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Amazon Tribe Faces Extinction Due To Illegal Logging While Brazilian Government Stands By

Apr 19, 2013 02:50 PM EDT
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Illegal logging in the remote regions of the Amazon rainforest has the people of the Awa tribe running for their lives - again.

With just 450 of them left, 100 of which have never had contact with outsiders, the human rights group Survival International calls the Awa people the world's most endangered tribe. And while a Brazilian judge ordered all outsiders, including loggers, to leave the group's demarcated territory, as BBC reports that day has come and gone and no evictions have taken place.

Besides decreasing the tribe's territory, the noise generated by the logging industry in the Awa's territory has shown to be a threat to their ability to hunt: the loud noise, the locals say, drives the animals away.

"We're very worried, more and more, that the Awa are going find less food in the forest and become dependant on government handouts in the end," Alice Bower of Survival International told BBC News. "If their forest is being destroyed they will end up living on handouts and lose their way of life."

The story of the decline in Awa territory and livelihood begins in the 19th century when the tribe became nomadic in order to escape violent attacks by European colonists.

Then, in 1950, the Awa lands were drastically reduced when government policies restricted them to an area too small for them to continue their traditional way of life, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. What followed was a sometimes violent migration to the area of settlers, rangers, loggers, miners and charcoal burners who brought with them new diseases that, in a manner much like Christopher Colombus centuries earlier, decimated the tribe's numbers.

In response, some Awa were resettled by the National Indian Foundation on a neighboring tribe's land, which then led to inter-tribal tension but ultimately, it was the government delay in demarcating the tribe's land, which the UN says was the result of lobbying by local politicians, threatened the group within extinction where they remain today.

"If the settlers are evicted and the areas are protected, they should be fine," Bayer said. "We have lots of other examples of indigenous people in Brazil who do have protected areas and their numbers are recovering and they are doing very well. It doesn't take that much."

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