I've watched this short clip from Survival International more than a dozen times, and I still find myself haunted by the images of the "uncontacted" people of the Amazon. When I look into their faces, I see a shadow of my own family. After all, the tribes living along the Spokane River were "contacted" by Europeans only 200 years ago, hardly a blink within our 11,000 year history. And yet these last two centuries have produced some of the most radical changes imaginable. Catastrophic disease, warfare, and forced assimilation have forever altered the fabric of our culture, and it's difficult to know what has been lost.
Perhaps in some ways, the "uncontacted" people of the Amazon are standing where my ancestors stood 200 years ago. If history provides a model, it's overwhelming, terrifying even, to imagine what changes they may encounter if the outside world finally succeeds in pushing through. I agree with Survival International when they say that "uncontacted" peoples should be free to choose the conditions and the timing of meeting the outside world.
A statement from their website is worth repeating:
"The 'development' of tribal peoples against their wishes - really to let others get their land and resources - is rooted in 19th century colonialism ('We know best') dressed up in 20th century 'politically correct' euphemism. Tribal peoples are not backward: they are independent and vibrant societies which, like all of us always, are constantly adapting to a changing world. The main difference between tribal peoples and us is that we take their land and resources, and believe the dishonest, even racist claim that it's for their own good. It's conquest, not development."