I hope that the Brazilain native tribe that was recently photographed (video) is able to survive the onslaught of "civilization". Luckily the Brazilian government seems to be doing a reasonable job protecting these groups and the photos were taken out of necessity rather than curiosity. Still, it sounds as though the Peruvian government is more than happy to ignore their plight and even their very existence, thus the impetus for the photos being taken. Unfortunately the way we speak of these people in the media heightens their other-ness at the expense of extolling the human price that will be paid if we allow these people to be decimated by our diseases and resource extraction.

A significant problem of uncontacted tribes who are subsequently "discovered" is the anger of locals over land being protected for Indians. During my time in Roraima state in 1999 I saw numerous examples of this in the spray painted "FORA FUNAI" graffiti in nearly every part of the city (FUNAI is the Brazilian Government Indian Agency).

In 1998, just months before I arrived in the Amazon the mayor of Boa Vista spoke at a rally of farmers, loggers, and miners against FUNAI. Among other comments he quoted Lenin in saying that "violence is the midwife of history", basically inciting violence against the Indians...

and those that stand in the way of those who want their land. Immediately thereafter the graffiti showed up around town.

Roraima was settled by garimpeiros searching for gold in the Rio Branco basin. In the process the miners came into extensive contact and conflict with the Native tribes, including the Yanomamo. The Yanomamo proved to be an excellent a match for the garimpeiros, with several extremely brutal raids claiming lives of both settlers and Indians in the dense jungle. Unfortunately the Yanomamo, along with most tribes through history, fell victim to disease and were decimated by malaria and other illnesses.

The government has since set aside several protected areas for them and mandated little to no contact with the outside world, to varying success. This setting aside of valuable resources has angered the extractive industry base in Roraima as it has in most places that Indian reserves have been set aside in the Amazon.

While in Roraima I was lucky enough to tour a medical facility treating the Yanomamo who chose to leave the jungle for treatment. This experience, brief as it was, allowed me a sense of perspective not many people get when reading about the subject.

These tribes are just people similar to us. Sure, they were much shorter than me, dressed strangely, and slept in intricately woven handmade hammocks, but they smiled, laughed and lived in much the same way I do. I won't pretend to understand their way of life, but I can assure you they are no less human than anyone else.

How could you argue the point looking at this picture? The Yanomamo kids look like every other school portrait I've ever seen, kids looking off dazedly away from the camera, some look mischievous, some look bored. Put them in baggy pants and t-shirts, or catholic school uniforms and they would look like every other elementary class I've ever seen.

The way they are portrayed in the media, hoever, often tends toward the noble savage or backward heathen stereotype. Some passages even verge on the neanderthal stereotype or even sidelong comparisons to animals. None are appropriate. These are intelligent, loving, and very able people who have chosen to live the way they do. In very few cases are the tribes unaware of civilization. In most cases they simply want no part of it (can we blame them?). We forget that these tribes are in contact with other tribes and do get information about the outside world.

The phrase that aggravates me the most in the recent articles is best summed up by this passage in the BBC article:

Stephen Corry, the director of the group - which supports tribal people around the world - said such tribes would "soon be made extinct" if their land was not protected.

This was made by a spokesman for Survival International, a group dedicated to preserving the lifestyle of these uncontacted groups.

Extinction is a term more often applied to a species, not a subgroup. By using the word I get the feeling that these people are being held as less than human, as a separate biological group. Extirpated might be a better word, since it implies a loss of territory for our species and is thus inclusive.

I realize I'm picking nits but at the same time it does have real world impact. People are much more willing to help humans who are in trouble than they are animals. Using words that imply that these people are too far removed from us to be relatable relegates their plight to the fate of being ignored by the wider population. We should be hearing rallying cries from the groups who want to help them, not statements of otherness.

We can help these people without contact, but we can't do it if no one has a reason to care. I think we need to make it clear that the diversity of the human species is in danger if we force them to contact society against their will.