An expert who worked to protect uncontacted Amazonian tribes has been shot and killed with an arrow in Brazil, according to the government’s Indigenous affairs agency, Fundação Nacional do Índio (Funai).
Rieli Franciscato was killed on Wednesday while responding to a report of a sighting of an isolated group in Seringueiras, in the northern Brazilian state of Rondônia.
The 56-year-old, coordinator of a team helping to protect uncontacted tribes’ territories in Rondônia, was struck in the chest by the arrow at the border of the Uru Eu Wau Wau tribe’s territory.
He had been called there after ranchers and loggers targeting the reserve stepped up their campaign in recent months, starting fires and destroying most of the surrounding forest, reported Survival, a global organization championing tribal peoples’ rights.
Police officer Paulo Ricardo Bressa told Brazilian daily newspaper O Globo that he accompanied Franciscato to Line 6, a high conflict area in Seringueiras.
“We started following their footsteps and got to the edge of the river, near the area protected by Funai. When we got near the border (of the protected indigenous land) we could see the sign there, ‘this is a Funai reserve, no trespassing.'”
Bressa said Franciscato started to climb a hill, with an indigenous escort and the police behind. “Then, we just heard the sound of the arrow, which hit him in the chest. He yelled and took the arrow out of his chest and ran back towards us. He managed to run some 50, 60 meters and he fell.”
The group carried him to the police car and took him to hospital, “but he was no longer alive, and we lost our friend, unfortunately,” said Bressa.
Franciscato had worked for Funai for more than three decades, and the organization said his loss would be deeply mourned.
Marcelo Xavier, president of Funai, said in a video: “It’s with heavy sadness that Funai and its servants bid farewell to Rieli Franciscato, with a lot respect and admiration. Rieli was an exemplary servant, with over 30 years of protecting the isolated indigenous.
“Funai stands in solidarity with Franciscato’s colleagues and family members.”
Survival’s Senior Researcher Sarah Shenker said: “Rieli’s death is a tragic and immeasurable loss for uncontacted tribes, for the forest, and for the fight to stop Brazil’s genocide.
“For decades he refused to accept the violent greed destroying the Amazon rainforest and its best guardians. He worked tirelessly to protect the lands of uncontacted tribes from outsiders. He dedicated his life to it, working on the front line to combat the illegal invasions by loggers, ranchers and miners who threaten to wipe out the most vulnerable peoples on the planet.”
She said the uncontacted tribes “may well have mistaken Rieli, one of their closest allies, for one of their many enemies who threaten their survival” and having been “pushed to the edge.”
“The last thing Rieli would want is for the government and the invaders to use his death as an excuse to target the Uru Eu Wau Wau territory even more aggressively, or to make forced contact with the uncontacted Indians. This would be fatal, and any attempts will be met with immediate opposition from Indigenous peoples and their allies around the world,” Shenker added.
In a video interview with the Amazonian defender shared by Survival on Twitter after his death, Franciscato makes his hopes plain: “The Brazil I want for the future is one where all of this (Indigenous land) continues to be protected.”