Opinion: Indian policy in Brazil keeps tribes isolated
"Brazil's National Indian Foundation recently released photographs (taken by a fly-over plane) of uncontacted, isolated Indian tribes. The man who released the photos initially claimed that it was a previously undiscovered, or "lost," tribe. He later admitted that he had lied about the "undiscovered" part, using the photos as a publicity stunt.

The dishonest campaign raises interesting questions about how the Brazilian government is handling its Indian population. Although anthropologists have known about these tribes for decades – and in this case since 1910 – the Brazilian government has actively worked to isolate the Indians from the outside world rather than make contact or allow others to do so. For what purpose and by what authority they do this is a concern that few question, but that everyone should.

Perhaps the Brazilian government believes that, like the federation in Star Trek, theirs is the power over determining when and where people may be exposed to the benefits of modern tools, medicine, or technology. It's too late to stop ordinary people from having access to these things, but these Indians are in the unique position of not knowing what is just beyond their borders. Thus the National Indian Foundation, seeing the natives more as subjects in a sociological experiment than as people, may posture themselves as benevolent protectors of a way of life – surrogate tribe leaders, as is it were.

We must remember that, to millions of people in the developed world, including many anthropologists, Indians living deep in the Amazonian rain forest are seen as living the high life. They are emblematic of better times: heroic torch-bearers of a lifestyle and tradition long-lost in the white, Western world. And, like any relic of the past, their primitive culture has an intrinsic value that is worth preserving and protecting, especially from the overwhelmingly commercial (that is, capitalist) impulses of Western society. It is only an arrogant, uninformed Westerner who would seek to trade or donate clothes, medicines, or metal tools to these people. (Much different than Africa, of course, where no amount of government tax revenue and no degree of intervention is too great to send as aid.)"

Get the Story:
Daniel Coleman: Brazil's National Indian Policy (Daniel Coleman 7/10)

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