In this issue:

Yanomami in Roraima fear enlargement of air strip in Surucucus

Yanomami of Amazonas decry impact of predatory fishing in rivers running through their territory
FUNAI’s Education Council praises CCPY project
MEC intercedes on behalf of Yanomami teachers in Roraima who passed competitive exams for teaching positions


Yanomami in Roraima fear enlargement of air strip in Surucucus

The Amazon Region Airport Commission (COMARA) has begun transporting material to FUNAI’s Surucucus Indigenous Post, located in the heart of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, for the “enlargement and reinforcement of the asphalt pavement” of the airstrip used by the Surucucus Special Border Platoon (PEF). The airstrip will be extended from 1,100 meters, its present length, to 1,500 meters. According to the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), the reason for the enlargement is that it plans to replace its fleet of Bandeirantes and Buffalo planes with larger ones, such as the Brasilia and Hercules models.

The COMARA website ( claims that work on the project is on schedule for 2005. Nevertheless, no Environmental Impact Study or Report has been conducted, even though they are required by Article 225 of the Federal Constitution (Chap. VI: On the Environment) for works of this size.

Since it is impossible to reach the Surucucus PEF by land or water, the equipment and material needed for the project must be transported by air. This will extend the period for completing the project to 2010. A previous project for enlarging the Surucucus airstrip, which took place from April to September, 1986, caused profound disruptions in Yanomami communities in the Surucucus region, including health problems (flu epidemics and complications), social issues (employment of Yanomami, including children, in heavy labor, with minimal payment; seduction of women), and environmental impacts (pollution, fleeing of game). At the time, this negative experience was widely documented by doctors, anthropologists, and indigenists, and became ingrained in the collective memory of the Yanomami.

In June 2004, a group of Yanomami leaders from the Surucucus region sent a letter to the FUNAI’s Regional Administrator in Roraima (Memo FUNAI: Surucucus 28/06/04). The letter expressed the leaders’ opposition to COMARA’s plans and condemned the inappropriate behavior of the workers during the first enlargement to the airstrip in 1986, which had such a deleterious impact on the group. “The COMARA workers took our women to the forest. They drank a lot of fermented drinks”… “The white people left behind many barrels with leftover pitch, dirtying our waters, killing off all the fish and shrimp, so we suffered a great deal. Our children became very ill drinking the dirty water, and our game animals fled far away because there was so much noise,” recalled the Indians in the letter. They asked for FUNAI’s help in preventing the same episodes that occurred in the past from being repeated, and requested that the enlargement of the airstrip not be permitted.

In an effort to control the predictable health, social, and environmental problems and the discontentment of the Yanomami, representatives from FUNAI, the 7th Aeronautical Command, and COMARA elaborated a set of norms and procedures that must be followed during the project (see the document on Norms and Procedures). However, in the text, the space provided for the signatures of the “Yanomami community” is still blank. Yanomami leaders and residents in Surucucus continue to be worried, recalling their terrible experiences in 1986 and facing the prospect of having to deal with the same problems for six years while the airstrip is being enlarged. This time, the project will be even worse, requiring the use of dynamite to remove a nearby hill.


Yanomami of Amazonas decry impact of predatory fishing in rivers running through their territory

After the environmental degradation provoked by gold prospectors — many still active in the reservation — the Yanomami are now confronted with the activities of professional fishermen exploiting their rivers. The predatory fishing practices of these outsiders are systematically depleting the food resources of the Yanomami communities.

In a letter sent to the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), an important group of Yanomami in Amazonas condemned the predatory fishing conducted on a large scale with the use of huge fishing nets on the Komixiwë River (Rio Marauiá) by non-Indians for commercial ends. In their letter of January 27, 2005, the Yanomami also criticized the absence of IBAMA surveillance.

“At first, we thought the white people of IBAMA were courageous and assertive, that they lived on the mouth of the Komixiwë River (Rio Marauiá) to protect its waters, but they merely built their houses and then abandoned them. These white people said they would help us to protect the river, guarding its waters and letting the fish pass by. This is what they did, but afterwards they abandoned their houses. Where did these brave white people go? There are no more brave white people guarding the river.”

The Yanomami state that the situation is “very bad” and are threatening to cut the fishing nets. Even when the fishermen are working outside the reservation border, they are impeding the passage of fish into the rivers flowing through the reservation, thereby drastically reducing the availability of the fish, an essential part of the diet of Yanomami communities in the region. The Yanomami signing the letter to IBAMA further request that the agency place inspectors in the region to prevent predatory fishing between the lower Marauiá River and the Black River (Rio Negro).

