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Tribal Leader Uses Maptivism and Mobile to Improve Life in the Brazilian Rainforest

BY Julia Wetherell | Friday, March 29 2013

Tribal children in Brazil's Amazon rainforest (credit: Ben Sutherland/Flickr)

Forty years ago, the once-isolated Surui people of the western Brazilian rainforest were suffering with the consequences of contact with modern society.  Over the past several decades, the tribe has been threatened by disease, substance abuse, and the threat of deforestation on their ancestral land.  Yet today, an advanced technological agenda is helping to revive and preserve the Surui way of life, under the leadership of a tribal chief with a long-term vision for ecological and cultural preservation.

Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui is the young leader of 1,300 Surui tribe members.  Though the 38-year-old chief grew up hunting with a bow and arrow, he has since promoted mobile technology and digital mapping.  As The Washington Post reported earlier this week, Almir has collaborated with international tech firms to develop tools like an Android phone platform that allows tribe members to track illegal rainforest logging. 

In 2007, Almir began working with Google to create an “ethno-mapping” project of Surui land, for which teams of young volunteers were dispatched to interview elders.  The project has collected information about the sites of battlegrounds, tombs, and other areas of significant historic interest to the tribe. 

These crowdsourcing efforts give Surui people the ability to raise awareness about land loss both for cultural reasons and to combat the ongoing environmental degradation of the Amazon rainforest. Though rainforest loss has slowed over the past several years, taking these stories and images to the international scene helps to demystify the complex intersection of environmental and historical issues in the region. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.