“During the past 40 years, close to 20 percent of the Amazon rain forest has been cut down – more than in all the previous 450 years since European colonization began.”*
Protecting Indigenous Shipibo Territory Through Community-Based Mapping
Yet, the Shipibo have sustainably managed their forests for many generations. However, an aggressive program of Amazonian “development” has been promoted during the past 50 years, which has fragmented Shipibo territory by the incursion of non-indigenous colonists, government “development” projects, and foreign corporations exploiting the land by logging, hydrocarbon extraction, and industrial-scale agriculture. However, protecting indigenous land rights has come to the forefront in their struggles for self-determination as the Peruvian government continues to open up the farthest reaches of the Amazon basin for oil exploration and other extractive enterprises.
Below: This map, originally created by the Instituto del Bien Comun and given to a Village Earth representative by AIDESEP, shows indigenous communities, protected areas, and oil concessions in Peru.
Protection and defense of indigenous territory was decided as the most important focus area out of their plan for self-determination of the region’s indigenous inhabitants from the last Village Earth-Shipibo regional workshop.
To aid the Shipibo in the protection and defense of their territory, Village Earth created map books of the region using GIS layers of the native titled communities (as provided by the Sistema de Informacion sobre Comunidades Nativas de la Amazonia Peruana [SICNA] of the Instituto del Bien Comun [IBC]) and colonist settlements overlaid onto satellite images. Satellite images are an interesting mapping medium because they show vegetation cover, as well as land degradation based on the light reflected from different vegetation or soil types.
Below: A Village Earth program coordinator conducting a mapping workshop in one Shipibo community in Masisea district.
As well, Village Earth held a Geographic Positioning System (GPS) workshop and gave hand held GPS units to Shipibo leaders so they can continue to use the technology to protect their lands.
After the Village Earth mapping workshops, two Shipibo communities have begun the process of increasing their legally-titled land in order to protect more forest from outside exploitation, as well as remove illegally settled non-indigenous colonists using their new map books and GPS points. Shipibo jefes (chiefs) even asked a Village Earth representative to attend meetings with them at the local AIDESEP and Defensoria del Pueblo offices in Pucallpa – local NGOs that work to protect and defend indigenous rights in Peru. We, accompanied by reps from Defensoria del Pueblo, then attended meetings with the local Ministry of Agriculture in Pucallpa, the branch of government that deals with indigenous land titling.
As well, these Village Earth initiatives have increased intercommunity cooperation and participants in the workshops now have a greater consciousness of their geography.
Empowering indigenous peoples by providing the training and materials to use geographic technology, in turn, allows for self-determination of their way of life – since their land and resources are inextricably linked with their culture, economy, and physical health.
Issues of land and territory will be a hot topic throughout the Indigenous Tribunal being held in June of this year. This will be a seminal event in mobilizing and organizing their communities to better protect their land and resources. The outcome of this Indigenous Tribunal will be to form a grassroots, indigenous organization in the region to direct their own path to self-determination which includes forming an indigenous working group on environmental conservation.
Thousands of hectares of highly biodiverse forest and the accompanying watershed have the potential to be protected the indigenous inhabitants taking a stand against the market forces of globalization.
*Wallace, Scott. “Last of the Amazon” in National Geographic. January 2007.