September 5 is Amazon Day, commemorated around Brazil to mark the emancipation of the Province of Amazonas in 1850, a region that now encompasses the states of Amazonas and Roraima. These days, the date is largely observed by environmentalist NGOs and activist groups, concerned with the progressive destruction of Brazil’s largest biome. This Amazon Day, however, comes with an added taste of melancholy, as it marks the one-month anniversary of the death of indigenous chief Aritana Yawalapíti. A prominent leader for Brazil’s native peoples, he died from Covid-19, aged 71.
Aritana battled the symptoms of his disease for two weeks, but was unable to recover. And he became one of many indigenous victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has rocked the country’s traditional communities. One of Aritana’s 11 children, Tapi Yawalapíti lost his father, uncle, cousin, and grandmother within the space of less than a month.
Speaking to The Brazilian Report, he says that his mission now is to “uphold [his] father’s legacy of defending indigenous lands and the demands of indigenous peoples in Xingu and Brazil.” Aritana represented the interests of 16 indigenous communities in the Alto Xingu region: namely the Kuikuro, Kalapalo, Matipu, Nafukuá, Kamaiurá, Waurá, Aweti, Mehinako, Yawalapíti, Trumai, Ikpeng, Kawaiwete, Judja, Suyá, Naruvutu, and Payuna peoples.
Data from the Health Ministry states that, as of Friday, 23,932 indigenous people have tested positive for Covid-19, with 398 deaths. However, one of the population’s leading representative associations, the Indigenous People’s Articulation (Apib), does not recognize the official counts. Claiming that the Health Ministry has not contemplated indigenous people living in urban regions, Apib’s figures suggest 29,824 cases and 785 deaths.