Sacred Land Film Project Protecting the Earth's Sacred Places 2015-05-30T11:06:37Z WordPress Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Read Sacred Land Blog from Film Director Toby McLeod and Team]]> 2015-05-30T11:04:04Z 2015-05-28T18:27:51Z

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Standing on Sacred Ground on Public TV. Check Local Listings.]]> 2015-05-30T11:06:37Z 2015-05-28T18:26:25Z Check local listings.

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[PBS Broadcasts Begin!]]> 2015-05-06T22:11:00Z 2015-05-01T18:25:37Z Standing on Sacred Ground is being broadcast on PBS stations all over the United States in May, as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. For a full broadcast schedule visit our film website.

The key “national broadcast” will start Sunday, May 17 at 9pm ET on The WORLD Channel.

Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area can catch the films on KQED as follows: KQED LIFE airs the series on Fridays at 7pm starting May 1. For Comcast viewers, this is channel 54.3. KCSM-HD will air the films on Fridays at 10 PM. For AT&T U-verse viewers, this is channel 1043. KQED Plus airs all four films starting at noon on Sunday, May 10. KQED-9 airs Profit and Loss on Tuesday, May 12 at 11pm and Islands of Sanctuary on Tuesday, May 19 at 11pm.

In Hawaii, where our fourth film, Islands of Sanctuary, concludes with the beautiful story of Kaho`olawe, the films air on two Saturday nights, May 9 and May 16. KHET has altered the order of the shows: Profit and Loss airs Saturday, May 9 at 9pm followed by Pilgrims and Tourists at 10pm. On Saturday, May 16, Islands of Sanctuary leads off at 9pm and Fire and Ice airs at 10pm. Mahalo and aloha!



Toby McLeod <![CDATA[POV Streaming In the Light of Reverence]]> 2015-05-07T15:58:24Z 2015-05-01T09:50:33Z We are thrilled to announce our 2001 film, In the Light of Reverence, the prequel to Standing on Sacred Ground, is streaming on the POV website starting May 7 and continuing for 90 days.

Ten years in the making, In the Light of Reverence explores American culture’s relationship to nature in three places considered sacred by native peoples: the Colorado Plateau in the Southwest, Mount Shasta in California and Devils Tower in Wyoming. Rich in minerals and beloved by recreational users, these “holy lands” exert a spiritual gravity, which pulls Native Americans into conflicts with mining companies, New Age practitioners and rock climbers. Ironically, all sides see themselves as besieged.

These battles tell a new story of culture clashes in an ancient landscape.

In the Light of Reverence juxtaposes reflections of Hopi, Wintu and Lakota elders on the spiritual meaning of place with views of non-Indians who have their own ideas about how best to use the land. The film captures the spiritual yearning and materialistic frenzy of our time.

Now’s your chance to learn about these American Indian sacred site battles on POV before we take you around the world to learn of global indigenous sacred site struggles in the Standing on Sacred Ground WORLD channel broadcast beginning Sunday, May 17 at 9pm ET. Check out our full broadcast schedule.

And don’t miss four new Vine Deloria, Jr. extended interview film clips, which we will post on YouTube on May 7.

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Tar Sands Protests Then and Now]]> 2015-04-10T04:55:30Z 2015-04-08T02:23:23Z I’m headed to Dartmouth at the invitation of old friend Terry Tempest Williams, to show Profit and Loss and Islands of Sanctuary on Wednesday. Terry has hiked the area of eastern Utah where development of tar sands is looming, and she and many others in Utah are justifiably worried. Activists occupied the area and were arrested blockading road construction last summer and when Terry and I showed the Standing on Sacred Ground films in Salt Lake City last December many of the tar sands activists were in the audience. They’re now using Profit and Loss to raise awareness in Utah about the ecological and public health impacts of tar sands in Alberta.

The Utah activists have important allies in Canada. With the electric rise of Idle No More, First Nations’ leadership has placed all of the many proposed tar sands pipeline projects in serious legal limbo.

Houston-based Kinder Morgan plans to spend $5 billion to tunnel through Burnaby Mountain, 10 miles east of Vancouver B.C., to triple the capacity of an existing pipeline—to 900,000 barrels per day—and deliver tar sands crude to supertankers headed for China. A November 2014 blockade led to more than 100 arrests. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said, “The opposition is widespread and it is vehement, so we’re going to continue this fight until the bitter end. We’re looking at a very litigious future.”

