Brazil maintains ban on Catholic missionaries trying to contact tribes

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Brazil’s highest court upheld a ruling last year that bans missionaries from trying to come into contact with isolated indigenous tribes.

The Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruled in favor of the group, which took legal action to protect these isolated people from the influence of foreigners.

Brazil introduced a law in 1987 that required these tribes to be protected, but legislation accepted in July 2020 allowed religious missionaries to stay inside reservations that contained isolated indigenous peoples.

Mongabay Reports that the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (OPI) was furious with the decision and has launched a lawsuit against the new federal law.

Credit: G. Miranda / FUNAI / Survival

OPI lawyer Carolina Ribeiro Santana said the July decision attempted to “legitimize something that is already prohibited” and said it was “important to have a decision that reassures indigenous politics” during what she called an “anti-native government”.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has previously called for “integrating” the country’s indigenous peoples into the wider community.

He also employed evangelical leaders in key positions in his administration.

Ricardo Lopes Dias, an evangelical missionary, was ironically hired to lead the Isolated Tribes Unit of the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency.

There have been concerns for the isolated tribes amid the coronavirus pandemic as they will have no way to combat the effects of the virus and it could wipe them out. They also don’t have immunity to things like the flu, measles, and malaria.

In addition to this, the missionaries have been accused of causing these indigenous tribes to renounce their long-held cultural beliefs and practices.

Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Andrew Tonkin, an American evangelical Baptist missionary, was planning to visit an isolated tribe in Brazil last year, but a federal court barred him from coming.

In addition to this, the court also requested the expulsion of the missionaries still inside the region of Vale do Javari, which is home to the largest number of isolated indigenous people in the world.

Eliésio Marubo, a lawyer representing the indigenous people of Vale do Javari, told Mongabay that while the federal court’s decision was huge, it didn’t do much on the ground.

“They are staying at the borders of the reserve, trying to co-opt people,” he said. “Missionaries have harassed us for 60 years. They have helicopters, planes, and they fly from here to the United States.

The court was told that it would be difficult to get the missionaries out of the area because it was not clear that the isolated tribes did not consent to their presence.

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