"The Amerindians have understood that the Whites can do nothing for them"

Anthropologist, research director at the Research Institute for Development (IRD), Bruce Albert is, from Uruguay, a fervent defender of the cause of the Yanomami of Brazil with whom he has worked since 1975. He is the author of several books on the situation of the Amazon Indians and the ethics of anthropological research, including The Fall of Heaven. Words of a yanomami shaman with Davi Kopenawa (Plon, Paris, 2010).

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Why is coronavirus so dangerous for indigenous people?

This virus is first and foremost dangerous because the Amerindian peoples have no more immunity than us from SARS-CoV-2. But it is even more so because their territories are invaded by gold prospectors and illegal foresters, by definition without sanitary control, who risk contaminating them massively. In addition, they have little access to epidemiological information and even less to health assistance systems. So in Brazil, for example, these people are left to fend for themselves. The Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (Sesai) has not taken any appropriate emergency measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Native American territories. Under these conditions, these peoples are likely to be hit once again very hard and, for some, to disappear entirely.

Are communities in contact with cities at risk?

All the villages are in great danger. Those who are close to cities are all the more so since they are in constant contact with the rest of the Brazilian population and because they will be the last to be able to have access to the public health system, which is already in a chaotic situation. .

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Are there solutions to fight the pandemic on Indian lands?

The Amerindians understood that the Whites, who have no vaccine or medicine and who cannot even cure themselves, can do nothing for them. They, for their part, have a very long and tragic experience of exposure to epidemics introduced by whites. They are therefore trying, in the face of this new plague and the carelessness of governments, to organize themselves by closing access to their territories, by isolating themselves in the forest, by publishing documents in their languages ​​on the protective measures.

How does the Covid-19 recall the diseases that ravaged the Indians during colonial times?

The Yanomami have thus suffered, with tragic demographic losses, successive epidemics of measles, malaria and respiratory infections at each stage of their contact with the successive protagonists of the white border. As in the present situation, they could not count on effective medical aid.


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