Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology is helping to create concrete scientific fact out of Indigenous knowledge in the Philippines.
But the process is extremely dangerous.
The Nakamata Coalition in Central Mindanao, is made up of ten small indigenous tribes who are legally and peacefully reclaiming their own land, under a new federal law.
Armed with handheld GPS devices donated by local and international support groups, Nakamata is creating scientific data (exact mapping co-ordinates) out of their traditional oral understanding of their land.
With the GPS devices in hand, the tribes stand on the exact locations of ancestral boundaries, and using the device, record exact scientific co-ordinates.
These spots mark a tribe's boundaries, says Datu (Chief) Makapukaw, founder of the Nakamata coalition. These spots have been passed down historically from one generation to the other. They are references such as burial grounds, sacred areas or natural boundaries such as rivers and creeks.
The data is stored in the memory of the hand-held device, and is later uploaded into a computer that translates the data into precise maps. These maps then help legally support official land claims.
But the area is dominated by sugar plantations and ranches, which were created under the corrupt Marcos regime in the 80's. These powerful interests, including local politicians, police, and businesses, are determined to block the tribes' efforts to reclaim even small portions of land.
The very act of mapping, is an assertion of indigenous right over their territory. More often it becomes a very risky thing to do, because of other interests nearby, says Joey Lozano, a Filipino human rights activist who works closely with Nakamata.
As documented in the film Seeing is Believing, during a recent GPS survey, two Nakamata members were brutally shot to death by alleged "hired guns". According to the National Bureau of Investigation, the motives behind the murder were clearly political.
Despite repeated and systematic assaults on Nakamata, these kinds of acts of intimidation and aggression have never been properly investigated or prosecuted - until now. Since the release of the film, the National Bureau of Investigation has arrested one suspect, another was killed during arrest, while a third remains at large. Please see our campaign section for more information and developments regarding these assaults and investigations.
Meanwhile, Nakamata members remain undaunted, and continue to take small steps - with GPS technology in hand - to map out their entire claimed land.