UPDATE – TRANSGRESSION: Isolated indigenous peoples, Missionaries and the COVID-19/ Erasure of Indigenous Existence – proselytism in the time of coronavirus: Part 1

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic which is ravaging Brazil, landing in and lifting off from villages in the Amazon region’s Vale do Javari in order to contact and evangelize indigenous communities in this remote and difficult to reach area, fundamentalist evangelical missionaries have used their recently purchased helicopter R66 to enter illegally with no authorization from the FUNAI nor the National Civil Aviation Agency. Edward Luz of New Tribes Mission of Brazil claimed that all missionaries had left indigenous lands in February, but it was revealed by journalists from O Globo that missionary Jevon Rich was among those who had remained in the region between the Paraná and Vida Nova, near un-contacted peoples of Igarapé Cravo. The Javari Valley region has the largest number of un-contacted indigenous peoples in the world who are highly susceptible to diseases brought in from what we consider civilisation.

Missionary Jevon Rich of New Tribes Mission f Brazil (MNTB) allegedly being picked up by the R66. Photo: Missão Novas Tribos do Brasil (MNTB) / Disclosure

While “saving” indigenous peoples from what they consider “unrelenting spiritual darkness” the unrelenting missionaries of the US-based New Tribes Mission (now called Ethnos360) will stop at nothing in order to force their version of the fundamentalist evangelical gospel on peoples who already have their own ancestral relationship with the spiritual. 

photo: Gleilson Miranda/Governo do Acre

I met some New Tribes missionaries, truly fanatical hillbillies, in Tama Tama on the Orinoco in the 1990’s. The missionaries lived in big American-style houses with screened porches and riding lawn mowers. Any discussion of the Yanomami spiritual vision, aligned with most of humanity’s religions including a conception of the afterlife as a place of punishment or reward, was met with derision. Their adherence to an historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible “the word-by-word inspiration, inerrancy, and final authority of the Holy Scriptures” was absolute.

The first missionaries intent on evangelizing the Yanomami were led by James Barker of the New Tribes Mission in 1950. In October 2005 Venezuela’s President Chávez decreed the expulsion of the New Tribes Missions from indigenous territories and gave them 90 days to leave, citing the mistreatment of indigenous peoples. 

Established in 1942, the New Tribes missionaries have been spreading their paternalistic, assimilationist, fanatical “Christian witness” doctrine along with influenza, measles and other diseases indigenous peoples have no natural immunity or resistance against (the Zo’é of Brazil) as well as predatory pedophilia (the Katukina of Brazil) and exploitation to the point of slavery (the Ayoreo of Paraguay).

photo Edward Luz and detail of helicopter: NTM

Now, while the threat of coronavirus is an expanding health issue in Brazil, the New Tribes missionaries are planning a reckless neocolonial assault to convert vulnerable, isolated, previously un-contacted indigenous peoples in the forests of Brazil near the Peruvian border. Edward Luz, president of the New Tribes Mission of Brazil intends to use their new helicopter in a “church planting” endeavor in spite of the fact that Brazil is a signatory of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, officially adopted in 2016. 

In Article XXVI it states:

1) Indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation or initial contact have the right to remain in that condition and to live freely and in accordance with their cultures.

2) States shall, with the knowledge and participation of indigenous peoples and organizations, adopt appropriate policies and measures to recognize, respect, and protect the lands, territories, environment, and cultures of these peoples as well as their life, and individual and collective integrity.

Unfortunately, with the election of Bolsonaro, Brazil’s willingness to protect indigenous rights is evaporating. Bolsonaro has referred to indigenous people as “animals in a zoo” and stated that “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the US cavalry who exterminated the Indians.” 

Christian evangelicals were influential in electing Bolsonaro who has since given them powerful positions in government, including Ricardo Dias as head of the The Coordination of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indians (CGIIRC), section of the FUNAI, Fundação Nacional do Índio, a governmental protection agency for indigenous interests and culture. Dias spent ten years as a missionary for the New Tribes Mission with the Matsé people in the Javari Valley in Amazonas state. Cacique Waki, a Matsé leader, stated for a Sao Paulo newspaper that he doesn’t want Dias to have power over their lives. “We know Ricardo well. He learned our language. We don’t want his church here because he doesn’t respect our traditions.” The Union of the Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA), stated that they are concerned about “the evil actions of religious proselytism in their territory.” 

Longtime career employees at FUNAI characterized the appointment of Dias as perilous because his personal history of doing conversion work with the New Tribes Mission signals a move in a direction that could result in “irreparable damage” to the lives of vulnerable isolated indigenous groups. 