There is also fierce local opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, 400 miles north of Vancouver, which would require a new marine export terminal for more supertankers.

Lest we forget about the east coast, TransCanada (in addition to Keystone XL) wants to build “Energy East” to the Atlantic coast at a cost of $10 billion, to carry 1.1 million barrels per day across 2,850 miles. Serge Simon, Grand Chief of the Mohawks of Kanesatake, near Montreal, says his community will use blockades to stop the project, which he’s certain will pollute land and water. “Blockades have been a very useful tool in the past, and despite the threat of being locked up for life, I don’t think that’s going to stop us,” he told Reuters.

It’s not just protests and constraints on getting oil out of Alberta that threaten the industry. The low price of oil is killing new tar sands development. A study prepared for the U.S. State Department’s review of the Keystone XL pipeline estimated that tar sands projects become unprofitable at prices below $65-75 a barrel. Prices recently fell under $50 and have been hovering between $50-60 per barrel. The last decade’s rapid expansion in Alberta has all but stopped.

In February, Occidental Petroleum curtailed its activities in Canada’s tar sands. Three large expansion projects were abandoned in the past year: Shell canceled the long-planned Pierre River Mine, which would have produced 200,000 barrel per day; Total, the French oil giant, canceled the proposed $11 billion Joslyn mine (160,000 barrels per day); and Statoil, the Norwegian oil company, shelved a major expansion project worth $1 billion.

This is good news for the climate. The tar sands industry emits more greenhouse gas every year than New Zealand and Kenya combined. James Hansen, the NASA climatologist who was arrested in 2011 protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in front of  the White House, called then for a rapid cut in carbon emissions and challenged President Obama to move “expeditiously to the clean energies of the future. Moving to tar sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet is a step in exactly the opposite direction. People who care should draw the line.”

Were we to burn all of the recoverable tar sands oil in Alberta it would add 22 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Scientists estimate this would cause an increase of 0.4 degrees C. in global temperature. Many thoughtful people are now calling for “stranded assets” to be the environmental and social justice movements’ first priority: the tar sands should be left in the ground.

Some good news—and an important struggle you can help: The Beaver Lake Cree Nation is fighting an important court case challenging tar sands leases as treaty violations. You can help the Beaver Lake Cree by contributing to a new crowd-funding initiative to support their landmark case to protect traditional lands and constitutionally-guaranteed treaty rights to “hunt, fish, and trap in perpetuity.” Please donate today!

Next week (the third and final part of this blog): What are the Koch Brothers doing with two million acres of Alberta’s tar sands?

P.S. Proof that great minds think alike, just after posting this blog, The Guardian published a piece by Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, “Life Above Albert’s Tar Sands—Why We Are Taking the Government to Court.” Check it out!

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[New Video: Tar Sands Map Rap]]> 2015-04-08T02:24:01Z 2015-04-06T15:11:10Z In our film, Profit and Loss, we have four brief scenes of Mike Mercredi explaining a giant wall map of the Alberta tar sands that he and his colleague Lionel Lepine created for their Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation tribal government. The clips we use in the film are about 20 seconds each, and like all sound-bite simplification they’re cut from a 19-minute “map rap” in which these two amazing activists methodically lay out a powerful stream of consciousness describing the tar sands from a dozen angles—always focused on nature and culture or ethics and history.

When we started filming the tar sands in 2009, there had been virtually no media coverage in the United States—even though this form of extreme oil extraction is the largest industrial development in the history of mankind. Thankfully, that has changed now. But the full story is still not being told, in spite of the fact that U.S. consumers burn roughly 1.3 million barrels of tar sands oil per day and the leases stretch over an area the size of Florida or England.

While the focus in the U.S. has been on the Keystone XL pipeline drama, our film focuses on the cultural and ecological horrors playing out in Alberta. Cancer, deformed fish, sacred places bulldozed, 65-square miles of toxic waste—the ethics of a very unconventional form of oil.

