On autonomy in digital approaches to participatory Indigenous mapping
Historically, maps played an instrumental role in the colonization of Indigenous peoples, by visualizing their lands as terra nullius to be carved up by the Western regimes, or by providing vital information about settlements to their colonial militaries. In more recent times, Indigenous peoples have taken advantage of this power of cartography by creating their own maps, a means to counter Western narratives of “empty lands”, to reclaim their land rights or resist encroaching extractivism, or to safeguard their traditional knowledge.
These initiatives, known as Indigenous mapping, have frequently been done in a participatory manner, with the lands being mapped collectively with multiple community members contributing their knowledge, and using new technologies such as GPS and smartphone applications. However, for many Indigenous peoples with limited experience working such technologies, the success of the project has been dependent on outside support from NGOs, activists, or academics.
The Earth Defenders Toolkit is a new collaborative space for local communities and their allies with the mission of promoting approaches to using technology in a way that supports local autonomy and ownership over tools and data, and reduces this reliance on outside support. These visuals are from case studies on the Earth Defenders Toolkit, which tell the story of how three communities successfully took action to map and monitor their lands using technology.
Matawai: Place-based Storytelling in Suriname
Matawai: Place-based Storytelling in Suriname. Vidushi Yadav (illustrator). June 29, 2021. http://earthdefenderstoolkit.com/
Cover image for an illustrated case study published in June 2021 on the Earth Defenders Toolkit, about the Matawai Maroons in Suriname, who are using a new open-source geostorytelling app to create an extraordinary repository of traditional knowledge through oral history storytelling. The goal of the work is to ensure that future generations of Matawai will be able to learn about their history, culture, and identity in the way that their people always have: through the words of the elders.
Waorani: Mapping Ancestral Lands in Ecuador
Waorani: Mapping Ancestral Lands in Ecuador. Vidushi Yadav (illustrator). June 29, 2021. http://earthdefenderstoolkit.com/
Cover image for an illustrated case study published in June 2021 on the Earth Defenders Toolkit, about the Waorani Indigenous people of Ecuador who piloted an innovative software, Mapeo, to map their ancestral territory. After 4 years of gathering map data the Waorani won a decisive and historic victory when they won a legal case against the Ecuadorian government and saved half a million acres of Amazonian rainforest from oil drilling. Their exemplary efforts have been recognized by the Equator Prize in 2020.
ECA-Amarakaeri: Monitoring the Amarakeri Communal Reserve in Peru
ECA-Amarakaeri: Monitoring the Amarakeri Communal Reserve in Peru. Vidushi Yadav (illustrator). June 29, 2021. http://earthdefenderstoolkit.com/
Cover image for an illustrated case study published in June 2021 on the Earth Defenders Toolkit, about the Harabut, Matsiguenka, and Yine Indigenous people (and their ECA Amarakaeri organization) in Peru and their efforts to monitor and protect their ancestral territories as they have for centuries, but at the present supplemented by the use of state-of-the-art technology (such as the app Mapeo and drones) by community guards, park rangers and technicians. Their exemplary efforts have been recognized by the Equator Prize in 2019.
Rudo Kemper is a human geographer with a background in archives and digital storytelling, and a lifelong technology tinkerer. For the past decade he has worked in solidarity with Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the Amazon to map their ancestral lands and document their traditional knowledge and oral histories. He is passionate about co-creating and applying technology to support marginalized communities in defending their right to self-determination and representation, and being in control of telling their own stories. Rudo currently works with Digital Democracy, where he is accompanying local communities across the globe in defending their lands, and stewarding the development of the Earth Defenders Toolkit, a new collaborative space for earth defender communities and their allies. He also serves on the executive boards of Native Land Digital and the International Society for Participatory Mapping, and is one of the core stewards of the open-source geostorytelling application Terrastories. Rudo is originally from Curaçao but is currently based in Springfield, Virginia.