The Brazilian government has recently declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami reservation, Brazil’s largest area of indigenous land. The reservation is located between the Amazon and Roraima Rivers, where the population is also at risk due to malaria and violence perpetuated by illegal mining operations, a practice that pollutes the water and destroys the jungle. President Luiz Inácio da Silva implicated the Bolsonaro administration by describing the genocide of the Yanomami as a premeditated crime. The Brazilian Ministry of Indigenous Peoples estimates that around 560 Yanomami children have died due to mercury poisoning, malnourishment, and hunger in recent years, with 99 children from ages 1 to 4 who died in 2022 alone.
The Lula administration found the population severely malnourished, which were conditions that were created under Bolsonaro’s administration, who publicly criticized the usage of mineral-rich land as a reservation for the Yanomami. During Bolsonaro’s four years in office, at least 2,500 illegal miners came to the Amazon, with levels of deforestation rising, and environmental and indigenous agencies incapacitated to address the threat of illegal mining to the Amazons and the Yanomami. The threat of illegal mining and deforestation heavily impacted the Yanomami’s lifestyle leading to the government opening an investigation into the potential genocide of the Yanomami.
However, this is not the first instance in which the Yanomami were left unprotected from illegal mining in Brazil’s recent history. In the country’s history, the military dictatorship (from 1964-1985) has previously encouraged Brazilians to populate the land where the Yanomami reservation is located. The dictatorship claimed that Brazilians had a right to the land after fighting over it with other foreign powers interested in the region. This encouragement led to the illegal mining that is still found today. However, by the early 1990s, an operation called Selva Livre (Jungle Liberation) removed the miners from the region and the then Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello created the reservation in which the Yanomami lives today.
Currently, the United Nations is working with Brazil to give the country the aid that it needs to be able to address this emergency. However, the treatment of the Yanomami highlights a greater issue that is found in other settler-colonial countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, where its indigenous people do not have the same access to healthcare and tend to have lower living conditions on reservations that were created by their governments. The treatment of the Yanomami highlights the ongoing conflict between indigenous peoples and their treatment under a settler-colonial government where their rights may not be always protected depending on the administration that is in power.