An American missionary may be charged with genocide for exposing an isolated Brazilian tribe to deadly diseases if it is found he contacted them deliberately, according to the country’s Indigenous Affairs bureau FUNAI.
Steve Campbell, a Christian missionary affiliated with the Greene Baptist Church in Maine, may face serious charges for exposing Brazil’s Hi Merimã tribe to the risk of “disease and death,” FUNAI confirmed in a statement to Reuters.
The mysterious Hi Merimã live deep in the rainforest and are one of just a few dozen of Brazil’s 300 indigenous tribes that have never had contact with the outside world. The Hi Merimã are known for their hostility to outsiders – both to the “civilized” world and to members of other tribes. They numbered about 1,000 when last counted in 1943 and live in Amazonas state.
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The US-born missionary claims he only entered their forbidden land by accident while teaching members of the neighboring Jamamadi tribe how to use GPS. Campbell, however knows, his way around these lands well enough, according to local outlet Folha de São Paulo, which claims at least one Jamamadi tribesman guided him to an abandoned Hi Merimã campground.
Even though the agency has yet to report Campbell to federal prosecutors or police, Campbell could potentially face “genocide” charges if the investigation finds he deliberately approached the remote community, warns Bruno Pereira, general coordinator for isolated tribes at FUNAI.
“It’s a case of rights violation and exposure to risk of death to isolated indigenous population,” another FUNAI spokesperson said. “Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high.”
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The agency didn’t mention any particular diseases, but living in isolation, any tribe would lack natural immunity to the diseases of modernity.
The missionary and his family live in the Jamamadis’