An estimation of the original Amerindian population of Brazil ranges from 2 to 5 million at the time of first contact with Europeans in the early 16th century. There were hundreds of tribes and languages. Now there are 230 tribes that speak more than 90 languages and 300 dialects. Some Indians live in the depths of Brazil's forests. They have never come into contact with other people, and we still know little about them.
Because of violence and disease, the original Amerindian population was reduced to about 150,000 by the early 20th century. The 1988 constitution provides that Indians are entitled to the lands that they traditionally occupy.
Despite the difficulties it faced, the Amerindian population began to recover its numbers and increased to 330,000 by the mid-1990s. In genetic terms, millions of Brazilians have some Amerindian ancestry, usually on the side of their grandmothers or great-grandmothers. The ancestry is especially strong in the Amazon region, where the inhabitants of mixed Indian and white descent are called caboclos.
Most of the Amerindian population is in the Amazon region, where Amerindian lands account for about 15% of the territory. The best known and largest of these is the 9.6-million-hectare Yanomami Indigenous Park, located in the northern states of Amazonas and Roraima, along Brazil's border with Venezuela. Gold miners and their diseases have had an adverse impact on the Yanomami.
The Yanomami live in the Amazon Rainforest spread over an area the size of England and Wales. Here, they clear patches of forest for their homes. 20 families live side by side in a big circular house called a Yano. The Yanomami grow fruit and vegetables amongst the trees, and they hunt animals like anteaters to eat, and fish in the Amazon's many tributaries.
People like the Yanomami have learned how to use different plants and trees without causing lasting damage to the forest environment. This way, their lifestyle is sustainable.
The Caiapó in southeastern Pará became widely known both for their traditional environmental management and their controversial concessions to gold miners and lumber companies.
Other indigenous areas include the Xingu Indigenous Park and other parts of Amazonia, including the western section of the Amazon along the Rio Solimões, Roraima, northern Amazonas, Rondonia, Acre, Amapá, and northern and southeastern Pará.
The Northeast (Maranhão) and Center-West (western Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, and Goiás) regions also have large indigenous areas.