The Kofan community of Sinangoe was the first community to start piloting Mapeo Mobile in 2018, after being involved in a design workshop the year before. Sinangoe territory is located in the foothills of the Andes in Northern Ecuador, overlapped by the hugely biodiverse Cayambe Coca National park and alongside the rushing river Aguarico and its tributaries. The river is the source of life for the Kofan people, but in 2017 became the site of conflict and potential ecocide when illegal miners started crossing into their territory to prospect for gold, and then in 2018 the Ecuadorian State created mining concessions all the way down the River Aguarico, with large machinery and companies moving in fast.
Sinangoe, a small community of only 200 people, with support from Alianza Ceibo, Amazon Frontlines and Digital Democracy, sprang into action, first creating a local ‘guardia’ team to patrol their territory, collect evidence with GPS, drones and camera traps, and confront and evict the illegal miners. Then in partnership with the State Ombudsman they took the Ecuadorian Government to court for the creation of mining concessions that would put their lives, culture and future at risk without adequate consultation. The Kofan won this case, and the appeal, in landmark rulings in 2018. The community is now using Mapeo to continuously monitor mining and other territorial invasions and to map the important resources and historical sites on their land.
The Kofan process:
- The community ran a workshop to define all the different resources they wanted to map, such as special plants and historical sites and all the risks and problems they wanted to monitor (gold mining, logging, poaching etc.).
- Digital Democracy helped create a list of all these categories with simple icons for Mapeo Mobile, and an offline map they can use in the field.
- The team goes out on patrols: anything from a day on the river to a 10 day trek to the other side of their land. They take with them android phones with Mapeo, backup battery chargers, GPS and cameras, and they use Mapeo to record points, photos and details of any important territory sites or impacts of illegal activities they encounter.
- The Kofan guardia team has different roles, including those who know how to use the android and GPS devices, those with the traditional knowledge to identify resources and know the history, and those trained in how to deescalate the situation if they meet illegal invaders.
- Back in the village they connect the phones and computer to a local network using a portable mini-router and syncronise the new data in Mapeo Mobile with Mapeo Desktop.
- The team can then use Mapeo Desktop to examine the data, see the walks in context, create reports of any illegal activities, edit the data or export it to geojson for use in another mapping programme.
The Kofan guardia has created a focus for the community around which conversations about land, resources, and their future can happen, and given them back a sense of ownership and autonomy over their territory, after years of being sidelined by the national park authorities. The case they won against the Ecuadorian State also demonstrates the power that indigenous people have when supported with good evidence and connections to legal support and advocacy. Apps such as Mapeo and the evidence it collects can become powerful tools in their hands, but are only effective because of the dedication of the Kofan team, the months spent trekking in the forest, their patience in collecting points under a dense forest canopy and commitment to the process despite threats, government inaction and a legal system in which respect for indigenous rights is the exception not the norm.