(CNN)Brazil's Supreme Court on Wednesday handed a partial victory to the nation's embattled indigenous communities, who are struggling against an insidious new enemy: the Covid-19 virus.
Brazil's top court backs special protection for indigenous communities, but won't set timeline for exit of outsiders
The court affirmed an earlier court decision that required the federal government to implement safety measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has swept through the many remote communities with deadly effect.
"It was a great victory," said Dinaman Tuxa, executive-coordinator of APIB, an indigenous group that brought the lawsuit against the government along with six political parties, describing the ruling as a historic reparation for injustices against indigenous people even before the pandemic.
"If it wasn't for [the court], this demand would be still in the drawers of the Executive and the Legislative," he said.
But the indigenous groups' main demand was rejected: A deadline for all outsiders -- including miners, developers and the military -- to leave their lands.
Brazil's indigenous communities have been hammered by Covid-19. By early August, more than 22,000 indigenous people had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and least 631 had died from it, according to APIB. But due to limited testing, the real toll could be higher.
In a tragic coincidence, a prominent indigenous leader Chief Aritana Yawalapiti of the Upper Xingu territory died of the virus on the day of the ruling, according to his nephew Kaiulu Yawalapiti. "My heart is in pieces, bleeding," Yawalapiti told CNN.
The chief, 71, was admitted to ICU on July 22 after suffering from severe breathing problems. His son, Tapi Yawalapiti, told CNN that same day that the Upper Xingu lacked medical supplies, testing kits, and medical assistance to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Covid-19 spreads very fast, the whole community is sick, children, the young, the elderly. We are being neglected by the Brazilian government, they are not helping us enough and it seems that they want to decimate us," he said.
Dinaman Tuxa of APIB said Yawalapiti's death meant much more than the loss of a singular life. "Those elderly are the keepers of knowledge, languages, traditions, festivities, rituals," he said. "We are losing much more than people, we are losing our culture, our nation."