SEATTLE, Washington — Statistics indicate that 80% of the world’s extreme poor, who live on less than $1.90 a day, and 75% of the world’s moderate poor, who live on between $1.90 and $3.10 per day, reside in rural areas. These populations rely on the land and agriculture for sustenance, financial stability and survival. Trees are an essential part of these individuals’ livelihoods and well-being. According to the organization Plant with Purpose, trees help facilitate the restoration of land by “anchoring topsoil, increasing organic matter and helping the soil absorb water.” Trees also promote healthy water cycles by absorbing water from the ground and releasing it into the air. Numerous organizations such as People’s Planet Project are working to raise awareness about threats to the environment and the rights of indigenous people.
Impact of Deforestation
Through deforestation and other environmental damage, about 36 football fields worth of forest are lost every minute. Farmers are negatively impacted as their soil quality is weakened and erosion quickens. As a result, farmers are unable to produce enough food for themselves and for their livelihoods. Therefore, deforestation can cause hunger and food insecurity.
Statistics indicate that 42 million indigenous people reside in Latin America overall. A substantial 17% of indigenous people live in extreme poverty, despite the fact that the indigenous population accounts for only 8% of Latin America’s total population. Additionally, over 50% of Latin America’s indigenous people live in rural areas.
In Brazil, there are 869,917 indigenous people across 305 ethnic groups. Of this number, over half of the indigenous people in Brazil live in rural areas. Across the country, 13.8% of the land has been reserved for the indigenous people. Many of these territories, which are primarily located in the Amazon, are continually threatened, challenged or stripped from indigenous peoples.
According to the People’s Planet Project, the Kīsêdjê people of Brazil are victims to land seizure and deforestation, which negatively impacts their culture, customs and way of life. The Kīsêdjê worked together to combat the effects of deforestation, leading to the successful formalization of their land as the Wawi Indigenous Land in 1998. However, deforestation has continued in the area. In 2019 alone, more than 92,000 hectares of forest were cut down in the region, placing already vulnerable indigenous peoples in worse situations by threatening, destroying and pushing them off their land.
The A’i Cofan indigenous group consists of only 2,100 people. They reside in an area approximately 4,000 square kilometers northeast of Ecuador. Their land and rights are frequently threatened by gold miners and large-scale concessions, forcing the group into legal battles.
People’s Planet Project
The People’s Planet Project is fighting against deforestation, working to stop the destruction of approximately 18 million acres of forest annually. According to the organization’s website, the People’s Planet Project utilizes film, technology and data to promote indigenous rights and the protection of rainforests.
The organization encourages indigenous communities to share their stories, cultures and traditions through film, in an effort to yield support, gain policymakers’ attention and protect indigenous rights.
The organization holds GeoStory Camps, which it describes as “storytelling workshops.” By working with local filmmakers who serve as ambassadors for the organization as well as local indigenous associations, the People’s Planet Project helps indigenous people share their stories. These stories range from a traditional Kīsêdjê dance to a member of the A’i Cofan group speaking about the current state of the forest.
Each GeoStory Camp teaches 20 indigenous people at a time about the basics of filmmaking in their local languages, with a specific focus on women and youth. Participants can then use the knowledge gained in workshops to make videos depicting the indigenous experience and problems caused by deforestation. GeoStory Camps also enable indigenous people to advocate for themselves and the protection of their land.
Through GeoCamps, indigenous peoples are also taught to use geographic information systems (GIS) to create and save maps of ancestral rainforests, defining and monitoring their territories.
Through this combination of film and GIS, indigenous communities are empowered to protect their land and traditions. It is this long-standing sense of empowerment that plays an integral role in allowing organizations like the People’s Plant Project to successfully advocate for and protect indigenous rights.
– Zoe Engels