Protecting Brazil’s undocumented tribes for 30 years, then killed by an arrow

RIO DE JANEIRO – Different tribes say that Rieli Franciscato has devoted his career to defense that is rare and full of danger.

So in June, when a handful of unqualified indigenous people came out of the wilderness in the state of Rondônia and came across a small resident, Mr. Franciscato, an officer of the Brazilian government specializing in undocumented tribes, in action. Gone.

His frantic efforts over the last few months to secure the isolated tribes of Rondonia and to try to figure out why they had started to move out of the Amazon rainforest ended on Wednesday when Mr. Franciscato was He was hit in the chest with an arrow and killed.

Colleagues and police investigators believe a member of an unregistered tribe shot at 56-year-old Mr. Franciscato, mistakenly considering him a threat.

Mr. Francescato’s 35-year-old friend Moises Asap Kampé who accompanied him that day was following in the footsteps of tribals in the rainforest, most recently seen by villagers in a rural area near the town of Sererugiras.

“We were looking for information about where they came from and trying to see if they left anything behind,” Mr. Kempe said.

Suddenly, Mr. Franciscato shouted. Mr. Kamppe watched in horror as his friend came out of the tip of a five-foot bamboo arrow that pierced his chest.

“They pulled it out and started running,” Mr. Kempe said. “He ran about 50 meters, got out of the pass and fell to the ground.”

The Brazilian Amazon rainforest is home to dozens of indigenous tribes who have chosen to remain in isolation. Since the 1980s, the Brazilian government has sought to prevent outsiders, including missionaries, from coming into contact with those tribes.

Such encounters in the past have been disastrous for indigenous people, who lack immunity to common pathogens.

Upholding a no-contact policy is the responsibility of the National Indian Foundation, or FUNAI, a federal agency where Mr. Francisco worked for more than three decades.

Its mission has become very difficult in recent years as loggers and miners have invaded indigenous territories in violation of federal law, usually with no consequences. President Jair Bolsonaro, who is in favor of opening up more of the Amazon for development, has called the indigenous regions an impediment to archaic and economic development. He has compared communities living in the forest in a zoo to animals.

Even as FUNAI’s budget was dropped, many of its remote area offices were closed and its rank had plummeted in recent years, with Mr. Franciscato remaining steadfast in his conviction that in isolation The last few living were worthy of human protection.

“He was an outstanding person,” Mr. Kempe said. “Everything he did was motivated by a desire to protect isolated communities and maintain their right to a dignified life.”

Evanide Cardozzo, an indigenous rights activist in Rondonia, said that he and Mr. Franciscato often talked about the dangers they both believed to be a labor of love. Mr. Franciscato said, he feared that he might be mistaken by an attacker, who is often killed by armed or an aboriginal.

In June, when Mr. Franciscato received word that a handful of people from different tribes had approached a farm, he devised a plan to keep them safe. The possibility that one of those people may be exposed to coronovirus and spread among relatives was the worst case scenario. Therefore, Mr. Franciscato requested the villagers in the region to avoid close contact with the tribals at all costs.

Ms. Cardozzo recalled her saying, “I am going to do everything to protect those indigenous people and I am not going to allow them contact.”

But she described it as a difficult task, she said, because Mr. Franciscato had become a single operation tracking multiple tribes over a vast area. Ms. Cardozo said that the problem is that I am alone, I do not have a team and I need people.

Ms. Cardozo said that Mr. Franciscato was tireless as he studied tribes from afar. The work is happening enough to gather clues about how these communities are studying their movement, their diet and any tools they leave behind.

“He paid attention to everything,” Ms. Cardozo said. “Even the weather.”

President of FUNAI, Marcello Xavier, called him an “exemplary” public servant. “He devoted more than 30 years to protecting individual indigenous people,” Mr. Xavier said in a video message.

When the group came out of the forest in June, the villagers said that the tribals gave up a piece of meat and took a chicken from a farm. This was interpreted as a cordial exchange.

When Mr. Franciscato came to the tribes’ attention a few days later, he indicated to them to return to the wilderness, Ms. Cardozo said. He believed that this was the safest course until a highly contagious epidemic rippled across Brazil.

That fear prompted her to return to the region this week, after hearing that five naked tribesmen had descended from a forest in another area of ​​Rondonia while walking in a V-shape.

When 18-year-old Dhuliana Perera was collecting wood near her house, men came to her with bows and arrows.

“My father started screaming,” he said. “We didn’t know what their reaction would be.”

A few hours later, Mr. Franciscato came and interviewed all the villagers to see what he had seen. He then set out into the forest, tracing the fresh footprints.

After a few minutes, Ms. Pereira saw Mr. Franciscato’s body on a wheel, which friends used to take them to a police vehicle that took them to the hospital.

“He looked faint,” she said. “I saw no signs of life.”