Earth observations protecting traditional knowledge in the Brazilian rainforest

Blog / February 21, 2020

In the world’s largest rainforest, Earth observation (EO) technologies are being used to combat illegal deforestation and to protect indigenous culture.

GEO’s Programme Board welcomed a special guest to their annual meeting in Geneva, Switzerland to showcase how frontier technologies, such as cloud computing, GIS and mobile phones, are impacting lives and protecting traditional knowledge in the Brazilian Amazon.

Chief Almir of the Surui people is well-known around the world. He was named one the world’s most creative people by Fastcompany  and Forbes. He has journeyed around the world to bring attention to the illegal logging of the Brazilian Amazon and in doing so, has inspired people around the world with his creative use of technology to protect his home and culture.

The tribal leader has built alliances with environmental groups including Amazonia Socioambiental and others, and most notably he has partnered with Google to document his tribe’s traditions and heritage.

Chief Almir has been working with Google Earth for over a decade to train community members to map, geo-tag and create  a “cultural map” on Google Earth in order to share their unique history and way of life with people all around the globe. In 2009, Google visited the Surui people to train them in the use of the Open Data Kit to record instances of illegal logging. Since then, tribe members have captured GPS-located photos and videos and uploaded them to help stop perpetrators of illegal deforestation.

Adapting their language to these new digital tools, the Surui have created a word for Google in their language: ragogmakan, meaning “the messenger.” Chief Almir views his partnership with Google not only as a way to sustain his traditions and land but as an opportunity to teach others about the Surui.

Chief Almir’s story resonates strongly with the Group on Earth Observations’ vision of a world that is improved by coordinated and open Earth observations.

Recently at GEO Week in Australia, GEO representatives met with several Indigenous leaders from around the world to work together to develop and define a course of action to support indigenous communities. Dedicated events focused on inclusive dialogue on ways that Earth observations can better support communities to respond to challenges they are facing. It resulted in the formation of a GEO Indigenous Alliance based on principles of respect and understanding, recognizing that “we all have a responsibility for future generations to take care of Earth by engaging effectively, contributing, and learning from each other.”

We extend our sincere gratitude to Chief Almir of the Surui people who shared his story of perseverance and who inspired us with his use of technology to protect his lands and people.



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