Chief Almir took a leadership role in his community at 17 and became the first tribal member to attend college. In 2006, he fled briefly to the U.S. when loggers put a bounty on his head.

The chief's nephew in his uncle's house. Chief Almir stumbled upon Google Earth in an Internet café in 2007 and soon formed a partnership with the company.

To combat the aggressive logging that is destroying the Surui's 600,000 acres of land, the tribe has mounted an ambitious reforestation plan. Cell phones have allowed the tribe to document the clear-cut areas in the forest and form planting plans.

Technology is the key to Chief Almir's campaign to preserve his culture.

Agamemnon, the Surui chief of reforestation, stands at a meeting about tourism and reforestation.

The Surui aim to plant 1 million saplings within the next decade. They hope to raise millions through a UN deal that gives carbon credits, which can be traded for cash, to countries and tribes that maintain their forests. The money would fund new homes, a hospital, school, and pension plan.

Adapting to a digital age, the Surui have created a word for Google in their language: ragogmakan, meaning "the messenger."

53. Chief Almir

Surui Amazon Tribe

For a man whose way of life has been threatened by modernity, activist and tribal leader Chief Almir of the Surui people of the Brazilian Amazon has looked to a surprising source to help his tribe maintain its traditional way of life: Google. In 1969, shortly before Almir was born, the tribe had its first contact with outsiders, who brought disease, violence, and death with them. Then loggers arrived, laying waste to the Surui's homeland. Chief Almir decided survival depended on outreach. His partnership with Google, which began in 2007, has enabled the tribe to create an online "cultural map" of the Surui with stories from the tribe's elders that are uploaded onto YouTube, as well as a geographical map of their territory created with GPS equipped smartphones from Google. In 2009, Google employees taught the Surui to use cell phones to record illegal logging on their land. Tribal members can now take photos and videos that are geo-tagged and immediately upload the images to Google Earth. Law-enforcement officials can no longer claim ignorance of the problem when evidence of the deforestation is publicly available online.

Chief Almir views his partnership with Google not only as a way to sustain his traditions and land but as an opportunity to teach others about the Surui. "The message I want to send is, Let's Amazonize the world," he tells Fast Company through a translator. "Let's help save the forest. Do what is within your reach, to your capacity; that is the responsibility of each of us."

Process

This exclusive Fast Company video shows how Chief Almir and the Surui tribe protect their ancient rain forests using modern technology.

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