Digital Defenders: Tribal People Use GPS to Protect Their Lands

From the rainforests of central Africa to the Australian outback, indigenous people armed with GPS devices are surveying their territories and producing maps they can use to protect them from logging and other outside development.
by Fred Pearce

Deep in the African rainforest and three days from home, a tribal hunter, punting down a backwater, puts aside his spear and takes out a GPS handset. He doesn’t need the Global Positioning System to know where he is. He is intimate with every inch of his tribe’s forests. But he taps an icon on the screen to identify the burial ground, sacred grove, or wildlife-rich swamp he is passing, then puts the handset back in his hunting bag, and carries on. The data on the handset will later be uploaded onto remote sensing maps created by Google Earth. Now his knowledge can be shared with the world.

These days, across the rainforests of central Africa and in South America, Southeast Asia, and other parts of the world, the new weapon of choice for defending community lands against outsiders is digital mapping technology. The aim is to produce maps that governments cannot ignore and that will help inhabitants to claim legal ownership of their lands and to fight back against ministers and officials intent on handing over their forests to loggers, mining companies, and other outside exploiters...

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