Lian Pin Koh, a pioneer in the field of drone-driven conservation, advised the team in Guyana. But the closest parallel to Guyanese project can be found halfway around the globe. Irendra Radjawali, who describes himself as a “researcher-activist,” helped the Dayak community in Indonesia map their forests—and to take that evidence to the government, becoming the first community to win a land rights case based on drone imagery, Radjawali told Quartz.

For a few days last December, Nicholas and Faye Fredericks left the Guyanese forests for a different jungle. They traveled to Paris to accept the Equator Prize, an award given by the United Nations Development Programme to indigenous organizations seeking solutions to pressing climate change issues, on behalf of the South Central Peoples Development Association (SCPDA). Fredericks spoke for all Equator Award recipients in Paris.

“Our traditional practices are sustainable. We now need governments to recognize this, too,” he said, his quiet voice booming through the auditorium. The winners onstage, he pointed out, conserve a total of 7.5 million hectares of forest.

Nick Fredericks accepts the Equator Prize in Paris on behalf of all indigenous innovation contestants.
Nick Fredericks accepts the Equator Prize in Paris on behalf of all indigenous innovation contestants.
Image: Melody Schreiber

“We are the guardians of the forest,” Fredericks said. “We will not stand for [its] destruction in the name of development.”

International organizations like UNDP have also honored the Wapichan work, but the Frederickses have had trouble getting the Guyanese government’s attention.

Last fall, the Frederickses wrote letters to the Ministry of the Environment, and the pair hoped to meet with the Guyanese delegation at COP21. But they were unable to track the environmental delegation down back in December.

However, the Frederickses are still optimistic about the new government. When opposition leader David Granger was elected last year, he installed a new cabinet, including several key ministers. The Frederickses hope to meet with some of these officials this month in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.

That meeting has become even more urgent. Just before they traveled to Paris, the Frederickses learned that the government may be interested in opening another mining community around Blue Mountain, a site sacred to the Wapichan. “In pristine forest,” Faye Fredericks said, shaking her head in disbelief. “We are very, very concerned.”

This story was reported with funding support from The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit focused on international and social justice journalism.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.