At RightsCon, the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) presented this digital story map. Together with the Amazon Conservation Team, they developed the tool to help the Sarayaku community defend their land.
CEJIL’s Alexandra McAnarney said that it was created to show the risk posed to the Sarayaku people’s culture and way of life: “Digital maps can really help generate a better understanding within specialised legal audiences, and just general audiences, that aren’t always familiar with those realities.”
She said: “Maps can possess a tremendous capacity to reclaim the history of a city, a community, or a village if the inhabitants of those spaces actively participate in the development of those maps.”
The indigenous community was involved in the long process of capturing the data that would inform the map. A geographer met with elders, so that he could mark out sacred areas of land.
Although CGC was ordered to leave following the court case, they left behind a remnant that means the Sarayaku people are still unable to access most of their land: 1,400kg of pentolite buried in the ground. Although the petrol company has been ordered to remove the explosives, this has not yet happened. They could still detonate.
The 156 families that make up the Sarayaku community live in an area covering roughly 135,000 hectares. They are just one of hundreds of indigenous communities living in the Amazon.
The history of oil companies in the region is turbulent. The Western Amazon is covered with oil blocks amounting to 688,000 km2 - an area approximately the size of Germany. In Ecuador, two thirds of the land are covered with these oil blocks.
For the indigenous communities living amongst this, health issues are a very real concern. High levels of lead and cadmium have been found in the blood of some people tested, and animals have been filmed feeding in areas contaminated by oil spills - animals which are subsequently hunted by the indigenous people.
The Sarayaku community considers the jungle to be a living organism. Eriberto said: “We think that the woods have their own spirits, and so do the fish in the lake, that all nature has its own spirits. If the spirits leave the woods, or the trees, or the lagoons, then the land will dry out and that will result in sickness.”
Living off the land, the community is intrinsically linked with nature. Now, Eriberto says that he wants the world outside the Amazon to hear their stories: “The indigenous people need to be connected by technology to demonstrate their values, or simply so you know the richness of what might be lost, because of the extracting oil companies.”
While technology can be used as a way to connect the stories of the Sarayaku community with the wider world, accessibility issues make this vision difficult to achieve.
There is no phone signal in the community, and the satellite that gives them internet connection fails when more than four computers are connected. Eriberto said: “Developed countries have a lot to do. There are universities that have the best technological solutions that can reach these people.”
With the community ready to harness digital tools to help share their stories and defend their land, technological obstacles are causing frustrations. For now, Eriberto says: “My people can be assured they have a voice through me."