From climate change to isolated tribes: notes on the 66th Meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science

The 66th annual meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) took place between July 22-27, in the capital city of Acre State, Rio Branco. This year’s theme was “Science and Technology in an Amazon without borders”. The debates suited perfectly my interests as an Extreme Citizen Science researcher, and the event was also an important opportunity for meeting researchers who work in the region.  The conference had panels led by a wide range of scientists, from different backgrounds such as social, natural and computer sciences. This year’s novelty was the creation of two additional spaces of debate, namely the Indigenous and the Extractivist meetings, where indigenous peoples and rubber tappers were protagonists in defining the topics of discussion, and where they also presented their ways of producing science.

Indigenous meeting
Indigenous meeting

This was the first time that the meeting was held in Acre State, and many of the panels and tables concentrated on issues that affect the region, such as climate change, the tension between sustainable development and strict economic development practices, the relations with neighbouring Amazonian countries, and policies for forests’ peoples. The Indigenous meeting had a substantial number of indigenous peoples attending and actively participating, including representatives from other countries such as Peru and Bolivia. During the afternoons, they had mobilisation meetings, where they traced strategies for facing common issues and threats, which were mostly related to the pressures for resource exploitation in their lands and climate change.

Renowned Brazilian anthropologists, such as Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida and Mauro William Barbosa de Almeida, spoke critically about the production of science in the Amazon. The former emphasised the importance of deconstructing essencialising views on the Amazon and its peoples, and of having a deeper understanding of the identity dynamics that is taking place in the region since forest peoples were granted special rights in the late 1980s. This fact has produced a new movement, in which peoples, territories and its boundaries are redefined, challenging static and more traditional formal classifications of the Amazonian population and space. The latter spoke about the need for dialogue between the “scientific tradition” and “traditional sciences”, defending and demonstrating the validity of indigenous knowledge production when compared to scientific findings. “What we have are different ways [methods] of doing science”, he stated.

Discussing the contact

One of the highlights of the conference was the round table about the isolated tribe that has recently made contact with the Ashaninka people and workers from the National Foundation of Indigenous Affairs (Funai) in the Envira river, in Acre, on June 29. A video of the first contact was displayed, and the speakers explained the steps that were taken afterwards as contingency measures. Right after the contact Funai and the Special Secretary of Indigenous Health sent more workers to the region. The members of the group had to be treated against cold, and the surrounding population also had to be immunised. The recently contacted group indicated they have been suffering attacks in their villages – probably by loggers and/or drug traffickers. Funai’ specialists believe that other isolated tribes may attempt to establish contact after this first event, as the pressures in the area they live, between Peru and Brazil, are rapidly increasing.

Many of the panels emphasised the lack of investment in science and technology in the Amazon region, as well as the need for having integrated strategies with neighbouring countries. There is a long way to overcome this challenge and perhaps ExCiteS can play a small part in contributing to this end.

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