Brazil: Indigenous communities reflect on using the internet

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

Photo by simpindigena, used with permission.

Photo by simpindigena, used with permission.

In the end of November, the city of Sao Paulo hosted the 1st Symposium On Indigenous Uses of the Internet [pt], an event organized by the Center for Indigenous History and Indigenous Studies at the Federal University of Sao Paulo to assess how indigenous communities were using the internet in Brazil.

Delegates of 16 indigenous ethnicities from many parts of the country attended the event, the majority of whom have already been using the Internet to seek improvements for their people. Bringing the experience of an indigenous people that has benefited most from digital technologies to promote political action, Almir Surui Narayamoga, leader of the Paiter Surui People, considered this debate of the utmost importance [pt] for everyone:

A internet tem grande importância na luta social e ambiental dos povos indígenas.

The Internet plays an important role in the social and environmental struggles of indigenous peoples.

Almir Surui shares his experience with the web. Photo by the author.

During the three-day symposium, each delegate shared their experiences using the Internet in the villages, for many and varied purposes: to promote events, surveillance of their territories, distance learning, cultural exchange, birth registration, claiming national insurance benefits, communication with relatives, complaints, etc.

As expected, the event was covered by several bloggers from the audience. Daniel, representing the Baniwa people, one of the people living in the Amazonas state, summed up the first day of the symposium [pt] on the Baniwaonline blog:

Um momento bom pois tivemos a primeira oportunidade de nos conhecemos e saber o que cada um estava fazendo, como, onde, quais suas principais dificuldades, avanças, projetos em execução e projetos futuros (sonhos), ações relacionados ao uso de internet.

We had a good time because it was our first opportunity to meet each other and know what everyone else has been doing, how, where, what difficulties they mainly face, progress, ongoing projects and future plans (dreams), actions related to the use of the Internet.

The event went on with the identification of the challenges to be overcome [pt], as detailed by the Indios Online team:

Existem no entanto vários problemas que foram levantados, como a dificuldade de conexão, problemas com a antena Gesac, falta de computadores, computadores quebrados, falta de manutenção desses computadores, falta de qualificação para que nós mesmo façamos a manutenção das maquinas nas aldeias.

Esperamos que unidos possamos estar minimizando estes problemas, que nós da Rede Índios on Line conhecemos tão bem. A Internet nas aldeias não mata a cultura indígena se o seu uso for consciente e com um propósito definido. Hoje nós indígenas utilizamos esta Tecnologia que não pertence à nossa cultura como uma ferramenta de buscar melhorias para nossas comunidades e lutar por nossos direitos.

Several issues were raised, such as connection difficulties, problems with the antenna provided by Gesac [the government's program for social and digital inclusion], lack of computers, broken computers, lack of machinery maintenance, lack of training so that we carry maintenance ourselves on the computers in the villages.

We hope that together we can be minimizing these problems; we at Indios Online network know them so well. Having the Internet in villages does not kill the indigenous culture when it is used is a conscious manner and with a definite purpose. Today we, indigenous people, use this technology that is alien to our culture as a tool to seek improvements for our communities and to fight for our rights.

Everyone together, online and offline. Source: Indios Online. Used with permission.

At the close of the symposium, the participants agreed to advise the indigenous peoples or individuals who do not use the Internet yet to create their own blogs and websites, and decided on the creation of a special corner of cyberspace for indigenous communities. Baniwaonline summarises the last day of the event and highlights the decisions taken [pt]:

Dentre os principais encaminhamentos, foi decidido em unanimidade dos participantes do evento, a necessidade de criar “Rede das Redes dos povos Indígenas”, usuarios (sites, bloogs, …), com a proposta de nome: “Rede Digital e culturas Indígenas”, em que os internautas indígenas se cadstrarão e divulgarão, neste site, os diversos conteúdos postados nos sites e blogs hoje existente e o que virao a ser criadas de diferentes lugares do Brasil. Uma forma de unir a força e trabalhar em conjunto em prol da sociedade indígena, disseminando expericnias, noticias, cursos e etc.

Among the main decisions, unanimously decided by the event's participants, was the need of creating a “Network of Networks of Indigenous Peoples,” users (sites, blogs…), with the proposed name: “Indigenous Cultures Digital Network” a website of which the indigenous Internet users will be members and gather the various content posted in the existing websites and blogs and those which will be created in different parts of Brazil. [It is] a way to join forces and work together to support indigenous peoples, share experiences, news, courses and so on.

Last group picture. Source: Indios Online. Used with permission.

This future network of networks, which aims to bring all indigenous sites and blogs together into a single portal, is expected to be launched at Campus Party Brazil 2011 [pt]. The Indios Online website explains the goals of this new network [pt] and publishes the minutes of the symposium [pt]:

[…] a intenção é de dar visibilidade as ações digitais dos povos indígenas, e com isso mostrar para o mundo que nós indígenas temos sim capacidade e habilidade, de lidar com as diversas áreas do mundo digital.

[…] The aim is to give visibility to digital action of indigenous peoples, and thereby show the world that we indeed have know-how and the skills to deal with the various parts of the digital world.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

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