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With Google Earth, This Amazon Tribe Could Save The World

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The following is an excerpt from Dara Kerr | October 25, 2018 | CNET.com |

Flying over Brazil's state of Rondônia, all you see is a blackish-green mass of Amazon rainforest punctuated by oblong plots of dried brown earth. These plots don't look like US farmland with geometric circles and squares. Instead, they're a haphazard jumble of misshapen blotches. A thin brown river slicing through the tangle of trees will eventually wind its way thousands of miles across the continent.

People don't just pick up and go to Rondônia. Yet here I am with photographer James Martin, on a plane that's circling down to a small outpost in the middle of one of the world's most isolated and threatened places. We roll onto a landing strip no longer than a couple of city blocks, flanked by yellowed grass.

"Bem-vindos a Cacoal," the flight attendant announces.

I'm here to meet Almir Narayamoga Surui. He's chief of one of the four clans of the Paiter-Surui tribe, which means "the True People, we ourselves" in the local language. The Surui may be the Amazon's most technically proficient indigenous group, and Almir may be among the Amazon's most tech-savvy leaders. He's forged a first-of-its-kind partnership with Google Earth to get regular satellite images on illegal deforestation, and has created maps from geographic information systems (GIS) to track high-risk zones. Almir's also managing smartphone data projects with tribe members to make sure they don't overhunt.

That work is crucial to the survival of the rainforest and the people who live here.

It's a remarkable transformation since the Surui first contacted the outside world in 1969, when deforestation, cattle ranching and clashes with settlers and rival tribes forced them to emerge from the forest.

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