In February of this year, the organization Survival International and the BBC released stunning aerial footage of one of the world’s last remaining uncontacted tribes, a group of indigenous people living in Peru’s Amazon rainforest. Using camera lenses with long focal lengths, the photographers obtained intimate footage of tribal settlements and people from a kilometer above.
The footage is captivating; images depicting an expansive landscape of immense natural beauty and desperate fragility evoke a kind of wonder tinged with foreboding – much of the world once looked like this. These days, it is a sight unfamiliar to the common viewer.
Looking closer, we are introduced to the subject of the video: the small tribe of indigenous people living, away from the influence of an ever-encroaching society, in the midst of this remnant of untouched rainforest. Truly a part of the ecosystem – not a pressure on it – one cannot help but weigh against these stark images the contrast of more familiar sights: urbanization, oil exploration, deforestation and environmental destruction.
On August 8, various news sources reported that alleged drug traffickers, smuggling cocaine from Peru to Brazil, made potentially violent contact with the tribe depicted in the above video (read the story here). Survival International and the Brazilian government’s Indian Affairs Department both report that the tribe has been driven from their settlement and has disappeared without a trace.
The initial impact of the above footage was immense, for the existence of tribes such as this one was previously dismissed by the Peruvian government. These vulnerable people have historically had no representation in government, no voice in politics, and no defense from exploitation and violent invasion. Without government support, the eventual tragic fate of tribal people the world throughout is inevitable. Today, far too little is being done to protect and uphold the basic human rights of the world’s most vulnerable peoples. Documented proof of their existence is invaluable to their protection, but without social and political reform in areas where tribal people are at the greatest risk, acknowledgment alone is not enough.
Of course, uncontacted tribes are not the only peoples at risk of being hurt and exploited. Nor are they alone those in need of our attention. Mainstream media, consumerism, and the distractions of Western society keep many of us underexposed and uninformed of the plight of the world’s less fortunate. Too preoccupied with our own challenges, many of us simply don’t realize how much we would care – if only our awareness was broadened.
As the world’s natural resources continue to dwindle at alarming rates, the exploitation of vulnerable human beings can almost always be traced back to increasingly desperate means of resource acquisition. Timber, oil, food and clean water dominate the needs of much of the world’s societies, and as governments and corporations further exploit the Earth and its people, those who need help the most continue to receive the least. There is a dire need for a major paradigm shift in the ways our societies consume, as the risk of abiding the status quo has never been so great.
But our ability to reach a broad audience and establish a common thread of progressive thinking has also never been so feasible. With focus and poise, we have both the power and the credibility to continue striving for meaningful change. Simply by caring, you are part of the collective consciousness that longs to make a difference. But action is most powerful, and it comes in myriad forms. Signing petitions. Boycotting exploitative organizations. Making donations to causes. Changing your patterns of consumption. And, perhaps above all, maximizing the potential of the tools of communication before you to help raise awareness of the topics that instill with you the most passion. Talk to each other. Make your opinion known. Spread the word. A sustainable planet is possible.
This blog post was written by Josef Zook, a member of Vort Port International’s Media Team. He currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.