The Araribóia Indigenous Territory, located in the southeast of Maranhão, comprises an area of about 413,000 hectares that is home to about 12,000 indigenous people of the Guajajara-Tenetehara and the (related) Awá-Guajá, and an estimated 80 of the latter living in isolation. The Guajajara are one of Brazil’s most numerous indigenous groups and live in several protected territories in Maranhão, the largest one being Araribóia. The Awá are in turn one of the most threatened indigenous groups in the world and also known as one of the last hunter-gatherers and for building close relationships with wild animals. Their territory (close to Araribóia) has seen regular invasions and illegal occupations from cattle ranchers, settlers and loggers and got partly destroyed, putting the group, whose livelihood strongly depends on an intact forest, increasingly under pressure. The Araribóia territory is part of a unique biome in the transition zone between the eastern Amazon rainforest and the savanna of the Cerrado in Brazil’s northeast, making the woodlands prone to seasonal droughts. As the Awá territory, it is one of the areas within the “Moisaico Gurupi”, a group of six indigenous territories and one conservation unit that has been described in a recent study as the Amazon’s currently most threatened and vulnerable zone with regard to the dynamics of deforestation, illegal land occupation and timber extraction, and associated violence – which would therefore require special protection and conservation effort to preserve the important ecological functions and socio-cultural heritage of the areas in danger. 
The Araribóia territory is thus under intense pressure from logging invasions that cause the illegal extraction of timber and deforestation but also arson attacks that in recent years have led to vast environmental damages and threats to communities. This on the one hand corresponds to a general trend of rising deforestation in the whole Brazilian Amazon since 2012 (whereas before, deforestation rates had plunged after increased conservation efforts and government measures since 2005). As already more than 70 percent of Maranhão’s Amazonian forest biome have been cleared, deforestation pressure is particularly high on the last well preserved forested areas, which are almost exclusively protected indigenous territories such as Araribóia, as these are legally off-limits to commercial exploitation and still have a lot of valuable hardwood. This might partly explain why the state has among the highest numbers of indigenous conflicts in Brazil.  In addition to that, Maranhão, together with the largest timber producing states Mato Grosso and Pará, has the highest numbers of forest fires in Brazil, which, as experts note, are particularly aggravated through the lack of supervision and law enforcement and the simultaneous strong economic interests, as all fires are undoubtedly human-caused. A main driver and incentive seems to be the rise of meat prices but also policies that incentivize the advancing of the agricultural frontier, e.g. Brazil’s 2015-launched agricultural economic incentive program for soybean and corn production in Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia (Plano Matotiba), which was criticized by civil society organizations for proliferating the destructive development realized by the agribusiness in the whole Cerrado region.  Also illegal logging – although nothing new in the Amazon region – remains a highly profitable business and is, so to say, the first step of the profit chain of deforestation, before the remaining forest gets burned and invaded by ranchers or farmers. A French documentary (“Le dernier combat”, see link below) on the practices of illegal logging and resulting threats to Brazil’s Awá and other indigenous populations cites World Bank records which estimate that illegal logging yields 15 $ billion per year and is often linked to organized crime. The business relies on false authorization permits that allow to link illegal small-scale loggers - which increasingly operate in indigenous territories, as Maranhão’s municipal exploration areas are more and more exhausted - to Brazil’s big export companies.  For example, a 2018 Greenpeace investigation in the neighboring state Pará (where about three quarters of all logged wood is estimated to be illegal) exposed widespread fraud in the licensing of Ipe trees which allows laundering of illegally logged timber and could have led to massive exports of such timber. The system, among others, makes use of the usually weak forest inspections and fraudulent inventories that e.g. overestimate tree volumes or manipulate the inventory by adding trees of high value. These credits created through ‘imaginary trees’ are then available for regularizing illegally logged trees which, once arrived at sawmills, are almost indistinguishable from regularly logged ones. Such frauds even permit exports to markets that have stricter standards on the origin of timber (e.g. the EU), but obviously have an interest in lax law enforcement measures to avoid shortage and reduce costs, as companies are willing to buy timber also from dubious origin as long as the formal criteria are fulfilled. 
