Native Village Youth and Education News
November, 2009   Volume 1

Tribe teams with Google to make stand in Amazon
James Temple
Condensed by Native Village

Brazil: The chief of the Amazon's endangered Surui tribe and Google Inc. have paired to rescue ancient rain forests and a dying culture.

Almir Surui is using many years of Google Earth images to prove how the rapid invasion of illegal mining and logging is destroying the Surui's 600,000-acre reserve. The data-rich Google maps and videos, pictures, text and historical markers will emphasize the land's importance in helping the Surui people to become self-sufficient.

"Right now, under current development models, a standing forest is always worth less than its extractable parts," said Chief Almir, 35.  "Forests are very important for the welfare of the indigenous people and for the world. We want to show concretely, practically that you can have quality of life and economic development, with an intact forest."

In the late 1960s, there were 5,000 members of the Surui tribe. Then it came into contact with outsiders building the BR-364 highway through nearby areas. The ensuing decades brought disease, crushing poverty and continual clashes with plunderers.

The Brazilian Constitution gives indigenous tribes the right to their traditional lands. However, Brazil  hasn't backed the policy with the necessary resources to halt the incursions.

11 chiefs shot, killed

In fact, since 2000, 11 Surui and neighboring tribal chiefs have been shot and killed. Tribal members claim loggers and miners killed them as warnings to others who would obstruct their efforts. Almir, who is a longtime activist and first Surui to graduate from college, has been warned that there's a $100,000 bounty on his head.

Amazon Conservation Team of Arlington, Va., which funded and provided technical equipment for the mapping project, evacuated Almir to the United States for his safety in 2006. The following year, they took him to Silicon Valley to appeal directly to Google for help. Almir pleaded his case to Google Earth Outreach members.

"He seemed to have a very clear sense of the appropriate use of technology for indigenous people to help them bridge that gap from their traditional ways to engaging with the modern world," said Rebecca Moore from Google Earth Outreach. "We thought it would make sense for us to help."

Google Earth provided high resolution satellite images of the region and trained the Surui people to survey their lands and document their culture through Google Earth, Google Maps, Blogger and YouTube. Now they are providing mobile phones using Google's Android operating system. Andriod tags photographs with locational information that can be uploaded to Google Earth.

While the project can help save the Surui, it will also helps preserve the rain forest, a critical factor in the battle against global warming.

Since 1970, more than 232,000 square miles of Amazon rain forest have disappeared, nearly the size of Texas.  Another 3,860 square miles will be destroyed this year. The rainforst is one of the most effective counterweights to climate change. It also holds invaluable cultural and biodiversity. Google Earth's high-quality satellite images make it easier to monitor and defend the land from loggers and miners. GE can also track positive developments, including the preservation efforts and the ambitious plan to replant 7,000 hectares of trees.

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