Steve Campbell of Greene Baptist Church in Maine allegedly invaded the isolated Hi-Merimã tribe in the Amazon. The missionary allegedly entered an area occupied by the remote and protected Hi-Merimã tribe while attempting to evangelize a neighboring tribe. He put them in direct danger because they are isolated community in Brazil that have had almost no contact with the outside world and have limited immunity to outside diseases.
As a result, Campbell is being investigated by officials from FUNAI, the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Affairs Department. He is accused of putting the ancient tribe in grave danger by making contact with them after being led to their area by his GPS. He reportedly entered the area by mistake while teaching Indians from the neighboring Jamamadi tribe to use the device.
“It’s a case of rights violation and exposure to risk of death to isolated indigenous population,” a FUNAI spokesman said in a written statement to Thompson Reuters Foundation. “Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high.”
Campbell could be charged with ‘genocide’ as a result of his actions, FUNAI’s general coordinator, Bruno Pereira, said. “If it is established in the investigation that there was an interest in making contact, using his relationship with other [tribespeople] to approach the isolated [Hi-Merimã tribe], he could be charged with the crime of genocide by deliberately exposing the safety and life of the Merimãs,” said Pereira.
Maybe Campbell strayed by mistake and if his invasion is considered an accident, he may avoid consequences.
Experts have warned that there is an increasing likelihood of missionaries trying to contact isolated tribes in Brazil after the country’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, appointed an evangelical preacher as the new minister in charge of indigenous affairs.
The case comes just a few months after a 26-year-old missionary was killed by members of an isolated tribe armed with bows and arrows. John Allen Chau was believed to have paid fishermen to ferry him to North Sentinel Island, home to a 30,000-year-old tribe known to aggressively repel outsiders. Some Christian groups claimed he was a missionary.
Chau admitted in his diary that he knew of the dangers but continued his efforts due to his eagerness to tell the tribespeople about Jesus Christ. Someone called his attempt “reckless and unjustifiable” while others praised his faith and courage. Making contacts with the tribe is illegal under Indian law.