COVID restricts access to traditional communities, training continues

Paiter Suruí indigenous people living at the Sete de Setembro indigenous land, located in Cacoal, state of Rondônia, attended – for the first time ever – a fully online Indigenous Territorial Economic Governance Training Program (PFGETI).

The program is implemented by Forest Trends, with support from the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB), USAID/Brazil, and the Alliance of Biodiversity International/CIAT, and developed by UNIR (Federal University of Rondônia), ECOPORÉ e Centro Cultural Wagôh Pakób.

The PFGETI includes thematic trainings on economies and markets, as well as gender and generational issues. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth part of the program was carried out remotely over a two-week period (thanks to new internet installation). This training is a pilot for the next seminar, which will bring together seven Tupi Mosaic indigenous lands under a single program.

In total, the PFGETI is addressing 12 topics, most of them focused on economic issues. They include development and well-being; indigenous rights, lands and globalization; life plans, management and other governance tools; indigenous economy, gender and generational issues. 

"The pandemic has led us to think of other ways to keep up with our training. We are drafting a report with a consistent assessment of our experience with the Paiter Suruí, which will serve as a reference for adapting the virtual model strategy," says Marcio Halla, coordinator of indigenous economic governance projects at Forest Trends.

According to Halla, in order to ensure participants will be  able to attend this online program, 11 internet points will be installed in communities that are still not connected, benefiting about 20 indigenous groups in seven indigenous lands.

The program is being developed in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil, supported by Norad-NICFI, with the aim of strengthening territorial governance processes and, in the case of the economy-focused module, improving participants’ ability to maintain their traditional economy and develop new economic initiatives. As a result, the indigenous communities will secure income generation from conserving the standing forest and biodiversity in the Amazon.

At Sete de Setembro, the course consists of six training modules, each focusing on two different themes. Between December and March, three of them were delivered face to face. The lessons included, among other things, the importance of knowledge-exchange across generations, using this learning to build solutions to community problems, and increasing women's participation in community problems.

“A large number of women have been attending our classes. They are usually very shy, and hardly ever talk at meetings where men are present. In addition, participants overall have developed their resourcefulness and knowledge of economic issues. This becomes evident in their words, interest and participation,” says Maria do Carmo Barcellos, head of gender and cultural mediators at Forest Trends.

This resourcefulness that Maria do Carmo talks about is evident in the words of Lucimeire Sodan Surui, an indigenous woman that spoke during a session on gender and generational issues. “Being an indigenous woman is like being a warrior: we fight violence and claim our rights. We are defending our future. We do not want to take the role of indigenous men – we want to be their partners, and help them overcome our common struggles,” summed up Lucimeire when she had the floor. 

In 2018, the program took place at the Rio Branco indigenous land, also in the state of Rondônia. The program evaluation showed that the benefits included the knowledge acquired and developed by participants, and their understanding of the importance of valuing their cultures for today and for the future. Another benefit mentioned by participants was developing public speaking skills opportunities to work collaboratively. 


During these training practices, participants share and discuss project ideas with their communities, eventually fully developing a theme. A good example is the development of a cocoa chain production plan. “Some people had never carried out a study on their productive chain. With our teacher's guidance, we were able to develop our own proposal,” adds Maria do Carmo.

Future strategy includes transforming the training program into a permanent academic program. According to Halla, a partnership with the Federal University of Rondônia is interested in developing the long term training plan.