Foundation for Endangered Languages

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3. Appeals

An Endangerment Situation In Brazil

Nilson Gabas, Jr. (gabas(at) has sent the following request for a letter from either individuals or institutions to support the rights of recently contacted Indians in the Igarape Omere region of Corumbiara, state of Rondonia, Brazil.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (FUNAI) has known since the early 1980s that there were Indians living in the region of the Igarape Omere, in Rondonia, but only recently have these Indians been actually seen and contacted. Two distinct and small groups live there: the Kanoe (four Indians) and another group (seven Indians) who speak a previously unknown (or presumed extinct) language of the Tupari family of the Tupi stock. The land they inhabit includes three large farms, one of which belongs to a landowner involved in a recent massacre involving squatters and hired gunmen.

The situation of these eleven Indians is precarious, because their presence is inconvenient for the ranchers (who have shown considerable ruthlessness in the past). To protect the Indians, a small group of personnel working for the Isolated Indians Department of FUNAI is in touch with them, guaranteeing their survival. This group cannot leave the area (they work in turns of 2-3 weeks) because of the possibility that the ranchers will take measures against the Indians.

Linguistic Situation
Kanoe, according to the classification of Aryon Rodrigues, is an isolated language that not fit into any of the other group of Brazilian languages. Besides the four Indians found in the region of the Igarape Omere, there are fewer than a half dozen other Kanoe speakers known, all elderly, living isolated from one another either in cities or in different Indian reservations.

The major linguistic work with the Kanoe language is an MA thesis on aspects of its phonology that was written by a student of Rodrigues. Other linguistic material includes only a few wordlists. One small paper about general aspects of Kanoe ethnography was published in the 1950s.

The language of the other group of Indians is either a new language or a language previously believed to be extinct. It is genetically affiliated to the Tupari family of the Tupi stock.

Legal Status
A formal request has been made by linguists and anthropologists to "interdict" the area (about 90,000 hectares) where these Indians live, to guarantee their survival. Interdiction would provide that the land on which the Indians live could not be touched for a specific period of time. This would give time for a working group to study the Indians, and to set up a reservation for them to live on permanently.

The request was published in November in the Diario Oficial da Uniao, the official publication of the Federal Government. The next step now is to get the approval of the Minister of Justice, the ministry to which FUNAI belongs.

As a Brazilian linguist (PhD student at UC-Santa Barbara) who has been involved in the process of contacting these Indians and identifying their languages, I am interested in their survival. I would like to request from you (either as an individual or as member of any institution) a letter stating/requesting basically the following:

- You are aware of the question involving the Indians of the Igarape Omere, in Rondonia, Brazil; - As a linguist (or anthropologist, etc.), you are interested on the maintenance of languages and cultures of these Indians, as well as their physical survival; - You would like to see measures taken to insure the survival of those groups, and you request that the Minister of Justice of Brazil approves and signs the request for the interdiction of the area, as published in the Diario Oficial da Uniao (number 219, of Nov 16, 1995). You can fax your letter or send it through regular mail to the following address:

Exmo. Sr. Ministro Nelson Azevedo Jobim
Ministerio da Justica
Esplanada dos Ministerios
Bloco T 4o.Andar
70004-900 Brasilia - DF
fax 55-61-322-6817

Also, if you could, please send also a copy of your letter to the President of Brazil (who is sensitive to foreign pressure) at the following address:

Exmo. Sr. Presidente da Republica do Brasil
Dr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Palacio do Planalto
Praca dos Tres Poderes
70150-900 Brasilia - DF
fax: 55-61-226-7566

A third copy of the letter, if possible, should be sent to FUNAI, for them to keep track of what is being sent to the Minister. The address of FUNAI is:

FUNAI - Diretoria de Assuntos Fundiarios
DD. Sra. Isa Maria Pacheco, Diretora
Setor de Radio e Televisao Sul
Bloco A Ed. LEX 3o. Andar
70340-904 Brasilia - DF
Phonefax: 55-61-226-7168

Thank you very much for your understanding and cooperation.

Nilson Gabas, Jr.
Museu Goeldi, Belem, Brazil

Support for Nahuatl Publishing

Date: Wed, 2 Aug 1995 12:38:00 +0100
Reply-To: nat-lang(at)
Subject: Tradicion Oral Nahuatl project
Original Sender: jaflores(at)

My name is Jose Antonio Flores Farfan. Together with Cleofas Ramirez Celestino, a Nahuatl native speaker, we are developing the project "Tradicion Oral Nahuatl." This project has already produced a couple of books for children and the general public, based on the Nahuas' oral tradition, and illustrated by Cleofas herself. Due to the recent devaluation, our project is paralysed. We finished a book on the Mermaid of el Balsas, but is still wanting the financial support to publish it. Maybe you would be interested in co-editing: suggestions for publishing welcome!

Best wishes, Jose Antonio Flores Farfan

Tribal Protest in India: Call for Action v The following announcement (excerpted here) appeared on the Indian Grammar list “vyakaran(at)” on 28 February.

