Yanomami Under Attack!

Instituto Socioambiental
7 min readApr 11, 2022

New report by Hutukara Associação Yanomami presents data, aerial images,
and accounts from the hell on earth created by the illegal invasion of mining

This Monday (11/4), the Hutukara Associação Yanomami will release the report “Yanomami Under Attack: illegal wildcat mining on Yanomami Indigenous Land and proposals to combat it” — a panorama of the advancing destruction of wildcat mining on the country’s largest indigenous land.

Devastation left by illegal mining in the Uraricoera River, Yanomami Indigenous Land|Bruno Kelly/HAY

Covering an area equivalent to the size of Portugal, distributed over the states of Roraima and Amazonas, the Yanomami Indigenous Land completes 30 years of demarcation on May 25, 2022. At the time of the decree, the territory was overrun by illegal wildcat mining.

The perpetrators remain the same, but now possess a far greater power of
destruction. “The attack on the people of the Yanomami Indigenous Land began in the 1980s, with the invasion of over 40,000 wildcat miners. Today, in 2022, history is repeating itself. This is very serious,” warns Dario Kopenawa, vice-president of Hutukara.

Alto Catrimani, one of the regions most affected by gold mining in the Yanomami Land|Bruno Kelly/HAY

The report denounces several attacks by criminals against indigenous communities and provides a complete chronology of the siege of the Palimiu in 2021 — ​a region​ where there is a strong action of the group Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC).

Due primarily to the appreciation in the price of gold on the international market and support from the government for the illegal activity, wildcat mining advances ever faster, bringing deforestation, diseases and death wherever it passes.

According to data extracted from the report, in 2021, illegal wildcat mining grew by 46% in comparison to 2020. Last year had already seen a jump of 30% in relation to the previous year. The study by Hutukara highlighted that, from 2016 to 2020, wildcat mining on the Yanomami Indigenous Land grew by more than 3,350%.

Also according to the report, 273 communities containing more than 16,000 people have been directly affected by illegal wildcat mining, in other words, 56% of the total population. There are over 350 indigenous communities on the Indigenous Land, with a population of approximately 29,000 people.

Devastation near indigenous communities in the Yanomami Indigenous Land | Bruno Kelly/HAY

“The illegal extraction of gold [and cassiterite] inside Yanomami territory led to an explosion in cases of malaria and other infectious and contagious diseases, with serious consequences for the health and finances of families, and a shocking escalation of violence against indigenous people,” says Hutukara.

In fact, according to the report, malaria cases spiked in zones with heavy wildcat mining, as in the regions of Uraricoera, Palimiu and Waikás. In Palimiu, in 2020, there were over 1,800 cases.

“It is important to note that the total population of Palimiu during that year was a little over 900 people, in other words, the data points to an average of almost two cases of malaria per person,” emphasizes the report.

At the start of the monitoring operation, in October 2018, the total area destroyed by mining totaled a little over 1,200 hectares, most of it concentrated along the Uraricoera and Mucajaí Rivers. Since then, the area impacted has more than doubled, expanding in December of 2021 to 3,272 hectares.

Growth accelerated primarily in the second semester of 2020, coinciding
dangerously with the escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021 alone, there was an increase of over 1,000 hectares.

Illegal mining in the Parima region, close to the Venezuelan border|Bruno Kelly/HAY

According to the report, of the 37 health centers on Indigenous Land, 18 have
registered deforestation related to wildcat mining.

A recent photo, taken by vice-president of Hutukara, of the structure of the Basic Indigenous Health Unit (UBSI) of Homoxi being swallowed by a crater created by mining, received widespread coverage by the press and social media.

Aircraft and helicopters on the Jeremias runway, Homoxi, Yanomami Indigenous Land|Bruno Kelly/HAY

Aerial photos taken by Hutukara for the report, at the end of January 2022, also show the increasing proximity of mining to the indigenous communities, in addition to the huge scars in the forest, pollution of the rivers and the flagrant use of airplanes, helicopters and other high value equipment in the illegal activity.

Camps in the Yanomami Indigenous Land|Bruno Kelly/HAY

“The government needs to assess its actions, since many operations to combat mining have no effect. This report shows the reality that we are experiencing and its consequences, of great violence and vulnerability. My people are suffering. We ask the public to join us in a call for help for the immediate removal of the wildcat miners from our territory,” invoked Dario Kopenawa.

The document ends with a series of recommendations to the government and
highlights that mining is not an unsolvable problem, but one that requires political will to ensure an efficient and coordinated response from the state and coordination among the organs and agents responsible.

Crater opened by illegal mining in Homoxi, one of the most harassed indigenous communities|Bruno Kelly/HAY

Main factors driving the jump in illegal wildcat mining on Yanomami Land

  • Appreciation in the price of gold on the international market
  • Lack of transparency in the production chain of gold and regulatory failures that allow fraud in the declaration of origin of the illegally extracted metal
  • Weakening of environmental policies and protection of the rights of
    indigenous peoples and, consequently, of regular and coordinated
    surveillance of illegal activity on indigenous lands
  • Worsening of economic crisis and unemployment in Brazil, producing a
    large supply of cheap labor to be exploited in highly precarious and
    dangerous conditions
  • Technical and organizational innovations that enable illegal mining facilities to communicate and move much faster
  • The policy of the current administration is to encourage and support the
    activity despite its illegal nature, producing expectations of future legalization


The report also features shocking testimonies of the violence suffered by women and children at the hands of the miners. According to the statements, collected by indigenous researchers, miners have been sexually abusing women and children after intoxicating members of the communities.

Read passages of the report recorded by one of the indigenous researchers:

“After the Yanomami request food, the miners always reply. (…) ‘Don’t ask for our food for nothing! You obviously haven’t brought your daughter! Only after I lie with your daughter will I give you food!’

‘If you have a daughter and give her to me, I will bring a large amount of food that you will eat! You will eat!’

The [miners] say: ‘This girl here. Your daughter here, is very pretty!’. So, the
Yanomami respond: ‘She is my daughter!’. When they say this, the miners grope the girls. Only after groping them do they give a little food.

The miners have relations only with women that drink rum. The miners are unable to have relations with women who do not drink rum.”

Clandestine airstrip next to a crater opened by mining in Kayanau|Bruno Kelly/HAY

In the eyes of most of the indigenous women, according to the report, the miners represent a terrible threat. They are violent, producing a constant climate of terror in the villages.

The following account was recorded by an indigenous researcher based on an
interview with another Yanomami woman:

“When the people say that they are coming, I’m afraid. This is why, since I’ve heard of miners, I live in distress.

In fact, the people now think: ‘After the miners who covet the gold ruin the vaginas of the women, they make them sick. This is why, now, the women are disappearing,because of the lethality of this disease. So much so that, in 2020, three girls, who were only around 13 years of age, died.

They were young, having only had their first period. After the miners had caused the death of these girls, the Yanomami protested against the miners, who pulled back a little. The leaders said for them that they are too near, behave so badly.”

Mining in the Uraricoera River, Yanomami Indigenous Land|Bruno Kelly/HAY

Residents of the region of Rio Apiaú report to Hutukara that a miner who worked in the region offered drugs and alcohol to the indigenous and, when they were all drunk and passed out, he raped one of the children of the community.

In another complaint, there’s the story of an arranged “marriage” of a Yanomami adolescent with a miner with the promise of payment in merchandise, which was never fulfilled.

Download the report



Instituto Socioambiental

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