A leading expert on Amazon tribes was shot dead with an arrow fired by indigenous people while approaching them in a remote area of Brazil.
Rieli Franciscato, 56, was the head of a programme to protect indigenous groups that have little or no contact with the outside world.
He died on Wednesday in the Seringueiras region, a remote municipality in the northern state of Rondonia, said a statement from the Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs office, FUNAI, where he worked.
FUNAI declined to say how he died, but officials and a journalist in the region confirmed the details of the incident on Thursday.
Witnesses said he was shot with an arrow while monitoring recent appearances by a tribe known as the ‘Cautario River isolated group,’ according to a photojournalist in the region, Gabriel Uchida.
Rieli was accompanied by a police patrol.
Pictured: Rieli Franciscato, 56, a government official and leading expert on isolated Amazon tribes, who was killed by an arrow fired by indigenous people on Wednesday
When the party came under fire with arrows, they ran to take shelter behind a vehicle, but Rieli was hit in the chest, witnesses said.
‘He cried out, pulled the arrow from his chest, ran 50 meters and collapsed, lifeless,’ a policeman who accompanied the expedition said in an audio posted on social media.
He was taken to the nearest hospital, but died soon after.
The tribe ‘are known as a peaceful group,’ Uchida told the AFP news agency. ‘The last time they appeared in the region was in June…. It was a larger group, very peaceful. They even left presents at someone’s house,’ he said.
‘This time, there were just five armed men – a war party. That means something must have happened to make them seek “revenge.”‘
Such groups have sometimes lashed out violently when illegal miners or poachers encroach on their land.
Uchida said there were some reports of such activity in the region.
Isolated tribes’ first contacts with the outside world have often been disastrous in the past, marred by deadly violence, devastating outbreaks of disease and the breakdown of their social structures.
Rieli led an operation at FUNAI called the Uru Eu Wau Wau Ethno-Environmental Protection Front, whose mission was to protect isolated groups.
Franciscato was killed in the Seringueiras region, a remote municipality in the northern state of Rondonia (pictured), close to the border of Bolivia
Indigenous men of the Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe from the same region in which Franciscato was killed hold bows and arrows in an indigenous reservation. Indigenous people in the region and their way of life has become increasingly threatened from the outside
His death comes at a time when indigenous people in Brazil are under increasing threat from invasions by illegal land grabbers, loggers and gold miners, emboldened by the policies of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro who wants to develop the Amazon and reduce the size of indigenous reservations.
‘We are feeling bewildered by so many deaths in this Brazil that no longer respects indigenous rights,’ said Ivaneide Cardozo, Franciscato’s friend and co-founder of the Kaninde association.
The leading authority on Brazil’s remaining isolated tribes and a former head of FUNAI, Sydney Possuelo, said Bolsonaro had kept his campaign promise to destroy the agency that is meant to defend rights of indigenous people.
A member of the Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe looks on in an area deforested by invaders in the village of Alto Jaru, at the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reservation. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro wants to develop the Amazon and reduce the size of indigenous reservations
A handout photo issued by the World Wildlife Fund UK (WWF) of an area of illegal deforestation in the in the indigenous Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory in Rondonia
Possuelo said the government had defunded FUNAI and left it without staff needed for security at its isolated posts just as increasing land invasions increase the risk of violent clashes.
Brazil’s presidency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bolsonaro has repeatedly proposed the need to integrate the indigenous, who he has described as living ‘like cave men,’ into broader Brazilian society.
The Brazilian Amazon is home to at least 100 isolated tribes, more than anywhere else in the world, according to indigenous rights group Survival International.
‘Rieli dedicated his life to the indigenous cause. He had more than three decades of service, and leaves an immense legacy for the protection of these peoples,’ said FUNAI official Ricardo Lopes Dias.