Missionaries Respond to 'Nightline' Report

Group says 'Nightline' piece on controversial tribe was inaccurate.

Feb. 2, 2009— -- In September 2008, "Nightline" reported on a group of evangelical Christian missionaries who launched a campaign against what they claim is the widespread practice of infanticide among Amazonian Indians. After the piece aired, the group issued the following response to "Nightline" and ABC News correspondent Dan Harris:

Dear Mr. Harris,

When an issue becomes as politicized as infanticide among Brazilian Indians has, it's hard to find the thread of truth among the many conflicting voices. But in the final analysis, our position is quite simple: when the life of a child -- any child -- is at risk, there's no argument. Something must be done to protect that child.

My husband, Edson Suzuki, and I feel strongly about preserving indigenous language, music, art, and their traditional ways. That is the main reason we founded ATINI, a non-government organization (NGO) that advocates for indigenous children's rights. Unlike the accusatory tone the title of your story suggests, "Missionaries Accuse Indians of Killing Babies," ATINI exists to support those Indians eager to protect their children from unnecessary death.

Regarding your ABC News "Nightline" story a few weeks ago, several inaccuracies and omissions were evident, among them:

1. The Missing Indigenous Perspective (sic): Although representatives from different organizations were able to share their perspectives, this story was ultimately about the tribes. Indigenous leaders came to Brasilia to meet with you -- some of them having traveled over 40 hours from their tribes -- but you excluded their statements from your story. The most important perspective -- of the Indians themselves -- was missed entirely.

2. Claims That Infanticide Is Infrequent and Happens Only in Remote Areas: Over the last few years, several publications (and we could cite them specifically) have quoted government experts who support our claim that infanticide is common in tribes that are not deeply isolated. Even Napoleon Chagnon, well-known American anthropologist, has described the high infanticide rate among the Yanomami Tribe.

3. The Antenor Vaz Report: The 82-page report put out by FUNAI is a massive compilation of politically-motivated, unsubstantiated allegations meant to smear the missions and NGO's working with the Indians. If the accusations in the report (among them, enslavement, kidnappings and bio-piracy) were legitimate, legal proceedings against the NGOs would have started already. And they haven't. Your coverage should have, at the very least, treated the bogus report with a healthy dose of skepticism. Instead, the theatrics of Vaz pulling out pile after pile of "evidence" from his desk, followed by a slow camera zoom into the cover of the report taints the audience who's hearing all of this for the first time.

The combined impact of the inaccuracies and omissions mentioned above misrepresented the indigenous movement to protect indigenous children, and in turn gave unfair weight to the government's position. The indigenous perspective was missed almost entirely, as the coverage was hijacked by stereotypical notions of modern evangelical missions and what "must" be their "true hidden proselytizing agendas."

The complexity of the indigenous struggle in the Amazon may be a tall order for eight minutes of sound bytes on late-night television, but insightful journalism would have seen beyond the static generated by a government preoccupied with covering up their own incompetence and failed indigenous policies. We expected more.


Edson Suzuki & Marcia Suzuki