The conflicts around Araribóia epitomizes these issues but also the general lawlessness and violence against indigenous people in the region. For a long time, communities have been confronted with timber extraction and forest destruction through loggers and faced increasing assaults and violence. However, the Guajajara of Araribóia have increasingly mobilized against loggers but also the lacking law enforcement and protection by the state, and in 2008, decided to take direct action to actively defend themselves and the isolated Awá people. About 48 of them formed a group of “environmental agents” to patrol and monitor the area in order to detect and resist illegal logging, a strategy then also adopted by other indigenous groups in the region (e.g. in the Alto Turiaçu territory). A Washington Post journalist depicted in 2015 that the guardians in Araribóia are armed with shotguns and have set up an improvised checkpoint to control vehicles. They reported that they detect loggers, surround them in camps and tie them up before kicking them out of the reserve and then head on to burn their vehicles, often together with loaded illegally cut timber. Thus, with such direct action, they have stopped many invasions from loggers, hunters, and other enemies and also revealed the threats to isolated Awá tribes, as they regularly encountered abandoned shelters. A Guajajara leader summarized their action as follows: “We patrol, we find the loggers, we destroy their equipment and we send them away. We’ve stopped many loggers. It’s working.”  In the following years, the indigenous patrols, which then became called Guardiões da Floresta (“Guardians of the Forest”), were officially integrated in the government’s forest protection program and provided support by FUNAI, including ammunition, boots and fuel for their vehicles. Also a local environmental unit of the police accompanied them on some missions, and a speaker confirmed that their weapons are necessary for self-defense although there were incidents in which armed guardians went beyond the limits and threatened to kill already captured loggers. According to locals, numbers of logging trucks leaving the southern end of the reserve have fallen from up to 130 to about 10 or 15 per day since the start of the indigenous group’s direct measures. The guardians have also persuaded most nearby villages to stop allowing logging trucks to pass into their territory, but some still continue to do so and charge money for each truck as there is no other economic income; many trucks have also changed their route. Thus, although logging was significantly reduced it could not be stopped, and shifted to the northern part whereas the southern part became more and more target of arson attacks. While the guardians enjoy the support of a large part of the indigenous community, some expressed indignation about the absence of government forces and the insecurity that comes with relying on these informal armed groups and fear being further confronted with violent incidents. Some also criticized the guardians for seizing possessions of own communities members whom they believed to illegally sell wood (as indigenous groups are legally entitled to cut down trees for subsistence needs, but not for commercial purposes) but also for provoking powerful loggers. 
The Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) defended the guardians’ harsh proceeding during the last years and accused the government to have communities left alone and failed in its obligation to protect indigenous territories. Moreover, indigenous rights activists who mobilized against illegal logging, including the CIMI coordinator, have received death threats. International media reported about the case and NGOs such as Greenpeace and Survival International, which published videos of affected community members and burned logging trucks, have celebrated the “Guardians of the Amazon” and at the same time denounced the Brazilian government’s “shameful inaction” against illegal deforestation. As Survival notes, the Guajajara resistance has been the only barrier to so far halt the advancing of loggers but also to prevent a genocide against isolated Awá-Guajá, with whom they convivially share the territory. The NGOs then launched regular campaigns in support of the Guajajara and Awá and called for more protection of the forest and the indigenous communities.   The communities also received support from Guajajara politician Sônia Guajajara who ran as a candidate for the vice-president in the 2018 elections and engages in a platform of indigenous rights and environmental protection (APIB), which over the prior months permanently mobilized and held protests in Brasilia, uniting thousands of indigenous people from the whole country. She has been among those alarming about the escalating violence and ongoing deforestation in Araribóia and, after a recent murder of a Guajajara leader (see below) stated: “Our people are dying on their land. This was not an isolated case, but part of an ongoing genocide.” 
