Speaking for the Rainforest

Surui ChiefAmong the speakers at the opening sessions of this morning’s Bioneers conference, perhaps the one that moved me most was by Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, chief of the Surui (pronounced suhr’ ye) tribe of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Chief Almir spoke of the cause and environmentally and culturally devastating effects by the Brazilian government in the late 1960’s creating a major road  – the BR 364 highway –  that despite the tribe[s protests ran through the Surui village and traditional lands. Though the tribe moved their village, incursions by settlers followed, bringing with them diseases that decimated the tribe, killing 90 percent of the 5,000 people.

Eventually, the Chief said, the tribe prevailed on the government to create a 600,000 acre Surui reserve. With tribal members fiercely guarding their borders, the tribe  has slowly recovered, currently numbering 1,300 members.

Chief Almir spoke of the need to recognize the importance of the rainforest and its contribution to the world.  A passionate environmental activist for nearly two decades, he was  the first of his tribe to graduate from college.

Almir currently has a $100,000 bounty on his head.Loggers and miners lay at the root of the decades of violence that have plagued the Surui.

Evacuated in 2006 to the United States by Amazon Conservation Team of Arlington, Va., the Team took him to Silicon Valley in 2007 to appeal or help.

Google Earth to help Surui trib document lands to prevent incursions

Google Earth to help Surui tribe document lands to prevent incursions

That help for his people and for the Amazon rainforest is coming. Today the Chief and Google announced a partnership, combining high tech with indigenous culture and information to document the rich culture of the Surui. With data-rich maps layered with high resolution videos, pictures, text and historical markers gathered by tribe, Google will help train the Surui to survey their lands and document their culture. The company will provide them with mobile phones with Google’s Android operating system, including their new software that automaticallyly tags photographs with local information and uploads it into Google Earth.

Amazing what one person can accomplish, with passion and commitment, crossing cultures and language barriers to do it.


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