By Leonardo Benassatto and Diego Nigro
PAULISTA, Brazil (Reuters) – Bruno Pereira, the Brazilian indigenous defender killed this month while investigating threats to isolated tribes in the Amazon, was laid to rest Friday in his home state of Pernambuco in the country’s northeast.
Pereira, a 41-year-old father of three, was buried after a funeral attended by family and indigenous Brazilians paying their respects to the man who spent his career studying and advocating for indigenous people.
Some two dozen Xukuru indigenous men and women said goodbye to Pereira with song and dance as a photo of him rested atop his coffin, which was draped with the flags of Pernambuco and the Sport Recife soccer team.
“We came here to honor our warrior, the warrior Bruno, who today becomes a martyr for all of us, for the indigenous cause,” said Marcos Luidson, a leader in the Xukuru community in Pernambuco.
Pereira began working for Brazil’s indigenous agency Funai in 2010 in the Javari Valley, a remote area home to the highest concentration of uncontacted tribes in the world.
It was there where Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips were murdered earlier this month while studying indigenous tribes’ efforts to defend themselves from illegal hunters, miners, loggers, and fishers.
Pereira was put on leave from Funai in 2019, after working with federal police on an operation that destroyed 60 boats used by illegal miners. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had earlier that year scolded law enforcement for destroying equipment seized from illegal miners and loggers.
Pereira’s removal as a senior Funai official was part of a wave of staff and budget cuts at the agency after Bolsonaro came to office in 2019.
Pereira later helped indigenous groups patrol the Javari Valley for illegal activity by outsiders, dangerous work that brought him multiple threats.
Murders of indigenous land defenders jumped to 10 in both 2019 and 2020, compared to five in the two prior years combined, according to human rights group Global Witness.
At the funeral, Xukuru leader Luidson called for accountability for Pereira, Phillips and all the indigenous defenders killed.
“How many other leaders were killed? How many warriors do we have who were murdered around the struggle for territory without visibility? … Many others,” Luidson said.
(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto and Diego Nigro; Additional reporting by Jake Spring and Anthony Boadle; Writing by Brendan O’Boyle; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)