BRASILIA, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Brazil has 1.69 million Indigenous people, almost twice as many as previously acknowledged by the state, according to numbers announced on Monday by the national statistics agency IBGE from the 2022 census.
In 2010, the IBGE had counted 896,917 indigenous people.
Government officials and experts said the 88% increase was due to changes in methodology by census teams that traveled to remote villages in the Amazon rainforest to count the Indigenous population for the first time.
Minister of Indigenous Peoples Sonia Guajajara said more Indigenous people felt comfortable identifying themselves as such.
"Before they had to hide their identity for fear of being killed," Guajajara said at a news conference.
She and Planning Minister Simone Tebet spoke at a convention center in Belem at the mouth of the Amazon River where the region's heads of state will meet this week to discuss trans-border cooperation to protect the Amazon and its forests.
Tebet told reporters the new population numbers will allow for improved budget funding for policies to help Indigenous communities, in education but mainly in health services and basic sanitation to make up for government neglect.
Tebet also said census teams, backed up by police and traveling on helicopters, were able to cover villages where they had no access in the past or were too dangerous due to the presence of illegal miners and loggers.
This was the case in the Yanomami territory, where leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government launched a major enforcement operation in January to expel thousands of miners who violently entered the region causing a humanitarian crisis and malnutrition, diseases such as malaria, along with the pollution of rivers with mercury and the killing of wildlife.
The IBGE said the Yanomami, who live on a reservation the size of Portugal on the border with Venezuela, have a population of 27,152 people, more than was previously estimated.
Half of Brazil's Indigenous communities live in the Amazon region, some 867,900, with the highest urban concentration in the city of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state.
Tebet said the previous government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro had curtailed census activity and dismantled agencies working in the interest of Indigenous people, while Lula had created a ministry dedicated to Indigenous affairs.
The 2022 census for the first time included a direct question enabling Indigenous people to identify themselves, instead of previous categories based on race and color, said Leonardo Barros, a social science professor at the Federal University of Vi?osa in Minas Gerais.
The census also allowed Indigenous people living in urban areas to identify themselves as such, producing data that will help policymakers better attend to their needs, according to Barros.
But the main reason for the exponential growth in numbers, besides higher fertility rates among Indigenous communities, is the rise in visibility of Brazil's Indigenous movement, he said.
"When you have strong Indigenous leaders bringing positive connotations to being Indigenous, this encourages people to begin identifying themselves," Barros said by telephone.
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