- Campbell is being questioned by Brazil’s indigenous affairs department FUNAI
- It is unclear if Campbell managed to make contact with the uncontacted Hi-Merimã tribe
- There are believed to be around 1,000 members of the Hi-Merimã tribe from an estimate done in 1943
Just two months after Christian missionary John Allen Chau was murdered while illegally trying to preach the word of God to the uncontacted tribe known as the Sentinelese, American missionary Steve Campbell has possibly made illegal contact with an uncontacted Hi-Merimã tribe in Brazil.
Campbell — a Christian missionary from Maine — illegally entered the Brazilian rainforest where the Hi-Merimã tribe occupy. Much like the Sentinelese tribe, contact with Hi-Merimã tribe is illegal due to serious concerns such as passing on simple pathogens that could potentially wipe out the entire tribe. Even a common cold from outsiders may be too much for the immune systems of the Hi-Merimã to handle.
Currently, Campbell is being questioned by Brazil’s indigenous affairs department, FUNAI. General coordinator at FUNAI, Bruno Pereira said Campbell could be in serious trouble if he is found guilty of trying to make contact with the tribe.
If it is established in the investigation that there was an interest in making contact… he could be charged with the crime of genocide by deliberately exposing the safety and life of the Hi-Merimã.
A FUNAI spokesperson told Reuters, “Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high.” It is not clear if Campbell made direct contact with the uncontacted tribe.
Campbell has defended his actions, claiming he had to enter the area to get back to his destination where a neighboring tribe the Jamamadi live. It was reported that Campbell has lived with the Jamamadi for decades. Since the incident, Campbell has promised to stay away from the off-limits area.
While it is uncertain how many members of the Hi-Merimã are alive today, the last estimate in 1943 claimed there to be around 1,000 individuals. The Hi-Merimã live along the Piranhas River in the State of Amazonas and have had minimal contact even with neighboring tribes. They are one of Brazil’s 305 uncontacted tribes.
There are concerns over the uncontacted tribes of Brazil following the election of President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is quoted saying “If I become President there will not be a centimeter more of indigenous land.” He has also referred to indigenous land rights as “nonsense.” In 2015, Bolsnaro complained that indigenous people have 13% of the country’s land. Bolsnaro believes these indigenous land rights get in the way of mining and agribusiness.
The Indians do not speak our language, they do not have money, they do not have culture. They are native peoples. How do they manage to have 13 percent of the national territory?