The Existence of Brazil’s Kuikuro People Is Being Threatened by COVID-19

By 23 July, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has left the Kuikuro Indigenous community vulnerable and under threat to losing elder leaders and others within their community. Brazil has one of the highest death rates of Coronavirus in the world, with almost 2 million cases and 73,000 deaths as of July 2020. Nowhere has this been felt harder than within the country’s indigenous communities. Illegal mining, hunting, and other invasions within indigenous territories have led to a sharp influx of Coronavirus cases being transported into these communities from the outside world. Without access to modern healthcare or the luxury of social distancing and isolation measures, there is a fear that the pandemic may cause irreversible damage to, and even lead to the complete extinction of, some of these indigenous communities.

COVID-19 has now reached the community of the Kuikuro people of the Xingu protected territory in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. The Xingu territory was created in 1961 to protect the land rights and traditional living practices of the indigenous communities living there. There are currently 16 different communities and ethnic groups within this territory, of which the Kuikuro people are one. Occupying land the size of Belgium, the Xingu region is home to 7,000 indigenous people in total.

Takumã Kuikuro [pictured above, centre], an artistic film-maker of the Kuikuro community, has noted the fear and lack of control felt by the Kuikuro people:

“We, the Kuikuro people of Upper Xingu in Mato Grosso state, are very afraid. We have been left to fend for ourselves by the government, to deal with this disease and protect our people from the pandemic on our own. Here in the Ipatse village, we have a small health clinic and one trained nurse to serve 700 people. The nearest hospital equipped with an intensive care unit is 370 miles (600 kilometers) away in Cuiabá, the state capital.”

Takumã Kuikuro, Americas Quarterly

Due to the severe lack of support from the Brazilian government, indigenous activists and organisations are looking abroad for help. People’s Palace Projects has developed an artistic residency and exchange programme with the Kuikuro people through the work of Takumã Kuikuro. As a non-profit and social change research centre based at Queen Mary University of London, People’s Palace Projects has worked with artists, academics, and cultural organisations all over the world, particularly in Brazil. Through documentaries and ‘non-contact’ technologies, the artistic exchange with the Kuikuro community aims to increase the understanding of the culture of the Xingu territory, and promote the community’s indigenous cultural rights. According to the Kuikuro people, artists are Itseke, meaning they are powerful beings of invisible knowledge.

Unfortunately, due to increased contact with non-indigenous communities, and an increase in the community’s migration to urban cities, the Kuikuro culture is disappearing every day. Takumã Kuikuro documents their culture in a bid to keep the community’s traditions alive for future generations.

Thiago Jesus, People’s Palace Projects’ Senior Project Manager, details the lack of prioritisation of indigenous people’s lives during this time:

“What we are seeing now with this current government is the total lack of respect and of planning… It is clear that the government does not have any plan or is not interested in actually supporting or shielding those communities from Coronavirus. We are seeing lots of invasions of territories in order to occupy those lands, there is so much illegal mining going on in the different territories. These are the people who are taking the virus into these territories. Lots of communities are being affected because of this contact with minors, loggers, invasions.”

Thiago Jesus, People’s Palace Project

Since March 2020, People’s Palace Projects has been working with communities in the UK and Brazil to assist the Kuikuro people during the pandemic. Although the community is still engaging in the arts, right now their main priority is to survive. 

People’s Palace Projects is currently fundraising for the Kuikuro community. Vital supplies are being delivered to the region, including food, hygiene and cleaning products, medical supplies, and protective equipment. People’s Palace Projects has created ways to protect and safeguard the community within the territory, and are working with trusted suppliers so as not to expose the Kuikuro people to the outside world right now. They have already raised an amazing £30,000 and are almost at their target.

If you wish to help this initiative please visit their Just Giving page

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