Friday, February 01, 2008

Technology and activisim

For Peru's Indians, Lawsuit Against Big Oil Reflects a New Era
Environmental groups are going beyond word of mouth and lawsuits to assist indigenous groups.

One day last fall, Guevara Sandi Chimboras was bouncing a pickup truck along a remote oil road near the Achuar community of Jose Olaya. Carrying a digital camera, notepad and a Global Positioning System transceiver donated by the civic group Shinai, Sandi walked through a grassy field to a pool of stagnant water. With a stick, he dug up a clump of glistening, pungent mud, and sniffed.

"The companies say these sites are clean," he said. "They won't believe us without documented photos. With words, they don't believe us."

There are no mass media in the rain forest. But Shinai has translated a U.S.-made documentary about the Achuar's problems into Machiguenga, the language spoken by Indians in southeastern Peru, where a U.S.-backed natural gas project is underway. The group uses DVD players powered by solar panels and generators to show the film to Indians considering agreements with oil companies.

Meanwhile, Google Earth is proving to be an omniscient eye. Peter Kostishack, a Colorado-based rights activist, uses the application to record coordinates and satellite images of rain forest erosion and post them on his blog. With help from the U.S.-based Amazon Conservation Team, Indians in Brazil's Amazon Basin have used Google Earth imagery to spot river discoloration caused by illegal mining operations.

"Many times a company claims natives don't have the technical knowledge to understand that it is doing the best it can, when in fact it may be doing as little as possible," said Bill Powers, chief engineer of E-Tech International, a nonprofit engineering firm based in California that provides Indians with technical expertise.

Technology has drastically lowered the barriers of entry. The implications of this are still being realized.

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