As Jacques Leslie pointed out in an op-ed in the New York Times: “Keystone XL is only one of 13 pipelines completed or proposed by the Harper government — they would extend for 10,000 miles, not just to the gulf, but to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.” Leslie also reported: “Canada’s National Energy Board, an ostensibly independent regulatory agency, coordinated with the nation’s intelligence service, police and oil companies to spy on environmentalists.”

Check out a new video on our YouTube channel: “Tar Sands Map Rap with Mike Mercredi and Lionel Lepine.”

Tomorrow: Tar sands in Utah?

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Hawaii’s Legislature Should Fund Commercial Free Kaho`olawe]]> 2015-04-21T21:34:47Z 2015-03-20T00:21:12Z As our films head for PBS broadcast in places like Honolulu, it is heartening to continue to cultivate the relationships that led to the film stories being told. Collaboration with the Protect Kaho`olawe `Ohana has been rich and rewarding—and the process continues. Over the past year, the PKO has used our Kaho`olawe film segment in communities around the islands as an introduction to “vision meetings” where people explore the future of the island, so badly scarred by years of overgrazing and bombing by the U.S. Navy. How to heal and take care of a sacred place for future generations?

As mentioned in the film, a crisis is looming: how to pay for the continued restoration and maintenance of the island? Transportation, scientific monitoring, law enforcement, unexploded ordnance removal (when bombs surface, which they do), erosion control, seeds and plants all cost money.

The federal funds that were used for the clean-up provided an initial budget for the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), but those funds have now been almost totally spent. By this coming July, just $1.2 million will remain, less than half of the KIRC’s annual budget, and funds will run out by year’s end. So the state of Hawaii is looking at whether and how to provide funding. Most crucial is the question: what strings will legislators attach to the money? Will Hawaii’s politicians share the vision for Kaho`olawe developed by the people who have lived and died for the island for 40 years? The state Senate and House are considering allocating $6 million for the next two years, with the funds to come from the state general fund. But, as usual, the devil’s in the details.

Some lawmakers want to amend the charter governing the island to allow “limited commercial use.” PKO leaders want to draw the line at continuing to allow “revenue generating” activities, such as use and access fees. Letting the money run out would be a crime, with 1.9 million tons of soil continuing to flow off the island into the sea every year. Commercial activity on the island would undermine all that has been achieved.

Auditors and critics can attack the KIRC for failing to restore more of the island, and for depleting their limited funds. But no less than the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Navy failed miserably to estimate how much it would cost and how long it would take to clear the weapons of war and make the island 100% safe. They didn’t come close. And this is an historic, internationally significant place, a sacred place, let alone the first land set aside for a future sovereign Hawaiian government. It’s priceless. Period. Let Kaho`olawe be a shining success story of activism, cultural revival and healing without forcing commercialism down the throat of the heroes who fought for it. Keep the casinos and wind farms seven miles (or more) away. Let the island continue to be a natural and cultural refuge of experimentation and inspiration, of low impact living, of ancient cultural values like aloha aina, of living with the untamed wind, always keeping an eye on hokulea, the north star.

The Hawaiian legislature should commit continuing annual funding to restore Kaho`olawe, with no strings attached.

Check out the I Ola Kanaloa Strategic Plan to follow the evolution of the vision for Kaho`olawe’s future.

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Yes, We Are Coming to Public Television!]]> 2015-03-20T00:22:15Z 2015-03-18T02:38:48Z We are thrilled to announce that the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) has accepted all four episodes of Standing on Sacred Ground for broadcast distribution. Public television stations nationwide will have the opportunity to schedule the films for broadcast starting this spring. Some stations may show episodes as early as April to celebrate Earth Day. Other stations have indicated they will broadcast the films during May’s Asian-Pacific Islanders Heritage Month. Hopefully, we will have major carriage across the country in November for Native American Heritage Month. We will keep you updated as we get broadcast information, but remember to check your local listings!

Check out our new 30-second promo clip for public television.

