The Dardanelos Hydropower Plant is one of a series of hydro projects on the Aripuanã that includes the Juína, Faxinal I, and Faxinal II dams. The project commenced in 2007 in the midst of lengthy legal and political battles that had started two years before. Before construction began, government authorities ensured that the dam would only indirectly affect indigenous territories in the region as it would be located outside indigenous land. However, because of irregularities and omissions in the environmental impact assessment (EIA), the state’s public prosecutor initiated legal action against a number of companies involved in the dam’s construction in 2005, demanding the cancellation of the EIA and suspending the project tender . Accusations included the omission of an impact assessment for the territory outside the municipality where the dam would be built and for the transmission lines. Despite claims that indigenous communities would not be affected, the construction process in fact directly threatened indigenous sacred and ancestral sites. In 2010 the Aguas da Pedra construction company blew up an indigenous cemetery. In response, on 25 July, 2010, an indigenous group of around 300 Brazilian Indians (some other media reports say 400, from eleven tribes, including about 50 Enawene Nawe Indians), equipped with homemade weapons like knives, bows and arrows, took over the Dardanelos hydroelectric dam, which they state has polluted vital fishing grounds apart from destroying sacred burial ground. They were demanding reparations for the damage done and that no more dams are built in the region without their prior consent. Despite wearing war paint and bows and arrows, the occupation was said to be non-violent and no injuries have been reported.
Initially, the indigenous protesters held some 100 workers who were constructing the dam earlier  (some others say150 workers ) at the dam, a day after taking the workers hostage, 26 were released in exchange for 5 project engineers and managers. Days later all hostages were released, with a meeting scheduled for representatives of the Dardanelos dam and the state’s National Foundation for Indigenous Affairs , . The Indians were not consulted about the projects before they started, and their livelihoods were now threatened. They are demanding compensation for damage the company did by “dynamiting” an archaeological site considered sacred by the peoples of the region. Antonio Carlos Ferreira Aquino, local coordinator of the National Foundation for Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI) explained that the money demanded was not for the indigenous peoples’ pockets. “What they want is a sustainable program in the area that will recover the loss they have suffered in this archaeological site.”
Besides losing the burial ground, the Arara, the Cinta Larga and other tribes have been hit hard by the pollution of the Aripuanã river due to construction . According to Survivors International, they have caught almost no fish in the past two years and had to rely on farmed fish brought by the government. For the Enawene Nawe tribe, for whom fish is a vital part of their diet, this is preventing them from performing yãkwa, an important ritual in which they build intricate dams across the smaller rivers and trap fish in large baskets.
The tragedy highlights the fragile state of relations between the region’s indigenous people and dam companies. In Mato Grosso alone there are 33 tribes, with an estimated 250,000 people. There are 77 hydroelectric dams planned for upstream of the area, with 5 already in construction. The occupation was over soon and the Arara and others went home later. But with so many dams proposed and under construction in the Amazon, the next confrontation is only a matter of time.