15th. January 1996
Sub: Appeal for Support and Solidarity to Fasting Adivasis and their Supporters

Dear Friend,

Tribals (adivasi) representatives from all over the country have assembled in Delhi to begin an indefinite dharna from 15th February 1996 to demand extension of the 73rd and 74th Amendments concerning Panchayati Raj to the Scheduled Areas in line with the recommendations of the Bhuriya Committee. And not without reason.



In 1947, the tribal people of Independent India felt intensely betrayed. What they had fought and laid down their lives for nearly 18 decades was systematically subverted. The transfer of power from the Colonial Regime did not result in the resolution of the structural conflict between the community and the state apparatus resulting from the imposition of a formal administrative structure on a self governing people by the British administration. The Rulers had changed, their minions were the same. Azadi was won, Swaraj was denied.

The Constitution tried to resolve this structural conflict through the arrangements provided in the Vth and VIth Schedules. These principles were accepted by the political executive and articulated by the first Prime Minister in his Policy of Panchsheel. But while the Governors refused to throw off the shackles of a colonial administrative structure, the President remained a silent spectator. History repeated itself, the tribals were twice betrayed in less than a decade. The situation remained unresolved, the contradictions sharpened, while legitimate aspirations were suppressed.

In the wake of the avowed policy of the state to devolve authority to the people under the 73rd. and 74th. Amendments, Article 243(M) of the Constitution was introduced as a saving clause. In restraining the automatic extension of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Scheduled Areas without suitable modifications, a fresh attempt was being made to resolve the age old conflict. The Article enjoined on Parliament the duty to promulgate the legislation. The logic behind this article, we were given to understand, was that tribal societies, were, by and large, the last vestiges of community self governance and would be the first to re-activate the process of popular self-rule.

The High Level Committee of tribal MPs under the Chairmanship of Dileepsingh Bhuriya MP, constituted to recommend suitable modifications for the new legislation, took up the responsibility to resolve the conflict between the community and the state apparatus and give it a concrete form in the context of the tribal area. The Committee submitted its report on 17 January 1995, an important benchmark in the history of democratic India as it brought within the scope of village governance, the stress on participatory democracy, community command over resources, management of conflict, administration of law and order, planning and implementation of development, accountability of the bureaucracy et alia. In short it provided the people the chance to govern their own lives and the space for the common man to intervene in the processes that shape his destiny. In the short history of the nation, this was the first time that an opportunity had arisen and we were excited to be at a historic moment when our intervention could make or unmake history. Hopes were raised only to be betrayed again.

The High Courts of Hyderabad and Patna have declared the extension of the state Panchayati Acts to the Scheduled Areas unconstitutional, while the Bombay High Court has stayed its application. But both Parliament and the Government have remained strangely silent and somnolent on this vital issue. So much for the claim of the 'revolutionary character' of the 73rd. Amendment. The ensuing legal vacuum has denied the tribals the right to village self governance as envisaged in the Constitutional Amendment. It appeared that the tribals would be betrayed for the third time. It was time the tribal people undertook the challenge themselves.

All over the country, tribals are agitating for the right to self rule and implementation of the Bhuriya Committee Report. The Civil Disobedience Movement is continuing since October 2nd 1995. But Parliament seems to be oblivious to their anxiety over the legal vacuum existing in the scheduled areas. On the other hand, while political parties are beginning preparations for the Lok Sabha elections, the issue of tribal self rule does not appear on their agenda.

Tired of the Government's and Parliament's refusal to legislate in accordance with the recommendations of the Bhuriya Committee Report and to resolve the conflict and restore the patent rights to democratic self governance to the tribal people, the tribal leaders of the National Front for Tribal Self Rule have decided today on incisive action to bring the issue on the national agenda and force the politicians to sit up and take notice. Consensus was reached on

1. indefinite dharna to commence from 15th. February 1996 at Samta Sthal (near Raj Ghat, Delhi)
2. indefinite fast to follow immediately after two days.
3. indefinite solidarity fast by Dr B.D. Sharma, Chairman of Bharat Jan Andolan, Adv. Pradip Prabhu, National Convener of Front and Dr. Vinayan, Gen. Secretary Bharat Jan Andolan and others
4. relay fasts and demonstrations in support of the fasting tribals in state capitals.

We extend this appeal to you for support and solidarity to the fast of the tribal leaders. We would appreciate if you would:
1. Request your friends and contacts to send letters/telegrams/faxes to the PM and President "Demanding Promulgation of Legislation based on Bhuriya Committee Report"
2. Request your friends and contacts to join the fasting tribals in a solidarity chain fast.

Please let us know your response at the office of the Front in Delhi:
A-37, Nangli Rajapur, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi 110013, Tel: 4643997.

Thanking you. Yours in the struggle,
Pradip Prabhu
National Convener


The fax numbers for Prime Minister Rao are:

1. P.V. NARASIMHA RAO, Prime Minister of India --- Fax: (011) 91 11 3013817 or 3019817

2. P.V. NARASIMHA RAO, PM of India , c/o The Indian Embassy, D.C. --- Fax: 202-939-7027; 202-265-4351; Fax directly to the Ambassador: 202-483-3972.

For more information and updates contact
Sanjay Anand at
(+1-607- 253-5420) or Sangeeta Kamat at