Digital Activism in the Rainforest

Brazilian indians use digital tools to preserve their traditions and the environment.

Searching for home on Google Earth was the spark that cacique (chief) Almir Surui needed to embark his tribe, the Paiter Surui, in a digital activism odyssey. The place that Almir and his tribe call home is the 7 de Setembro indigenous reserve, an area of about 250 thousand hectares located amidst the states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso, in the Brazilian midwest.

The image he saw on the computer screen scared him. Despite all their efforts throughout the years against illegal wood extraction in the region, he noticed a huge brown spot where there should have been an untouched forest. This shocking experience, however, brought him a valuable insight: he had just stumbled upon a whole new world, one where he could pass on his people’s conscience and traditions to all those interested. In his own words, “That technology, which takes one from a place to another without moving, reduced days of walking to mere seconds. It was something different. It made me dream and plan actions”.

And dreams rapidly turned into actions. After getting in touch with the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) NGO, Almir decided he should go to San Francisco to try to talk directly to the people at Google. His ideas was to use the web to broadcast information to the rest of the world about the government’s neglect regarding the devastation of indigenous land and the Amazon rainforest.

It worked. The chief came back to Brazil having firmed a partnership with Google Earth Outreach, the philanthropic arm of the organization. The deal consisted of providing the tribe with computers, smartphones and GPS devices so that they could document and publish online their everyday life and their customs, as well as the deforestation process in loco and in real time.

Vasco van Roosmalen, director of ACT Brasil, emphasizes that the collaborative maps are also great tools for enhancing our knowledge about the Surui territory and customs. Through the markers uploaded by the tribe members, one can learn about their hunting and fishing habits, as well as their sacred places, thus helping to preserve their traditions.

With the aid of technology, the Surui people are now able to monitor what happens on their land and bring attention to their problems. For a group that had its first contact with the western society only forty years ago, that’s quite a leap.

Watch a video about the story below:

[via Estado]

image: Raimundo Pacco / UOL

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