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Indigenous Indignation

Investigators accuse YWAM of squelching tribal cultures.
2008This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

The Brazilian government is investigating the missionary agency Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for allegedly tampering with indigenous cultures.

Twenty-five nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were monitored by the government for approximately six months in 2007. Most of the groups are accused of having stolen intellectual property from Brazil's rainforests by passing local knowledge of the country's plants and animals to pharmaceutical companies. The government has not released the names of most of the NGOs under investigation, though one accused group, the Amazon Conservation Team, called the allegations "groundless."

YWAM allegedly interfered with the ethnic identity of some of Brazil's tribes.

Bráulia Ribeiro, the president of YWAM's Brazilian office during the investigation, said the claims are baseless. She learned about the investigation through the papers, she said, noting that YWAM had not yet been contacted by the government. "Once they come to you," she said, "it's almost too late to defend yourself."

Tensions between missionary groups and Latin American governments and anthropologists go back many decades. In 1971 a group of anthropologists drafted the Declaration of Barbados, calling missionaries to "assume a position of true respect for Indian culture, ending the long and shameful history of despotism and intolerance characteristic of missionary work."

In 2005 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called for the expulsion of New Tribes Mission from his country, describing the church-planting and Bible translation agency as an "imperialist infiltration."

Brazil's YWAM office is nationally based and almost completely staffed by native Brazilians, so Ribeiro doesn't believe it would be possible to expel the organization ...

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