Story at a glance

  • Aritana died Wednesday after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 about two weeks ago.
  • Aritana was one of the last speakers of the language of his tribe, Yawalapiti
  • He worked to create the Xingu National Park, the first large swath of protected indigenous land in the Amazon where 16 tribes live, according to Reuters.

One of Brazil’s most prominent and influential indigenous leaders known for fighting to protect the Amazon and the rights of indigenous peoples who call the rainforest home died on Wednesday as a result of respiratory complications caused by COVID-19, according to Reuters. 

Aritana Yawalapiti, 71, was a chief of the Yawalapiti people in the Amazon. 


America is changing FASTER THAN EVER. Add Changing America to your Facebook and Twitter feeds to stay engaged on the latest news and smartest insights.


“He was a great advocate in the struggle to preserve and perpetuate his people’s culture for future generations and a tireless activist against the effects of deforestation,” his family said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse

Aritana was diagnosed with COVID-19 about two weeks after experiencing trouble breathing. He was taken from his village in the Xingu indigenous reserve to a hospital in the town of Canarana in the west-central state of Mato Grosso. 

When his condition worsened, he was transferred to an intensive care unit in the city of Goiania where he died Wednesday. 

Aritana was the leader of the people of the Upper Xingu and was one of the last speakers of his tribe's language, Yawalapiti. He also worked to create the Xingu National Park, the first large swath of protected indigenous land in the Amazon where 16 tribes live, according to Reuters. 

More than 22,000 indigenous people have been infected with the coronavirus, and 633 have died in Brazil, according to Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples’ Association. 

Half of Brazil’s 300 indigenous tribes have confirmed cases, Reuters reports. 

The World Health Organization warned last month that indigenous people around the world are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 as they often lack access to health, education and social services. The WHO said it was deeply concerned about the effect the virus has on indigenous peoples in the Americas, which remains the current epicenter of the pandemic. 

Brazil has the second highest number of coronavirus infections behind the U.S., with more than 2.8 million confirmed cases and 97,256 deaths. 

Published on Aug 06, 2020