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  • Indigenous people attend a public hearing on human rights issues in Brasilia, Brazil.

    Indigenous people attend a public hearing on human rights issues in Brasilia, Brazil. | Photo: Creative Commons

Published 2 June 2016

U.S. academics Robert Walker and Kim Hall's proposal to force "controlled contact" on voluntarily isolated tribes would be dangerous, critics say.

Amazonian Indigenous leaders have firmly rejected a proposal by U.S. anthropologists to force uncontacted peoples in the Amazon to come into contact with the rest of society in a “controlled” way, warning such a move would be detrimental to isolated groups and could prompt a “genocide” against Indigenous peoples.

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“The proposal is both dangerous and illegal, and undermines the rights that Indigenous peoples have fought long and hard for,” wrote a group of 10 Indigenous organizations from Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru in a letter to “wholeheartedly reject” the call from U.S. anthropologists Robert Walker and Kim Hill to force contact with uncontacted groups.

The University of Missouri's Walker and Arizona State University's Hill sparked controversy in the anthropology community last year with their contentious proposal to do away with established protocol on uncontacted groups, which is to leave them alone unless they decide to make contact with the outside world. The rogue anthropologists argue that uncontacted tribes reject contact out of fear, and that “controlled” interaction with the outside world is the only way to avert a disaster that could come to pass with eventually inevitable contact.

But the Indigenous groups have come together to reject the proposal and to call on Walker and Hill to retract their statements.

“The anthropologists claim that uncontacted tribes are unviable, but this dangerous myth plays into the hands of those who wish to invade and exploit tribal people’s ancestral homelands,” the organizations wrote in the letter, published on Survival International's website.

“The real threats against uncontacted tribes’ futures are genocidal violence, the invasion of their lands and theft of their natural resources, and prevailing racist attitudes,” they continue.

According to Survival International, the Amazon is home to some 100 uncontacted tribes. Various Indigenous groups fighting to protect their own rights as well as the rights of uncontacted peoples’ have spoken up in defense of their isolated counterparts.

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In a video released by Survival International, Guajajara Indian leader Olimpio Guajajara said his people and the organization they call the Guajajara Guardians are committed to protecting the nearby uncontacted Awa tribe and reject Walker and Hill’s proposal.

“We will not allow this to happen,” he said, making specific reference to the call for “controlled contact” with groups in voluntary isolation. “Because it would be another genocide of Indigenous people who do not want contact neither with us nor with non-Indigenous people.”

Survival International argues that so-called “controlled contact” would pave the way for Amazonian tribes to be easily exploited by logging and ranching interests and corporate land grabs, robbing them of their Indigenous land rights.

According to a report by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights on Indigenous people living in voluntary isolation or with limited contact in the Americas, anthropological research has shown that the traumatic effects of often-violent contact can transcend several generations and lead isolated groups to further reject contact with the outside world.

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