In the far west of the Amazon, some of the last uncontacted indigenous tribes on Earth live untouched by modern society. Scott Wallace, frequent contributor to National Geographic and former public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, spoke to New Security Beat about his new book, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes, which chronicles his harrowing trip through the Javari Valley Indigenous Land. Wallace accompanies former sertanista (“agent of contact”)-turned-native rights advocate Sydney Possuelo as he attempts to map and protect the territory of the flecheiros, or Arrow People, named for the poison-tipped arrows they use.
The Brazilian government and activists are trying to protect the areas where these native groups live and allow them to choose for themselves if they want contact. “It’s not that hard to find us,” Wallace said. For the moment, however, “it’s clear that they do not want that contact.”
By protecting these people, the government is also protecting thousands, if not millions, of acres of virgin rainforest, said Wallace, creating a mutually beneficial intersection between human rights and environmental conservation.
“The assumption is that there is now a global village, everyone’s connected…no one of us is separated from anyone else on the planet by more than six degrees of separation,” said Wallace. But that assumption breaks down in the face of these people who live in complete isolation from the rest of the world.
We have to decide whether to leave them alone and let them live their lives or try to make lasting contact, said Wallace. Contact would open up the tribe’s land and resources to development but come at great risk to their society, their lives (due to vulnerability to disease), and the Amazonian ecosystem, as the example of India’s Adavasi tribes demonstrates.