The New Year has brought some good tidings for the Awá people of Brazil.
It has been over 10 years since Brazil's government formally demarcated Awá territory in the state of Maranhão, but the country has done little to enforce the boundaries. This week, however, the government launched an operation to evict illegal settlers from Awá land. According to the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), squatters have 40 days to pack up their goods and get off the land.
The Awá are an indigenous, nomadic tribe in Brazil who subsist largely on hunting and gathering. For years they persisted apart from the rest of humanity until agricultural developments brought rail lines and logging roads through their lands. Today, 100 of their roughly 450-member population are believed to still be uncontacted.
Settlers illegally occupying the Awá land include loggers and landless farmer who have held the land long enough to construct nearly 300 buildings, some of them sawmills used for logging purposes.
The Guardian notes that Brazil's reluctance to intervene until now may be related to the government's strong ties to agro-business lobbying groups. Developing agricultural land, on the one hand, has helped boost Brazil's economy. But the country also faces pressure from international media, celebrities and human rights groups to address the encroachment on tribal land, which threatens the members of the Awá tribe.
Survival International, a tribal rights organization, celebrated the government's announcement as the successful culmination of campaigning efforts. As Director Stephen Corry said in a January 6 release: "This is a momentous and potentially life-saving occasion for the Awá. Their many thousands of supporters worldwide can be proud of the change they have helped the tribe bring about."
The news of the evictions comes weeks after a leader of the Tenharim tribe, another of Brazil's indigenous groups, was found dead along the Trans-Amazonian Highway.
Tensions among farmers, loggers, the government and indigenous peoples in Brazil are longstanding and delicate. Brazilian authorities have reportedly promised to assist the illegal settlers in relocating and getting access to social services.
As Survival International's Corry notes: "All eyes are now on Brazil to ensure it completes the operation before the World Cup kicks off in June, and protects Awá land once and for all."