I attended with Chief Almir the COP15 Climate conference Copenhagen. There, with the help of Google Earth Outreach and in partnership with Dr. Jane Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute, Chief Almir presented in front of four heads of states and numerous business and NGO leaders a Google Earth tour showing the work that his people are doing to help mitigate climate change.
Knowing how far the Surui have come since the loss of over 90% of their people after first contact only 40 years ago —this gives us hope and reminds us that it is possible to turn things around, given the right determination and willingness to work together.
I was born in Holland. My father is a biologist and when I was six weeks old, my parents moved from Holland to a traditional indigenous village in the rainforests of Suriname where I spent my first years. After spending more time in the rain forests of French Guiana, my parents immigrated to Brazil where we lived in Manaus in the heart of the Amazon.
I first met Chief Almir at a USAID Environment meeting in Manaus in 2004 where we had just presented the results of the Amazon Conservation Team’s mapping work with other tribes in the Amazon. After that first meeting it took another year for us to begin the process of working together and in 2006 we were able to help the Surui people map their own lands as part of their 50 year plan for their future and to provide a basis for their management plan for the Surui forests (please see related stories in Smithsonian Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Monthly and Mongabay on Almir Surui and ACT’s mapping efforts.
Ever since then, we have expanded our partnership with the Surui thanks to the support of donors like USAID, the Overbrook Foundation and others. We have seen their capabilities grow to take on ever more complex projects that benefit their people and strengthen their protection of their forests. It is our aim to work with the Surui and the other partners to replicate the results and projects pioneered with them with other indigenous groups in the Amazon and beyond. Just in the Brazilian Amazon, indigenous lands cover over 20% of the forest and their inclusion and effective participation is crucial to any solution to end large-scale deforestation.
The Documentary “Children of the Amazon” gives the viewer a first-hand look into the issues facing forest peoples in the Amazon today in a way few other movies have done. Denise Zmekhol’s account of her return to the Surui tribe is breathtaking. I hope that it can help move more people to reflect and to take action.