Vol 4 The Rainforest ... Introduction ... Custodians of the forests
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Custodians of the forests

Every single year in the 20th century, a tribe of Brazilian people has become extinct.
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Indigenous people are the true custodians of the forest. They know which forest plant and animal species are safe to use as food and medicines, knowledge which may help us in our search for cures for disease and illness and food for our growing world population. Every single year this century, a tribe in Brazil has become extinct . According to a report by the World Bank, Brazil's Indian population was five million in 1500. Today it is under 200,000. Attempted 'pacification' of tribespeople has proved fatal to many groups of native people.

The introduction of diseases like influenza and smallpox has killed thousands of people because they have developed no immunity to these illnesses. In 1977, for example, a measles epidemic wiped out half of the Yanomami tribe of the Amazon region.

In the 1980s the government of Brazil had been promised an enormous grant by the World Bank to build five hydroelectric dams on the Xingu river.
The natives of South America affected by this began actively protesting to protect their homelands.

In 1988 one of the Kayapo Indian leaders, Paulinho Paiakan, travelled to Washington DC to discuss the plans with leaders of the World Bank. This meeting received worldwide attention and preceded a major protest gathering the following year at Altimira on the Xingu river. Meeting together were various Indian tribe leaders including Paiakan, as well as ecologists, environmentalists and government officials. The Indians successfully highlighted their plight and the World Bank agreed to postpone its funding of the proposed dams.