At this transformational moment it’s important to reiterate my heartfelt thanks to our two amazing writing/editing teams of Jessica Abbe/Quinn Costello and Jennifer Huang/Marta Wohl; to our field magicians: Andy Black, Will Parrinello, Vicente Franco and Dave Wendlinger; to our indigenous allies and film participants Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk, activist Winona LaDuke, Altaian leader Danil Mamyev (pictured above and patiently tolerating our endless exploitation of his image), Native Hawaiian activists Emmett Aluli, Davianna McGregor, Craig Neff and Luana Busby-Neff, tar sands activist Mike Mercredi, actresses Tantoo Cardinal and Q’orianka Kilcher, narrator Graham Greene, author Barry Lopez, writer Satish Kumar — and also to Ken Wilson, Bob Friede, Barbara and Tom Sargent, Jaune Evans, Patty Quillin, Reed Hastings, Polly and Bill McLeod, Susan and Jim Crown, Peter Coyote, Cordy Fergus, Erin Lee, Callie Shanafelt, Allison Torres, Susan Alexander, Pat Koren, Laurie Smith, Vicki Engel, Marlo McKenzie, Ashley Tindall, Helena Gonzales, Jennifer Castner, Joan Lander, Anna Heath, Leroy Clark, Shane Watson, Gary Coates, Heather Weaver, Todd Miro, Audrey Jardin, Dave Murray, John Atkinson, Jon Herbst, Tom Disher, Stefan Smith, Charles Johnson, Indra Mungal, Dianne Brennan, John Knox, Kevin Connelly, Dave Phillips, John Antonelli, Jenny Abbe, Chagat Almashev, Maria Amanchina, Matt Yamashita, Donne Dawson, Kaliko Baker, Mike Preston, Rick Wilson, R.T., Nathaniel Wolde, Rosa Koian, Barry Lalley, John Chitoa, Alejandro Argumedo, Fredy Flores Machacca, Charles Roche, Gleb Raygorodetsky, Tadesse Wolde, Erjen Khamaganova, Catherine Sparks, Cara Mertes, Don Weeden, Hadley Grousbeck, Susan O’Connor, Susan Newman, George Appell, Cheryl and Leanne at Pacific Islanders in Communications, Georgianna and Shirley at Vision Maker Media, John and Winnie at Bullfrog Films, and to friends, allies and family too numerous to name, but in particular Miles and Fiona McLeod, and, once again, my ever-patient and profoundly creative partner Jessica Abbe. Thank you!

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Kaho`olawe’s Legacy—as told by Clifford Nae`ole]]> 2015-04-02T07:37:23Z 2015-03-16T19:15:28Z

Click here to view the embedded video.

Our filming in Hawai`i took us to many special places beyond Kaho`olawe. Listening to stories about the amazing, profound impact that the extended family known as the Protect Kaho`olawe `Ohana had throughout the islands, offered a textbook lesson in resistance and social change. Honokahua, on the western end of Maui, is but one example.

When beachside construction began on Ritz Carlton’s Kapalua Resort in 1987 bulldozers began churning up human remains from the sand dunes. This was pre-NAGPRA, so there was no legal recourse to stop the desecration of ancestral burials. At least 1,100 human skeletons (iwi is Hawaiian for “the bones”) were disturbed and word spread quickly. The people who responded were seasoned activists midway through their fight with the U.S. Navy over the sacred island of Kaho`olawe, a bombing target that is visible to the south of Kapalua. People on Maui regularly watched red dust clouds soar into the blue sky and then heard the sickening time-delayed thuds of modern war floating across the ocean. Anger over tourism and resort construction on prime oceanfront fishing grounds—and ancestral burials—was about to boil over.

Clifford Nae`ole is now Cultural Advisor and Public Relations Manager at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua Resort, and he graciously showed us the historic site and told the story in an interview. It’s a success story, and you will have to watch the video to find out how the dramatic victory played out.

Footnote: This is one of those sweet stories that just didn’t find a place in the 25-minute Kaho`olawe segment we edited as the concluding story in our Standing on Sacred Ground series. We edited it as a DVD extra and we are happy to post it online.

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Report From Four Corners]]> 2015-02-24T19:18:30Z 2015-02-24T02:16:34Z In early February, I made a pilgrimage back to the Four Corners area to visit old friends at Zuni and Hopi, to show some films, and to find out about sacred site battles old and new. Tops on everyone’s mind is the proposal to build a resort hotel, and possibly a casino, on the rim of the Grand Canyon near the place of emergence revered by both the Zuni and the Hopi. Above the confluence of the Little Colorado and mainstream Colorado rivers, this new bad idea is called the Escalade Project, and it would include a gondola from the rim down to the river inside Grand Canyon National Park. Some local politicians can smell the profits but community opposition is growing strong as word spreads about the plan.