The following contains the full text of the letter signed by Yanomami leaders, teachers, health agents, and residents in the Marauiá region:

Bicho Açu, January 27, 2005
We Yanomami wish to send our words to distant places, so we have written this letter. We were born and grew up in the Marauiá region. We are alert to what occurs here, so that’s why we are informing you about what is happening. We know what we are talking about, our knowledge is vast and encompassing.

White people are using up all our fish, the fish of the Komixiwë River (Rio Marauiá). Here is what we think about this: “You white people must not take all our fish! Don’t you dare do this! Only we, the Yanomami, should be eating the fish of the Komixiwë River, since we go hungry without them, our children also go hungry! We want to make fish stew! You white people should eat fish from the places where you live! You can go fishing and eat the fish of the large Rio Negro, near where you live. Don’t you dare use up all our fish!” We do not want to divide up the fish this way, eating them along with the white people.

“This is our river where our parents harvested fish with which to feed themselves, we too go downriver to feed on these fish.” When we used to live on the Rio Marauiá, we used to feed ourselves with its fish, we used to eat them with bananas. We also used to fish piranhas. This is what we used to eat before we met white people.When our parents went downriver, they met a white man named Emílio, with whom they struck up a friendship. At the time, they did not know white people.

Emílio went upriver to visit us; that was the first time we saw the face of a white person.Formerly, we didn’t know the faces of white people, but now we know them, we know what they are thinking and what they are planning, so that’s why we are paying attention to the fish of this river. “Hey! You white people should stay on your own rivers, don’t come taking all the fish around here,” is what we have to say.We have matured, our way of thinking has broadened, and that’s why we don’t want to see those white people here in our forest. Our grandparents, who used to consume the fish of the Komixiwë River (Rio Marauiá), used the bark of the xinakotorema tree to fish piranhas. They made fishhooks from bones of the spider monkey.

Before white people showed up, our grandparents did not use salt, they enjoyed their food without it. There was not salt among the foods that we used to eat in the past. We also used to roast piranhas wrapped in assai leaves. The stew made from these fish was what made us grow up healthy. “Where are the white people, where are they going?” is what our parents were constantly wondering. When white people went up the Aracá River, the Yanomami acquired machetes with which they made a kind of axe. After acquiring machetes, they opened up gardens and planted peachpalm seeds.

In the region upriver, when the streams dried up, the Yanomami used to eat tamoatá fish; they also used to eat baraturi fruits. It was with these fish that our parents raised us, helped us grow, that’s why we don’t want the white people to use them all up. “Where will we eat when we are hungry for meat?” is what we wonder. “Where can we go bow-hunting to shoot animals to eat?” This is what we think about, that’s why we don’t want the white people to take all the fish. This is our custom, our way of living.

We used to think that the white people of IBAMA were courageous and assertive, that they lived on the mouth of the Komixiwë River (Rio Marauiá) to protect its waters, but they merely built their houses and then abandoned them. These white people said they would help us to protect the river, guarding its waters and letting the fish pass by.

This is what they did, but afterwards they abandoned their houses. Where did these brave white people go? There are no more brave white people guarding the river.Nowadays, when we go fishing, we don’t catch any fish. “Where are the fish?” we ask those who went fishing. “The fish aren’t biting the hooks any more,” they answer. “Ah, it’s because the white people have finished off the fish in the river,” is what we think. “Hmmm, yes, father! The situation has become terrible, let’s go cut the white people’s fishing nets!” That’s what we’ve said already. “Father, when we go next time, let’s destroy the fishing nets.”The white people are fishing outside the Yanomami area, but they close off the river with fishing nets strung between the banks, so the fish can’t pass through and get to where other peoples live in our communities upriver.

The white people go fishing and take the fish far away, since they want to sell them to others.

This request is not because we covet more land, we simply want you to help protect the lower Komixiwë River (Rio Marauiá) from the white people who insist on taking all our fish. We are asking, with these words, that IBAMA place people to guard this region of the Komixiwë, to the point where it empties into the Black River (Rio Negro).

With this document we are writing, we formally request that you send inspectors. If IBAMA sends inspectors to guard and protect the river, this will mean the fish will once again be able to pass though.Leaders, teachers, health agents, and residents of Marauiá have signed here:

