Millennium Discovers: The Amazon's Technology Warriors

Discovery / Lifestyle

‘Today, we defend our land with this map. Before we killed with spears. Things are different now.’

While the Amazonian basin is most often touted for its biodiversity, there are also hundreds of Indigenous tribes that live in the rainforest. Many of these tribes are under direct threat of displacement by resource extraction and deforestation. To this day, 70 percent of the Ecuadorian Amazon has been leased to oil companies, and plans have been set to auction off more land.

One of these areas includes a large swath of Waorani territory, labelled Block 22 by the Ecuadorian government. The territory is home to 18 roadless Waorani communities, including hundreds of medicinal plants, hunting routes, cemeteries, battlegrounds, watering holes, and a huge diversity of flora and fauna.

Six years ago, the Waorani decided they needed to map their territory as a means not only to prove their rightful ownership of the land but also to document the rich biodiversity of their territory and the wisdom of Waorani elders for future generations. Over four years, the Waorani used hi-tech GPS technology, camera traps, and drones to map out 180,000 hectares (444,789 acres) of their territory. The maps include almost 10,000 GPS points.

Oswando Nenquimo, a native to one of the communities in Block 22, has dedicated himself fully to the project. He travels between the 52 Waorani communities, teaching GPS techniques and facilitating the mapping process. Just like most of the population, Nenquimo is adamant that the story of Waorani land be told by its own people. As the threat of deforestation and potential displacement continues, Nenquimo and the Waorani people plan to continue mapping as it is an important tool to fight natural resource extraction in their territory.

In November 2018, the Ecuadorian government paused their current plans to auction off Block 22, but the fight was far from over. In 2019, The Waorani decided to file a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government, which they later won on April 26, protecting half a million acres of land in the Amazon forest, on which the Waorani have lived for centuries, guaranteeing the continued protection of their land from being earmarked for oil drilling.

Director: Julia Muldavin

Assistant camera: Joel Heim

Editor: Andrew Phillips

Producer: Ala Alhussan

Logistics: Alianza Ceibo

Translator: Nemonte Nenquimo

Executive producer: Andrew Phillips

Additional footage thanks to Amazon Frontlines