No GIS For You!
National Geographic News reported earlier this year that “isolated tribes in the Amazon are now using satellites, computers, and even Google Earth to guard against threats from logging, agriculture, drug wars, and oil operations.”
In another National Geographic News article, we also read that activist groups in Southeast Asia have been helping indigenous communities “mix computers and handheld navigation devices with paints, yarn, and cardboard to make simple but accurate three-dimensional terrain models.” These models were then used in the courts to fight developers and in gaining political support. Already the Higaunon people in the Philippines have won an ancestral land title, and the Rumah Nor in Malaysia have stopped a major paper company from encroaching on its territory.
With Google spotlighting the continuing genocide in the Sudan on Google Earth, there is much to be enthusiastic about this synergy between high-tech geospatial technologies and human rights activism.
Unfortunately, as with any quasi-democratic government easily prone to corruption and bribery, lawmakers in the Philippines and Malaysia have re-written existing laws to require the use of GIS technologies and “anything related to measuring space” to officially recognized professionals.
While these legislative revisions do not outright forbid indigenous groups from making maps and terrain models, they effectively bar indigenous communities from making high-tech maps. As Mark Bujang, of the Iban people from Malaysia's Sarawak state on the island of Borneo, explains: “Imagine that indigenous communities who are trying to show the location and size of their native customary land in court are not able to do so unless they get someone who is licensed and registered. This is not possible, because most of the licensed and registered surveyors are working with the government or private consultant firms, [and] the latter costs too much for the communities.”
“Google Maps as acts of civil disobedience.”
The geography of displacement (see Part II)