Renato Yanomami, Gabriel Yanomami, Martinho Yanomami, João Yanomami, Domingos Yanomami Ironasi teri, Henrique Yanomami, Joana Yanomami, Alípio Yanomami, Francisca Yanomami, Alberto Yanomami, Mateus Yanomami, Alda Yanomami, Damião Yanomami Iximau teri, Osmar Yanomam Iximau teri, Euzébia Yanomami Iximau teriyoma, André Yanomami, Sabá Yanomami, Rubens Yanomami,Celestina Yanomami, Joãozinho Yanomami, Mariota Yanomami, Rubens Yanomami Pohoropiwei teri, Maria Yanomami, Paula Yanomami, Dalvinha Yanomami, Naciota Yanomami, Rui Yanomami, Elizeu Yanomami, Mateus Yanomami Xamatau teri, Pirina Yanomami, Paulinho Yanomami, Virginel Yanomami, Terezinha Yanomami, Carlinhos Yanomami, Cassiano Yanomami, Batista Yanomami Iximau teri (teacher), Manoel Yanomami Ironasi teri (teacher), Marielza Yanomami Pukimapiu teriyoma (teacher), Vitorino Yanomami Iximau teri (teacher), Vicente Yanomami Ironasi teri (teacher), José Yanomami (health agent), Janete Yanomami (health agent), Emerson Yanomami Pukimapiu teri (teacher), Ferreira Yanomami Xamatau teri (teacher), Daniel Yanomami, Raita teri (teacher), Daniel Yanomami Ironasi teri (teacher), Cláudio Yanomam, Pukimapiu teri (teacher), Hipólito Yanomami Pukimapiu teri (health agent), Lico Yanomami Raita teri, Elizeu Yanomami, Luiza Yanomami, Lucina Yanomami, Auria Yanomami, Rute Yanomami, Laura Yanomami, Margarida Yanomami, Almir Yanomami, Mariana Yanomami, Cleonice Yanomami, Antônio Yanomami, Irene Yanomami, Jorgina Yanomami, Helena Yanomami, Vanda Yanomami, Rita Yanomami, Sueli Yanomami, Fátima Yanomami, Adriana Yanomami, Samuel Yanomami, Catarina Yanomami, Gilberto Yanomami, Ana Yanomami, Paulo Yanomami Ironasi teri, Telma Yanomami Ironasi teriyoma, Otávio Yanomami Ironasi teri.

FUNAI’s Education Council praises CCPY project

From January 20 to February 1, anthropologist Gustavo Hamilton de Sousa Menezes, a member of the Education Board of Directors of the National Indian Bureau (CGE-FUNAI), accompanied the pedagogical activities conducted by an advisory group of the Pro-Yanomami Commission (CCPY) as part of the Yanomami Intercultural Education Project and aimed at training indigenous teachers. Menezes’ visit was part of the Bureau’s plans to set up a long-term partnership with CCPY in the educational sector. Over the last three years, FUNAI has been giving financial support to the project without participating directly in its development.

The anthropologist highlighted the CCPY team’s sensitivity in recognizing and using a differentiated methodology and the quality of its teaching materials, produced in the Yanomami language and available to all the students. He further noted that the communities benefiting from the project demonstrate dedication to their classes and excellent work relations with the CCPY team, “with the clearly observable result that the indigenous teachers are able to reproduce their knowledge of literacy, the Portuguese language, and arithmetic.”

The anthropologist recognized that the process is slow, but underscored CCPY’s efforts in dealing with this difficulty and the necessity of support from agencies such as FUNAI. He added that “it will be through the constancy of this investment and the frequent updating of the program that even more impressive results will arise.” Gustavo Menezes pointed out the experience and activities of CCPY over the last 27 years and praised “the difficult, pioneering work, with professionalism and creativity” that the entity has performed, adding that “it should serve as an example for other initiatives in indigenous education.”

MEC intercedes on behalf of Yanomami teachers in Roraima who passed competitive exams for teaching positions

Kleber Matos, the Coordinator for Indigenous Education in the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), held a meeting with Ilma Xaud, the current Secretary of Education of Roraima, and insisted that contracts be given to indigenous teachers, including 16 Yanomami, who passed exams in a public competition for 214 teaching positions in native languages. Although the list of candidates who were approved was published in the state’s Official Daily Register on January 26, 2005, none of them had been contacted yet to sign contracts.

The selection of the indigenous instructors was concluded on January 2, 2005, when they were awarded teaching certificates. But the majority of those approved were uncertain about whether they would actually be hired, given the political crisis in Roraima that culminated with the removal of Gov. Flammarion Portela from office and the appointment of former Governor Ottomar Pinto.

The selective process began during the previous administration by the then-Secretary of Education, Lenir Veras, who promised to give contracts to teachers who were approved in the beginning of 2005. The hope now is that, with the direct support given by MEC, the Roraima Office of Education will move ahead quickly with the paperwork necessary for giving contracts to the 16 Yanomami teachers, as well as those from the Waiwai, Yekuana, Makuxi, and Wapixana ethnic groups.

Pro-Yanomami Bulletin #61, as of February 23, 2005
Editorial Board: Alcida Rita Ramos, Bruce Albert, Jô Cardoso de Oliveira
Editorial Assistant: Rosane A. Garcia
Webmaster and distribution: Alexandre Oliveira
English translation: Catherine Vaughan Howard


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