RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An American missionary operating in Brazil has exposed an isolated indigenous tribe to disease and possibly death, the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Affairs Department (FUNAI) said on Wednesday.
Steve Campbell, an American Christian missionary, entered the area occupied by the Hi-Merimã tribe last month, one of the few dozen tribes in Brazil that has had no contact with the outside world.
“It’s a case of rights violation and exposure to risk of death to isolated indigenous population,” a FUNAI spokesman said in a written statement to Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high.”
There is an increasing likelihood of missionaries trying to contact isolated tribes in Brazil after the appointment by President Jair Bolsonaro of an evangelical preacher as the new minister in charge of indigenous affairs, experts said.
During his campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to open up protected land and demarcate “not one centimeter” for indigenous people or quilombolas - descendants of runaway slaves.
Campbell camped in the area the Hi-Merimã occupy and invaded one of the isolated tribe’s recently abandoned camping grounds, FUNAI said.
Attempts to reach Campbell were unsuccessful.
Little is known about the Hi-Merimã, who live in the state of Amazonas.
They became known for rejecting contact with the outside world and maintaining hostile relations even with other indigenous communities.
Details about what kind of penalties Campbell may face are not clear, as FUNAI has not yet notified federal prosecutors or the police. The government agency said it will notify them this week.
According to reports from Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, Campbell claimed to have entered the area by mistake, while teaching Indians from the neighboring Jamamadi tribe to use a GPS device.
Campbell has been living among the Jamamadi for years, but received no authorization to do so, according to FUNAI.
About two months ago another Christian missionary tried to contact an isolated tribe on an island in the Bay of Bengal. The missionary he was killed by the indigenous people.
Reporting by Fabio Teixeira; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org