Probably by now everyone has seen the photos of the "undiscovered" tribe in the Brazilian rain forest, threatening with spears and arrows the airplane that is photographing them. Recently it was revealed that these photos were released to dramatize the efforts of a group to protect tribes who had had no outside contact from the depredations of the logging industry in Brazil. The tribe was isolated, but had been known before-hand, especially by the group that had taken the pictures. Which raises several interesting points.
How pure can their culture now be said to be? For all we know, they might have had a rich and complex system of religion or mythology. Then this airplane flies over them. For all we know they might now worship the great white flying thing that buzzes and flappeth not. But we'll never know, because no one has contacted them before, and supposedly never will. The same people who claim to want to protect this tribe from contamination flies right over them. Sure, it's not Cortez, but if there's one thing I've learned from Star Trek, it's that First Contact can have unpredictable repercussions.
Are we treating these people like endangered animals? Everyone wants to preserve their way of life. This is being done by studying them from afar, making a protected prohibited environment for them, and keeping far away from them the dangers (and, let's face it, the advantages) of modern life. What I'm trying to say is, we are, in effect, making decisions for them. We decide they are going to remain in their primitive state. I would like to make contact with them, even if they're only going to tell us to beat it and leave them alone. At least we would be treating them like human beings and not like spotted owls.
I keep having this vision of twenty years from now. "Civilization" has inevitably encroached on these people, and a member of the tribe is angrily confronting some of the conservationists who had been deciding their fate, accusing them of doing nothing while he was pulling undigested nuts out of his poop to survive the drought and his father died of massive blood poisoning and seven of his children died before they were one year old. I hope I'm wrong. I hope they can live in peace. But can it really be at the whim of the myth of the "noble savage"?