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."