Almir Narayamoga Surui

Tribal chief and Google whisperer

Posted on 17 June 2015.

Armed with Google Earth and his ancestral knowledge, tribal chief Almir Narayamoga Surui campaigns to end the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

We use new technology, but our culture’s soul hasn’t changed. Before, it was only sung. Now it is sung, recorded and broadcast.

How are you working with Google?

Google’s technological potential is considerable, and the Surui people know the importance of the forest. This partnership brings together all the knowledge essential to the development and survival of humanity. Google gives us information about the main threats we face: land invasions, violations of indigenous and environmental rights, and large government enterprises. Google hasn’t taught us to use technology in order to change our lives. Instead, we asked for the tools we needed to get in touch with the whole world and spread our knowledge.

What dangers do your people face?

Since our first contact with non-natives, our lifestyle has been threatened. We don’t have the same view of the world or the same relationships with natural resources. Despite the loss of many of our parents, the Surui people have survived by understanding that we have to teach non-indigenous people that lifestyles of all people have to be reconsidered. We have won some great victories that reduce these threats, such as the 50 year development plan, which has given rise to many projects - including the Surui Carbon Project, now a model for other countries.

The Amazon rainforest is still at risk...

As is our survival because of deforestation - taking the life of a tree also takes the life of a Surui child. A tree is like a life and our people have already lost many lives. We are also threatened by our land being invaded. Several families have abandoned their homes and have retreated into the forest. The little land we have left is limited and has to be protected from any further invasion. There is just enough for our people to cultivate and ensure their children stay in touch with nature. But we can’t retreat any further. If the land invasions continue, our people will lose something irretrievable: our indigenous lifestyle as it has been since time immemorial; people in harmony with the earth, water, fauna and flora. It will be a loss not only for indigenous people but also for the entire ecosystem, since further invasions will also affect animal life. But today, the worst evil is the failure to enforce public policies that guarantee and defend indigenous rights and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Amazon. It is why we face these threats – threats that could be lessened or even eliminated.

You are also at risk. Why?

My life is threatened by people who want to illegally exploit natural resources and biodiversity. Our people have taken years to make their voice heard - my voice, elected by all – by making great efforts to learn Portuguese. Nobody learned our language so they could hear us. We have managed to defend responsible use of the forest and biodiversity, and a fair public policy for the whole of society. Now we are threatened - as is my own life...

You have just published Sauver la Planète, how do you see the future?

This book aims to describe my work and help the environment on a global scale. It is intended for current and future generations, and all social and economic classes. It should make it possible to understand the importance of the forest and its biodiversity. But as things stand I foresee hard times ahead; important struggles between the planet’s populations to protect drinking water and forests, and diseases that will emerge and spread around the world.

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