Thus, while the community’s sharp actions to protect their territory and livelihoods were effective in reducing illegal logging in the first place, they also provoked an increase in violence. The guardians but also the rest of the community has faced a number of death threats as well as reprisal arson attacks, which has caused even more severe damage than the timber logging. During the second half of 2015, Maranhão was confronted with one of the largest series of forest fires in the history of Brazil, and alone in Araribóia flames extended over 100 kilometers and destroyed about 55 percent (225,000 hectares) of the indigenous territory, especially the southern part that used to be widely covered by tropical forest and target of loggers. In the first weeks only a brigade of about 30 indigenous firefighters and the guardians combated the fire, while official authorities arrived with delay at a point where fires had already intensified. Once about 25 percent of the indigenous territory had been impacted by fires, some the Guajajara community started protests outside government offices (e.g. the Ministry of Environment) to denounce the state’s apparent indifference to the fire and remind that firefighting was IBAMA’s responsibility (and not FUNAI’s), but government reaction was still slow until some inspectors that came to fight the fire were attacked by an armed group of loggers. In October 2015, the state government finally declared emergency in Araribóia and other indigenous territories and Maranhão’s firefighters brigade Prevfogo launched an operation together with the Brazilian army and personnel of IBAMA and FUNAI to support indigenous and local brigades. Despite these increased efforts, the fire could just be stopped when rain arrived at the end of December. The community and several experts and authorities confirmed that the fires were most probably intentionally caused by loggers. While fire outbreaks in the region also happen unintentionally (but always through human activity), a commander of the environmental police assumed that loggers helped to spread the fire outbreaks after they had started and reinflamed fires that had already been extinguished. The Guajajara communities regarded them as a response of loggers to previous confrontations and a retaliation to their actions in combating illegal logging. An IBAMA director regarded the arson attacks as a clear diversionary tactic widely used by loggers: fires were caused in some areas in an attempt to divert attention of authorities and indigenous guardians so that logging activities could take place elsewhere in the territory in the meantime. The forest fires signified cultural and spiritual harm to the communities and destroyed homes and shelters, but also had drastic impact on their food supply: the destruction of forest cover implied the disappearing of crucial hunting and gathering areas, including wildlife that was killed or fled. After the fire, communities - who strongly depend on fishing, hunting and fruits - complained about not being anymore able to survive by the forest; they suffered from hunger and the increase of industrial food brought illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. Some animal and plant species may not at all recover after the fire. Also the fate of some isolated Awá in the area remained unclear, while others were forced to flee, putting them at risk to make contact with the “outside world” and suffer from immunological diseases.  In the following years, fires appeared again, and in 2016 affected 20 percent of the territory. In 2017, although authorities claimed to have more control over criminal activities than in previous years, fires broke out again close to logging sites. Guajajara leaders complained about the lack of supervision and insufficient government efforts while their brigade had already spend 90 days on fighting the flames, which had so far remained in the same areas that burned down in 2015. The community went on to protest and occupy the regional FUNAI headquarter in São Luís, issued a letter of complaint (which however remained unanswered) and noted that after ten years of struggle, in which many of them risked their lives and stopped doing other activities, this would be a peaceful act to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the lack of answers to old problems. 
Beside arson attacks and regular death threats, violence against the Guajajara has also manifested in the murder of a number of community members and guardians, and up to 80 Guajajaras have been killed in the area since 2000 according to estimates recently cited by Survival International.  CIMI noted in 2016 that violence in the area particularly increased after the community started to patrol and monitor the area and that 21 assassinations of Guajajara were officially recorded in the region since 2008 (when the community first started to protect the area). Alone between March and April 2016, four Guajajara men (one of them just 16 years old, another one a guardian) were found assassinated, without any indications of their murderers.  CIMI voiced indignation about impunity in these cases and notes that communities had been photographed by strangers in their own villages, possibly as a strategy of intimidation or a selection of targets. The female leader Suluene Guajajara stated that communities in Araribóia are nowadays confronted with a war against them and have no more freedom or security; threats to kill guardians or to burn the forest have become frequent and rumors circulate that that for every killed guardian, thousands of Reais are being paid; older people are not anymore able to sleep and people were afraid to leave their house or their village and would no longer go to the city. She also endorsed widespread government critique concerning the drastic budget cuts for FUNAI over the last years, resulting in a reduction of personnel and a 60 percent decline in official inspections in indigenous territories between 2011 and 2014. Already before that, FUNAI had undergone restructurings that were widely criticized by APIB and indigenous social movements and caused among others the withdrawal of the agency’s guard posts within territories. In 2015 the agency could just spend half of the money on inspections than 10 years before, which is politically motivated and makes it impossible to monitor all indigenous territories, so the critique.    According to Survival, six Guajajara men were moreover killed in September and November 2016, with their bodies found brutally dissembled.  In August 2018 a leader of the guardians, Jorginho Guajajara was found dead with the neck broken near a river in the town of Arame, a site close to the Araribóia territory that is known as the loggers’ dumping ground for killed indigenous people. While local authorities first communicated an accidental death by drowning, Survival, the Instituto Socioambiental and the Guajajara community pointed to his environmental activism, claimed that he was the last victim of the conflict between indigenous community and loggers and complained about the authorities’ delays in investigation. Shortly after FUNAI stated it is aware of the murder and would cooperate with the police.