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Indigenous Populations of Amazon Move to Cities, Encounter Urban Poverty

by Ryan Lee
14 comments
Indigenous migration

Binan Tuku, an Amazonian Indigenous individual, encountered a Brazilian government expedition on the Itui River’s banks in the secluded western Amazon rainforest in 1976. He and his father, initially skeptical, began their tribe’s interactions with the outside world by accepting machetes and soap.

Fast forward to nearly half a century later, and Tuku’s son, Tumi, is trying to make ends meet in the poverty-stricken city of Atalaia do Norte. Tumi, now a bakery worker, departs from traditional Matis tribal roles, handling a pastry bag instead of a blowgun. His face does not display the traditional Matis tattoos or piercings.

Tumi, aged 24, hopes to further his education in the city and potentially study medicine or journalism at a college level. “Engaging with non-Indigenous people and learning from the challenges I face could provide valuable insights to share with village elders upon returning,” Tumi said.

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Various Indigenous individuals, similar to Tumi, are migrating to cities like Atalaia do Norte. Some are in search of superior educational opportunities while others are lured by federal welfare benefits, often trapping them in a cycle of urban poverty. This migration is leading to the decline of Indigenous villages and igniting worries about the largest tropical rainforest’s future, a critical barrier against severe climate change.

Anthropologist Almério Alves Wadick estimates that around half of the 6,200 Indigenous inhabitants in the Javari Valley now reside in urban areas. Binin Matis, leader of the Matis Indigenous Association, fears this migration may lead to the loss of traditional language and increased exposure to harmful substances like drugs.

President of the Indigenous Peoples’ Association in the Javari Valley, Bushe Matis, expresses concerns that this shift could trigger reductions in health and education programs. It could also endanger Indigenous territories that could be exposed to mining and drilling.

In a bid to protect the region from illegal activities such as fishing, mining, and logging, Univaja has set up its own surveillance team, replacing the duties previously fulfilled by the villagers.

The Indigenous communities face hostility from non-Indigenous residents who view them as competition for scarce resources, including fish. A federal program, Bolsa Familia, launched 20 years ago to provide financial aid to families ensuring their children’s immunization and school attendance, is partially driving this migration. However, this has resulted in a multitude of issues, including exploitation and vulnerability to alcohol and disease in city life.

The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples is working on amendments to the program to make payments more accessible without necessitating frequent travel. This includes plans for extended withdrawal periods and flexible payment dates.

Improving education in Indigenous territories to minimize the motivation to migrate is a significant aim for the ministry. Nelly Marubo, an Indigenous anthropologist, advocates for culturally tailored village schools to offer access to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge. However, she recounts a recent visit to her native region in the Javari Valley with a heavy heart, discovering an almost deserted village inhabited by only four elderly women.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Indigenous migration

Why are the Amazon Indigenous leaving their villages for cities?

The Amazon Indigenous are leaving their villages for cities in search of better education and due to the attraction of a federal welfare benefit.

What problems do the Amazon Indigenous encounter in cities?

In cities, the Amazon Indigenous encounter urban poverty. They also face exploitation, vulnerability to alcohol, disease, and hostility from non-Indigenous residents who see them as competition for scarce resources.

What impact does the migration of the Amazon Indigenous to cities have on their villages?

The migration of the Amazon Indigenous to cities is leading to the decline of Indigenous villages. This raises concerns about the future of the world’s largest tropical rainforest without its traditional guardians.

What is being done to help the Amazon Indigenous who have moved to cities?

The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples is working to amend parts of the Bolsa Familia program to make payments more accessible without necessitating frequent travel. They are also aiming to improve education in Indigenous territories to minimize the incentive to leave.

What is the Bolsa Familia program?

The Bolsa Familia program is a federal program launched 20 years ago to provide financial aid to families if they immunize their children and keep them in school. It is one of the factors driving the migration of Indigenous people to cities.

More about Indigenous migration

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14 comments

LunaMoon July 5, 2023 - 5:57 am

Absolutely heartbreaking. These people are just looking for a better life. We need more support for indigenous communities!

Reply
UrbanGypsy July 5, 2023 - 7:10 am

Sounds like the welfare programs need some serious tweaking. Can’t believe they have to travel to get their benefits, thats just messed up!

Reply
RiverWind July 5, 2023 - 8:25 am

its a catch22 situation isnt it? cant stay in the forest coz of deforestation and life in cities aint no better either.

Reply
EcoWarrior101 July 5, 2023 - 10:42 am

We are losing our natural guardians of the rainforest, this is alarming! The impact on climate change will be massive.

Reply
OldWisdom July 5, 2023 - 7:59 pm

Our ancestors knew how to live with nature, now we’re forcing these folks to abandon that. Really makes you think, huh?

Reply
JakeMartinez July 5, 2023 - 8:32 pm

Its crazy that in search of better life, they end up facing poverty in cities! We gotta do something for these people…education is a must.

Reply
StarGaze July 6, 2023 - 1:49 am

Wish there were more initiatives to preserve their cultures and languages. We can’t afford to lose these precious links to our past.

Reply
LunaMoon July 6, 2023 - 3:41 pm

Absolutely heartbreaking. These people are just looking for a better life. We need more support for indigenous communities!

Reply
UrbanGypsy July 6, 2023 - 6:43 pm

Sounds like the welfare programs need some serious tweaking. Can’t believe they have to travel to get their benefits, thats just messed up!

Reply
JakeMartinez July 6, 2023 - 7:05 pm

Its crazy that in search of better life, they end up facing poverty in cities! We gotta do something for these people…education is a must.

Reply
RiverWind July 6, 2023 - 9:27 pm

its a catch22 situation isnt it? cant stay in the forest coz of deforestation and life in cities aint no better either.

Reply
EcoWarrior101 July 6, 2023 - 9:33 pm

We are losing our natural guardians of the rainforest, this is alarming! The impact on climate change will be massive.

Reply
StarGaze July 7, 2023 - 12:45 am

Wish there were more initiatives to preserve their cultures and languages. We can’t afford to lose these precious links to our past.

Reply
OldWisdom July 7, 2023 - 2:04 am

Our ancestors knew how to live with nature, now we’re forcing these folks to abandon that. Really makes you think, huh?

Reply

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