Brett Buckingham and Ailén Vega (2016)

Participatory Mapping in Brazil's Tapajós River Basin

Brett and Ailén’s project engages the Munduruku indigenous communities of the northern Brazilian Amazon in a participatory, counter-hegemonic mapping project.  The Munduruku people are currently fighting against the Brazilian government’s plans to construct what would become one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams, the São Luiz do Tapajós, and lead to the decimation of the Munduruku’s means of survival and of a sacred place central to their identity as a people. With the support of partner organizations Amazon Watch and Digital Democracy, Brett and Ailén will work alongside communities to produce maps that depict the land practices, cultural spaces, and histories of the Munduruku through community workshops and open-source mapping technologies. In positioning the Munduruku as the leaders of the mapping process, this project creates alternative cartographic representations to support these communities’ lobbying efforts on the national and international level.


Ailén and Brett both graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Spring 2016 with bachelor’s degrees from the Department of Geography. They share a long-standing interest in the sociopolitical dimensions of resource governance in Latin America.

As an undergraduate, Brett developed a strong interest in the political economy of development and environmental resource management. His work experience at the United Nations Development Program and the U.S. Department of State in La Paz, Bolivia and the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has focused on climate change and international environmental law and policy. He also spent the summer of 2015 in Bolivia to conduct independent fieldwork in the Amazon on the discourse of climate change adaptation and development for his honors thesis in Geography.  On campus, Brett held leadership positions in Berkeley Model United Nations and Delta Phi Epsilon, Cal's co-ed professional fraternity for international affairs. He also spent one semester at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Born and raised in Argentina, Ailén has long been interested in how national territorialization efforts in Latin America work in and through processes of invisibilization and dispossession of those most marginalized. Ailén is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and has conducted previous ethnographic research on issues of territoriality between Mapuche indigenous communities, oil and natural gas companies, and the local and national government in Neuquén, Argentina for her honors thesis in Geography. During her years at Cal, Ailén also majored in Political Economy, interned for Tata Steel Rural Development Society in Jamshedpur, India, and studied abroad at the Catholic University of Salvador in Brazil.