Over generations they built up vast, invaluable storehouses of knowledge about the plants and animals that shared their home. People and land were joined in a life-sustaining, spiritual relationship – to degrade either was to diminish both.
Today’s indigenous peoples, however, live in a world far different than their ancestors’: ancient cultures are vanishing along with endless acres of rainforest. At one time an estimated 10 million indigenous people lived in the Brazilian rainforest – today there are less than a million. Just as they shared in its bounty when the rainforest flourished in peace, so too they share in its tragedies.
The plight of the Amazonian rainforests is no secret: many conservationists have mobilized to save its rich landscapes and the astonishingly diverse creatures and plants that live there. In the course of their work in the rainforest, some conservationists and scientists have built close personal relationships with indigenous peoples. A group of these conservationists perceived a pressing need for a new kind of environmental organization: one that could work hand-in-hand with indigenous peoples to preserve ancient knowledge and cultures along with the lands that sustained them. They formed the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) in 1995 to meet this urgent need.
By combining vast indigenous knowledge with Western conservation science and technology, ACT and its colleagues have forged a powerful new tool in the battle to curb ecological and cultural degradation in the tropical and subtropical Americas.