Expeditions Through the Forest: Knowledge Sharing and Territory Monitoring

Elders and youth Indigenous during the expedition / Photos: CTI
Training Indigenous Environmental Agents Includes Knowledge Exchange

May/June, 2024 – The traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples living in the Amazon is passed down to the youth by the elders through oral traditions. This wisdom is frequently shared during journeys through their territory. Apinayé Indigenous elders in Tocantins shared their history orally with youth participating in training to become Community Environmental Agents.

These agents engaged in environmental education and participated in initiatives aimed at protecting their territory, preserving the forest's biodiversity, and strengthening Indigenous cultures -- they have no arresting authority.

A group of youth, referred to as menywjaja in their native language, undertook the 4th Participatory Mapping Expedition in the Apinayé Indigenous Land in May. They explored regions encompassing the villages of Botica, Gato Preto, Valente, Corrente, Bacaba, Saia, and Corralinho.

The group visited these villages accompanied by teachers, advisors, singers, communicators, and an Apinayé pajé (a healer and a spiritual healer) to understand the historical use and occupation of the Indigenous land through traditional practices of settlement and movement.

“We walked through the territory with the elders, listening to old stories, visiting the heads of streams, sites of ancient villages, places my mother and grandparents had told me about. I saw things I had never seen before, like the cutieira tree medicine, which I had only heard about,” said Késia Iremèx, a young woman from the Mariazinha village. The cutieira is a typical Brazilian tree whose seeds have medicinal properties.

The training of Environmental Agents is part of the thematic axis of education for socio-environmental management within the Territorial and Environmental Management Plan of the Timbira Indigenous Lands.

The expedition is one of the activities of the project “Aliança dos Povos Indígenas pelas Florestas da Amazônia Oriental: Conservar, Proteger e Restaurar”, supported by USAID and carried out by the Centro de Trabalho Indigenista (CTI), Instituto Sociedade, População e Natureza (ISPN), in partnership with Indigenous organizations such as Associação Wyty-Catë das Comunidades Timbira do Maranhão e Tocantins, Coordenação das Organizações e Articulações dos Povos Indígenas do Maranhão  (COAPIMA) and Articulação das Mulheres Indígenas do Maranhão (AMIMA).

The project will focus on forest restoration, recovery, and protection. It will train environmental agents and Indigenous communicators and will develop and implement territorial and environmental management plans (PGTAs).  They also hope to foster micro-community projects supporting conservation, sociocultural reproduction, and income generation enterprises (read more here). 

Learning the History – During the expedition, the youth conducted territorial identification and monitoring, collected information on the history and occupations of the regions, and gathered data on the diversity of vegetation, wildlife, and local vulnerabilities.

These journeys through the territory help the menywjaja learn about participatory mapping and geospatial territorial data collection. They take notes in notebooks, photograph locations with their cellphones, and use GPS to record information.

“We learn a lot from this project thanks to our journeys through the territory. Our knowledge comes from this. To protect the territory, we need to know it. So, we map out the areas along the borders and identify entry points for invaders,” says Mário Kunun from the Areia Branca village.

The group participated in discussion circles where they revisited the experiences from previous expeditions. They create qualification reports and develop mind maps with information about the visited villages. The results are shared with the communities to assist local leadership in territorial and environmental management actions.