One of Brazil’s leading indigenous chiefs, Aritana Yawalapiti, died Wednesday of respiratory complications caused by COVID-19, his family said.
Aritana, 71, a chief of the Yawalapiti people in the Amazon, was known for fighting to protect the world’s biggest rainforest and the rights of the indigenous peoples who live there.
“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.
Aritana was diagnosed with the new coronavirus about two weeks ago, after having trouble breathing in his village in the Xingu indigenous reserve.
He died in an intensive care unit at a hospital in the city of Goiania.
He had been raising funds to help indigenous communities deal with the pandemic when he got sick.
COVID-19 has hit especially hard among the region’s indigenous groups, who have a history of vulnerability to outside diseases.
In Brazil, more than 22,000 indigenous people have been infected and 633 have died, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Association.