Murdered Indigenous Expert Chose a Risky Path

Bruno Pereira 'gave his life for us,' says one Indigenous official in Brazil
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 19, 2022 10:29 AM CDT
Murdered Indigenous Expert Had an Ambitious Plan
This photo provided by anthropologist Barbara Maisonnave Arisi shows Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira in 2014.   (Barbara Maisonnave Arisi via AP)

Before disappearing in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, Bruno Pereira was laying the groundwork for a mammoth undertaking: a 217-mile trail marking the southwestern border of the Javari Valley Indigenous territory, an area the size of Portugal. The purpose of the trail is to prevent cattle farmers from encroaching on Javari territory—and it was just the latest effort by Pereira to help Indigenous people protect their natural resources and traditional lifestyles, per the AP. While Pereira had long pursued these goals as an expert at the Brazilian Indigenous affairs agency, known as FUNAI, he worked in recent years as a consultant to the Javari Valley's Indigenous organization.

That's because after Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s president in 2019, FUNAI began taking a more hands-off approach toward protecting Indigenous land and people—and the government unapologetically promoted development over environmental protection. Deeply frustrated, Pereira left the agency and embarked on a more independent—and dangerous—path. He was last seen alive on June 5 on a boat in the Itaquai river, along with British freelance journalist Dom Phillips, near an area bordering Peru and Colombia. On Wednesday, a fisherman confessed to killing Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, and took police to a site where human remains were recovered; they have since been identified as the two men.

Pereira spoke several times with the AP over the past 18 months. After Bolsonaro came to power, the agency was stacked with loyalists and people who lacked experience in Indigenous affairs, he said. “There’s no use in me being there as long as these policemen and army generals are calling the shots,” he said in November. As a technical consultant for the Javari Valley’s association of Indigenous people, or Univaja, Pereira helped the group develop a surveillance program to reduce illegal fishing and hunting in a remote region belonging to 6,300 people from seven different ethnic groups. “When it came to helping the Indigenous peoples, he did everything he could,” said Jader Marubo, former president of Univaja. “He gave his life for us.”

(More Brazil stories.)

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