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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 19:34 GMT
Land victory for Amazon Indians

Awa child and monkey
The future of the Awa looks a bit brighter
Brazil's last hunter-gatherer Indian tribe has been thrown a lifeline with the legal recognition of their land after a 20-year struggle.

The demarcation of the Awa people's territory in the Amazon was the aim of a long campaign by the pressure group, Survival International.

Over the years, ranchers, loggers and settlers had invaded large areas of the rainforest, killing many Indians.

A Survival spokeswoman said the demarcation of the land was "a major step" in guaranteeing the future of the 300 Awa, but "the battle was by no means won".

On Wednesday, Survival is planning to hand in a petition signed by more than 40,000 people to the Brazilian embassies in London and Madrid.

They are calling on the government to ensure the demarcation is upheld and to implement a long-term programme to protect the Awa.

'Wild West'

It is also vital that the illegal ranchers and settlers are permanently removed, Survival's campaigns co-ordinator Fiona Watson told BBC News Online.

Awa in their village
Without the forest we'll be gone, we'll be extinct
To'o, an Awa leader

"It is very much like the Wild West out there," she said.

"The fate of the Awa has been a major scandal.

"Some had to flee into the depths of the rainforest to escape violence, they witnessed murder. The Awa were on the brink and about to go under."

There is tremendous pressure on the region where the Awa have always hunted as nomads.

Swathes of forest have been cut down for timber, and a huge cattle ranch lies on the Awa territory.

About 230 of the Indians now live in villages for safety, supervised by the national Indian agency, Funai.

Another 60 - 100 live, uncontacted, in the rainforest.

Extinction threat

In a long series of broken promises, Brazil undertook in 1982 to demarcate all Indian territories in the region as a condition of a World Bank loan for an industrial project at Carajas. World Bank money was put aside for this.

A decade later, the Brazilian Government again promised to map out Indian land.

But again nothing was done - until now when a judge ordered that their land be mapped out and marked.

Preserving the forest is crucial for the Awa, one of their leaders, To'o said.

"We live in the depths of the forest and we are getting cornered as the whites close in on us. Without the forest we are nobody and we have no way of surviving," he said.

"Without the forest we'll be gone, we'll be extinct."

Brazil's Awa struggling to survive
28 Aug 02 |  Americas

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