Sometimes it seems like we live in nonsensical times. Do you ever wonder what happened to good old common sense? Indigenous voices from around the world who are fighting for cultural survival and protection of nature in their homelands offer simple wisdom in the face of climate change, mining and other development projects. These voices are highlighted in Standing On Sacred Ground, a four-part film series airing on the PBS World Channel through May and June.
The first episode of the film series, Pilgrims and Tourists, shows the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in California resisting U.S. government plans to raise the height of Shasta Dam, which threatens their sacred sites and the ceremonies that have taken place on the McCloud RIver for over a thousand years. Winnemem Chief Caleen Sisk has been advocating for water as a human right for all—including the salmon, a source of spiritual inspiration and an important traditional food, which has disappeared from their homeland because of Shasta Dam.
In the film series, Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, reflects on the values in life that matter more than money and markets: a sacred relationship to land, reciprocity and our obligation to give back to the Earth, a commitment to equity and peace for seven generations. Chief Lyons recognizes that inherently humans are not separate from nature.
In episode two of the film series, Profit and Loss, First Nations in Alberta, Canada, fight threats from a mega-mining invasion—the tar sands—dubbed as the world’s largest development project. Indigenous advocates have raised concerns about the impact of tar sands on their traditional livelihoods and the foodways of native communities, who are affected by the toxic contaminants pouring into air and water. Tar sands also have a significant carbon footprint: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that that greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands crude are approximately 82% greater than the average crude oil refined in the United States, on a well-to-tank basis.
The tar sands segment of the film Profit and Loss reveals how cancer rates are soaring in First Nations communities that have subsisted on fish from Lake Athabasca for millennia. With contamination of the waterways and environment, consuming traditional foods and drinking water from the lake pose a lethal threat to the peoples’ health. “They ask pregnant women here not to eat more than a couple of fish. In my granny’s time, that was not heard of, because that’s all she lived off,” says pregnant Cree mother, Cherie Wanderingspirit.
Around the world, many indigenous communities are striving to maintain an Earth-based spirituality where a connection to land kindles reverence for nature and moderates human behavior. Our consumerism is devouring the Earth. Satish Kumar sums up these sentiments in the film series in a powerful quote about transforming the human bond with nature from ownership to relationship.
Long before national parks became places of inspiration—and strategies for protecting wildlife and biodiversity—indigenous peoples were stewarding their lands and territories with effective ecological and spiritual management practices.
Standing on Sacred Ground’s episode three, Fire and Ice, visits Ethiopia and Peru, where the filmmakers captured scenes of Christian harassment of indigenous ceremonies on sacred land. The footage is very disturbing and it reveals a story we hear a lot about but rarely see. It enables us to ask the question: What are the environmental consequences of believing that Earth is just a way station?
The final episode, Islands of Sanctuary, brings hope and renewal as Aboriginal Australians and Native Hawaiians launch powerful resistance movements to reclaim sacred lands from governments and the military. The film has moving scenes of Native Hawaiians restoring their sacred island of Kaho’olawe after being pummeled for 50 years of U.S. Navy bombing. “Kaho’olawe gave us a spiritual connection to our ancestors and to our spiritual beliefs, and we were able to call back our gods,” says Davianna McGregor, a leader of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana.
Beloved elder Florence Jones of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe was a top doctor and healer who successfully fought and stopped a proposed ski resort on her sacred Mt. Shasta. Florence’s descendents continue her legacy and carry her spirit in Standing on Sacred Ground —the award-winning four-part series airing on the PBS World Channel in May and June 2015. Check broadcast schedule here.
If you are inspired to take action, here are some steps you can take:
• Host film screenings and have a dialogue with your family and community. You canbuy the DVD set here.
* Download a free Teacher’s Guide or free Discussion Guides.
* Check out the Take Action page on the film’s website.