How the Internet is Saving The Amazon



How the Internet is Saving The Amazon

Indigenous peoples in the Amazon are finding a new ally in technology. Survival International, an indigenous rights organization located in the United States and Europe, hopes to use technology in an effort help indigenous peoples protect themselves from illegal commercial and governmental encroachment efforts such as displacement, and deforestation. 

Their initiative, TribesDirect, would put technology in the hands of tribal communities like the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon and help magnify their voice in the fight against territorial commercialization.


The TribesDirect project incorporates a number of technological systems to provide the Yanomami with a satellite enabled Wi-Fi network and hardware to communicate with Survival International and other indigenous aid organizations. By installing basic computer interfaces and developing software that can be easily used by the Yanomami, Survival International’s project would allow them to report and document abuses by the government and commercial entities illegally operating in their territory. TribesDirect would connect “uncontacted” societies to resources they can use to defend themselves against encroachers and request humanitarian aid when needed.


The Yanomami live together in large communal housing compounds known as shabonos that house hundreds of people from different families. Shabonos facilitate the communal culture of the Yanomami, in which all resources are shared by each family. Survival Direct installed its first TribesDirect system in a shabono in the village of Yanomami shaman and international rights activist, Davvi Kopenawa, with hopes to magnify its value to other indigenous groups in the Amazon. Kopenawa is also the president of Hutukara, an indigenous rights organization based in Brazil, and plays a major role in the struggle to protect their land.


Survival International has little concern that TribesDirect will disrupt cultural norms as they plan to install only one TribesDirect system in the village to be used by indigenous rights representatives within the community. In its first test run, TribesDirect encountered some difficulty. Humid rainforest conditions made already faulty equipment mostly unusable, and Survival International had trouble gathering enough funds to install machinery more suitable for the Amazon’s environment. The Yanomami’s location also makes it difficult for technical support teams to access the equipment because there is no transport infrastructure to facilitate travel. Survival International hopes that successful installation and adoption of TribesDirect in the Yanomami village will drive demand from other indigenous rights organizations and villages, leading to more installations and evidence to use against illegal land use by the government and corporations in both domestic and international legal engagements.


Survival International’s project comes with controversy, however, as the Yanomami and other indigenous peoples tend to live atop valuable natural resources like timber, oil and precious metals. As the natural supply decreases from consumption, commercial suppliers are going deeper into remote areas in search of raw materials, mostly without legal justification from local governments. Their presence in indigenous territories has led to widespread injustices against indigenous peoples and even violence in some cases. Kopenawa recently demanded police protection during his travels after being threatened by armed assailants believed to be hired by gold miners illegally operating in their territory. Kopenawa believes TribesDirect will be “a real weapon for our defense”. He said, “It will send messages everywhere. . . it will help us communicate with the the cities, and the whole world.”

The installation of these new technologies begs the question, of what could be the next steps?  Could mobile apps, or other such forms of tech be integrated into pre-existing systems such as TribesDirect in order to aid indigenous peoples?  Does TribesDirect start a new precedent of bringing technology to new frontiers?  Only time and innovation will tell what comes next for the Yanomami, and for future technologies such as TribesDirect.  

About The Author:
By Jason Edelman of Fueled, the premier agency for iPhone app design and Android app development in New York City.
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