Brazil has known a big gold rush in the ‘80s, set off by a policy that was attracting people into the Amazon region by promising them land. This turned out different and many workers went into the informal mining sector. Thousands of garimpeiros (gold miners) went mining in the territories of indigenous peoples.
Conflicts emerged between Indians in the Yanomami area and small-scale gold miners in the Northern state of Roraima. Rivers were polluted and game disappeared. The garimpeiros gave Indians food and goods in order to placate them, which was seen by the Indians as a compensation for the destruction. But the Indians also became dependent on the outsiders’ goods. This is at the root of all the conflicts involving Indians and garimpeiros in the Yanomami area.
The regulations of the government to define where miners could or could not mine, have not been successful. Gold miners were expelled from indigenous areas and areas meant for formal mining companies. There are still many small-scale gold miners working in areas that are defined as illegal for mining. Sometimes because it is difficult to enforce control on the activities in this huge and densely forested area, but also because of overlapping land policies.
In 2006, the Federal Government created seven Protected Areas in the Tapajós region in the state of Pará. 43.9 Percent of the Brazilian Amazon is defined as protected area, either as Indigenous land or for protection of its biodiversity. Many of the Protected Areas created in 2006, overlap with the small-scale mining reserve of Tapajós, created in 1983 by the Ministry of Mining. Other Protected Areas include areas for which mining permits had already been issued. These permits have not been withdrawn and this is of course confusing to the miners.