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AN UNCONTACTED tribe on the Indonesian island of Halmahera could be wiped out in a mining project linked to electric battery production, Survival International has warned.
A huge mining concession has been granted to Weda Bay Nickel (WBN), a joint venture partly owned by French mining company Eramet, and the territory to be exploited overlaps with land inhabited by the Hongana Manyawa, an indigenous group of whom 3-500 remain uncontacted.
The project is reportedly part of Indonesia’s plan to become a major producer of electric car batteries, a scheme in which giants of the electric vehicle industry including Elon Musk’s Tesla have invested billions.
“The Hongana Manyawa, which means ‘people of the forest’ in their own language, are one of the last nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in Indonesia,” Survival International explained.
“They now face the threat of seeing their land, and everything they need to survive, destroyed by corporations rushing to provide a supposedly ‘sustainable’ lifestyle to people thousands of miles away.”
The indigenous rights campaign said the mining is illegal under international law because uncontacted tribes cannot give “free, prior and informed consent” to the exploitation of their land.
Large areas of forest inhabited by the tribe have already been cleared, and WBN has plans to expand its mining operations, while German chemical giant BASF is now planning to build a refinery on the island in partnership with Eramet.
The campaign group spoke to Hongana Manyawa tribespeople who have recently been contacted by outsiders.
One woman told them: “They are poisoning our water and making us feel like we are being slowly killed.”
Another said: “I do not give consent for them to take it… we do not want to give away our forest.”
Survival International director Caroline Pearce said: “It’s appalling that electric car companies would sell customers a promise of ethical consumption, while their supply chains destroy an uncontacted tribe. There is nothing climate-friendly about laying waste to the Hongana Manyawa’s rainforest.”
There are an estimated 1-200 uncontacted peoples — defined as peoples living without sustained contact with neighbouring peoples or the “world community” — worldwide, the majority in the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon.
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