Save the Amazon by Aiding Indians

Environmental and human rights activists usually don't act together, but they should in one cause: Saving the Amazon forest by making sure Indians have clear ownership of traditional lands.

The indigenous people of Brazil and other Amazon countries are better stewards of the forests than invasive ranchers, miners, and loggers. In fact, dozens of Indian groups remain "uncontacted" or in isolation, living as they have done for centuries.

Brazil has made slow progress under a 1988 constitutional provision to protect Indian lands, and it's not done enough to prevent violence against Indians. But there was hope of progress in 2003 when a leftist, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, became president with promises to seriously address Indian concerns.

Two years on, he only last week signed a decree creating the first Amazonian Indian reserve during his term. The size of a small country, the reserve, Raposa Serra Do Sol, is home to 15,000 Indians. The president had the decree on his desk for two years, even though dozens of Indians have been killed over disputed lands.

What's more, he doesn't have a coherent and effective strategy for assisting the estimated 350,000 Brazilian Indians. Last April, it took an occupation of Congress by indigenous leaders for them to get a meeting with the president. Both the Amazon and its ancient inhabitants need more attention than that.

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