Indigenous leaders and activists hailed the move as “historic” and hoped it could prevent genocide in the Javari Valley, an isolated reserve the size of Austria on Brazil’s western borders.
“Faced with this new coronavirus pandemic, we wanted to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples to solitary confinement,” said Eliesio Marubo, an indigenous lawyer who requested the ruling on behalf of the indigenous Javari Univaja association.
Federal judge Fabiano Verli has banned three missionaries, Andrew Tonkin, Josiah McIntyre and Pastor Wilson from Benjamin, from the reserve, as well as the controversial mission group New Tribes Mission of Brazil which recently purchased a helicopter to convert isolated peoples from the region.
The judge referred to recent articles on the vulnerability of isolated groups to common diseases that have decimated their populations in the past and authorized the police and the army to expel one of the missionaries found in the reserve. Brazil has so far seen three confirmed deaths by Covid-19 among its indigenous population.
Specialists at the Funai indigenous agency believe that 16 isolated groups could live in the Javari valley. Concerns for their safety soared when a former New Tribes missionary was assigned to the isolated indigenous department of Funai.
Verli wrote that Tonkin, a North American missionary, had been seen on the reserve and noted “clear indications of an attempt at cultural assimilation” by an isolated group.
The Brazilian newspaper O Globo said that Tonkin was seen last year in contact with an isolated group of the Korubo tribe using a seaplane and that he was preparing a new expedition. Tonkin told O Globo that the charge was “gossip.”
New Tribes Mission said the group withdrew all of its missionaries from indigenous reserves on March 23 and “does not work with isolated people”. Funai said the Brazilian Attorney General’s office would analyze the decision.
“Whenever rights are threatened in the Javari Valley, we go to court,” said Beto Marubo, an indigenous chief of the reserve.