In the words of The New Tribes Mission (now as Ethnos360) regarding their passion for reaching the “lost people groups” of the world:

“We Hold the Key to Heaven for Them – Let’s Use It!”
image from NTM website

“By unflinching determination we hazard our lives and gamble all for Christ until we have reached the last tribe regardless of where that tribe might be. Ethnos360 is the name that anchors us to our foundations and points us to our vision. Ethnos is the ‘nations’ that Christ referred to when He commanded His followers to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19) and ‘ …that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations…’ (Luke 24:47). It’s the word from which we get ethnic, and it means people groups. 360 represents the entirety of the globe — all 360 degrees. Our goal is to go wherever in the world is necessary to see a thriving church for every people, not only to focus on one particular type of people group. 360 also represents the full-circle work of a Great Commission ministry. We begin with thriving churches sending believers to an unreached people group, and keep working until there’s a thriving church sending out believers. Our vision is the same today as it was 75 years ago: A thriving church for every people. As we move forward, we’ll draw from those lessons God has taught us in our 75 years of ministry to pursue new opportunities opening to us. Opportunities to reach a changing world.”

Original image by Gleilson Miranda/Governo do Acre, reworked by Barbara Crane Navarro

Considering the current risk of contaminating vulnerable indigenous people with coronavirus, “genocide” would be a more appropriate word than “opportunity” for what may take place.

“We can’t play around with this coronavirus sickness. It has the power of the anaconda, death by strangling, the victim unable to breathe”: message from Kayapo leader Megaron Txucarramãe 

About Barbara Crane Navarro - Rainforest Art Project

I'm a French artist living near Paris. From 1968 to 1973 I studied at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, then at the San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco, California, for my BFA. My work for many decades has been informed and inspired by time spent with indigenous communities. Various study trips devoted to the exploration of techniques and natural pigments took me originally to the Dogon of Mali, West Africa, and subsequently to Yanomami communities in Venezuela and Brazil. Over many years, during the winters, I studied the techniques of traditional Bogolan painting. Hand woven fabric is dyed with boiled bark from the Wolo tree or crushed leaves from other trees, then painted with mud from the Niger river which oxidizes in contact with the dye. Through the Dogon and the Yanomami, my interest in the multiplicity of techniques and supports for aesthetic expression influenced my artistic practice. The voyages to the Amazon Rainforest have informed several series of paintings created while living among the Yanomami. The support used is roughly woven canvas prepared with acrylic medium then textured with a mixture of sand from the river bank and lava. This supple canvas is then rolled and transported on expeditions into the forest. They are then painted using a mixture of acrylic colors and Achiote and Genipap, the vegetal pigments used by the Yanomami for their ritual body paintings and on practical and shamanic implements. My concern for the ongoing devastation of the Amazon Rainforest has inspired my films and installation projects. Since 2005, I've created a perfomance and film project - Fire Sculpture - to bring urgent attention to Rainforest issues. To protest against the continuing destruction, I've publicly set fire to my totemic sculptures. These burning sculptures symbolize the degradation of nature and the annihilation of indigenous cultures that depend on the forest for their survival.
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9 Responses to UPDATE – TRANSGRESSION: Isolated indigenous peoples, Missionaries and the COVID-19/ Erasure of Indigenous Existence – proselytism in the time of coronavirus: Part 1

  1. Barbara Alexandra Szerlip says:

    Jesus, (no pun intended), these smug, self-anointed assholes are desperately in need of hobbies.
    If they were truly confident in their beliefs, they’d leave everyone else to their own devices.
    This obscene, supremely arrogant need to “convert” with no respect for other constructs is almost beyond my ability to comprehend. ?????

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Katharine Snyder says:

    This a sad testament to the way indigenous people are and have been treated throughout the ages. Brazil is just one more example of the systematic removal of an ancient people from the their land. Very depressing and sobering and at the moment it seems to be unabated.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Dawn Cross says:

    How much sympathy should one have for anyone who still operates according to the Duluth Model? If I’ve understood the ten commandments correctly (and word-by-word), wouldn’t it mean that the violators are, in fact, blind to the message of Christ and are leaning (and acting) upon their understanding? Isn’t that, in turn, something that scripture teaches Christians to avoid?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. John Pope says:

    Forcing one’s views on others is barbaric, the opposite of the “civilizing message” they claim to bring.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. czls says:

    Yes. The feverish delirium of these “missionaries” is mind-boggling! They have medieval notions of superiority regarding other peoples and cultures and must be stopped before they eradicate isolated peoples with their ignorance and intransigence!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. While these abjectly immoral missionaries are proclaiming: « WE HOLD THE KEY TO HEAVEN FOR THEM – LET’S USE IT! » they are risking contaminating and exterminating isolated indigenous peoples. Ungodly.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. mizlatea says:

    This is an outrage! How did our countries elect these leaders who are so out of touch with their constituents–ALL of their constituents?
    The rainforest devastation is so appalling that it makes me want to cry. Now to find out that Brazil’s leader will not ban these groups from coming in and trying to colonize the indigenous people? I simply must send messages out.

    Liked by 1 person

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