.

So great was the greed of one rancher to steal their land that, even after FUNAI first mapped out the territory, he deliberately tried to wipe out the Kanoê by offering them poisoned food. A Kanoê woman and child died after eating the food. Now, for the first time in decades, they can live in peace without the constant fear of invasion.