New online map tracks threats to uncontacted Indigenous peoples in Brazil’s Amazon

  • Mobi, a new online interactive map, draws information from public databases, government statistics and field observations to paint a comprehensive picture of the threats that uncontacted Indigenous peoples face in the Brazilian Amazon.
  • The exact location of uncontacted communities is deliberately displaced on the map to avoid any subsequent attacks against them from those who engage in illegal activity in or near their territories.
  • The tool can help Indigenous agencies deploy more effective protective actions to fend off threats such as diseases and environmental destruction, which can wipe out vulnerable populations.
  • Activists hope the platform will help create a vulnerability index that ranks uncontacted populations according to the severity of threats against them, which can promote stronger public policies.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Monitoring the threats that uncontacted traditional peoples face in the Brazilian Amazon is set to become easier for Indigenous rights activists and agencies, thanks to a new software tool developed by three Indigenous organizations and made available online in September.

Mopi is an online interactive map that gathers a mix of public databases, government statistics and field observations and consolidates them into one space, providing a comprehensive picture of uncontacted Indigenous peoples’ lands and the factors that threaten their health and well-being.

Their location is deliberately hidden to avoid the exact identification of their territories and any subsequent attacks against them.

The platform went offline soon after its initial inauguration on Aug. 15 due to technical issues, but operations were resumed in September. The official launch date coincided with what would have been the 42nd birthday of Bruno Pereira, the Indigenous rights defender who was murdered in June 2022 in the Amazon’s Javari Valley, alongside British journalist Dom Phillips. Pereira, who was the founder of Opi, was one of the creators behind Mopi when the idea was initially conceived. The other organizations involved in Mopi’s launch are the Coordination of Brazilian Amazon Indigenous Organizations (COIAB) and the Native Amazon Operation (OPAN).

A logging truck through deforested lands.
Logging in the Amacro region, the triple border between Brazilian states Acre, Amazonas and Rondônia. This region has been subjected to intensive deforestation, illegal occupation of public lands, mining, human-made fires, and extensive logging. Image © Bruno Kelly/Greenpeace.

The map displays land ownership across the Amazon Rainforest, including updates on Indigenous territory demarcation processes and the presence of conservation units and registered rural properties. It also identifies major construction developments including hydroelectric power plants and mining operations as well as areas of deforestation, forest degradation and illegal activity such as hunting, mining and drug trafficking. It also registers protection and surveillance actions across the biome and health updates of each community using federal health department information.

Elias dos Santos Bigio, Indigenous rights defender and ex-coordinator at Brazil’s Indigenous agency, Funai, said the tool can be helpful for Funai to make more efficient surveillance and protection activities, especially as the agency continues to have limited personnel and resources.

“These partnerships [with Indigenous organizations] are welcome,” he told Mongabay. “These are people who are also driven by the purpose of defending Indigenous rights.”

Roberto Ossak, a coordinator at the Catholic Church-affiliated Pastoral Land Commission, told Mongabay that he believes the platform is “a good tool” but “having concrete data on the health and well-being of the uncontacted Indigenous [people] in the forest is very difficult,” due to limited access to their territories. He said a stronger federal crackdown on environmental crime was the best way to safeguard these communities.

“What really saves the isolated peoples is territorial protection where no one is allowed to enter,” he said.

An uncontacted Indigenous community in Acre, Brazil.
Isolated Indigenous communities are under constant threat from escalating organized crime in the region. Image by Gleilson Miranda / Governo do Acre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

There are 114 uncontacted Indigenous communities recognized by the state in the Brazilian Amazon, with one more pending federal recognition, although experts suspect the number of isolated groups may be significantly higher than what is officially recorded. The Javari Valley is home to at least 19 groups of uncontacted peoples, the highest number in the world, who are under constant threat from escalating organized crime in the region.

Uncontacted Indigenous communities depend exclusively on hunting, fishing and gathering within their territories, which are often encroached upon by illegal activity. This can impact the pristine environmental conditions in their land as well as increase exposure to diseases, putting them at risk of mass illness and death. In the state of Rondônia, for example, the last remaining member of the uncontacted Tanaru Indigenous community — known as the “Man of the Hole” — died in 2022 after his entire tribe was decimated in the 1990s, leaving him in solitude for nearly three decades.

The Mopi platform developers are planning to use the map to generate a vulnerability index of all uncontacted Indigenous peoples, ranking them according to the severity of threats they face. They hope it can help shape better public policies to protect these communities.

“We can periodically publish a ranking of the most vulnerable populations,” Ribeiro said. “Based on a set of concrete data, the vulnerability index will reflect what is happening in these lands and draw the authorities’ attention to it.”


Banner image: An uncontacted Indigenous community in Acre, Brazil. Image by Gleilson Miranda / Governo do Acre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Q&A with Sydney Possuelo, the most prominent specialist in isolated indigenous peoples in Brazil

Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: We speak with Scott Wallace, a journalism professor at the University of Connecticut, National Geographic writer, and author of a New York Times best-selling book on the importance of protecting uncontacted Indigenous groups in the Amazon. Listen here:

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