At Zuni, I showed Pilgrims and Tourists, the first episode of Standing on Sacred Ground, to the Zuni Cultural Resource Advisory Team, an assemblage of a dozen religious leaders. They are concerned about many land management issues in the area, including the ongoing protection of Zuni Salt Lake, education of Zuni youth about the importance of the Grand Canyon, and continuing education of the general public and the National Park Service about Zuni history and the spiritual practitioners’ need for unfettered ceremonial access to important places over a wide area.

After watching Pilgrims and Tourists (on the Altai Republic of Russia and the Winnemem Wintu of California), Zuni elder Octavius Seotewa, a leader of the important religious fraternity known as the Galaxy Society, said: “The message is universal for indigenous people all over the world, not just here. Human rights are important, but the right of water to flow and the right of the Earth to survive is a message the Zuni Tribe would also like to put out there. We make pilgrimage to many places. Pilgrimage is important to all these people, not just the Zuni. We need to get the word out to help each other.”

At Hopi, I was lucky to catch the Bean Dance Ceremony in Mishongnovi village, at the home of my old friend Marilyn Tewa Harris. Pairs of kachinas appeared at her door in pre-dawn light to deliver bunches of green bean sprouts, signaling the lead-up to the planting season. The family sprinkled corn meal and prayed over the mound of tall, thin bean sprouts that were piled on the kitchen table, and then spent the day chopping the greens and cooking up a delicious stew.

Marilyn’s son, Howard Dannis Jr., a religious leader in the Squash Clan, offered to take me around to some of the sacred springs near the village to look at how water levels have been affected by Peabody Coal Company’s pumping in concert with climate change. We visited the spring where we filmed for In the Light of Reverence, Toreva Spring (shown at right), which is still very low and far below historic levels shown in old photographs. A few miles away, Asiyva Spring, is also nearly dry during this time of drought and continued anxiety about the long-term effects of coal stripmining to the north. These are the springs that give life to the Hopi villages and are visited during ceremonies throughout the year.

That evening, Black Mesa Trust sponsored a screening of two films in Bacabi village. Vernon Masayesva (below) recounted how Black Mesa Trust led the fight that shut down the Mohave Generating Station in 2005, ending Peabody’s massive pumping of water for the coal slurry line. Vernon said, “Some scientists are finally accepting the Hopi view that water responds to human behavior. It’s not about control of water, mastery by engineers through dams, slurry lines and the Central Arizona Project. It’s the opposite. Water controls humans.”

During the discussion after watching Fire and Ice and Islands of Sanctuary, activist JoAnn Armenta commented on the motives of governments and missionaries: “It is intentional and by design, to sever our bond and spiritual tie to the land,” and her husband Don Yellowman (Navajo) added: “But if people come together, do the research, and unite, they prevail. That’s what I saw in these films. We have to empower people to speak and act in common.”

CallieShanafelt <![CDATA[Niyamgiri Hills]]> 2015-02-24T23:51:34Z 2015-02-23T19:39:31Z Dongria Kondh protest against Vedanta Resources, Niyamgiri, India

For more than seven years the Dongria Kondh in the east India State of Orissa fought to protect the sacred Niyamgiri Hills—home of their God, Niyam Raja—from mining giant Vedanta Resources’ plan to extract 73 million tons of bauxite from the hills. At times it seemed virtually impossible that a tribe of 8,000 people could defeat a company whose major shareholder’s net worth exceeds $3.5 billion. But in April 2013 the Gram Sabhas (community councils) in the twelve most affected Dongria Kondh villages voted to deny mining rights to Vedanta—a vote the Supreme Court had ordered to ensure compliance with the rights of tribal people under India’s 2006 Forest Rights Act.  It was a landmark triumph in the protection of sacred sites worldwide and was dubbed India’s first ever “environmental referendum.” But Vedanta Resources hasn’t given up and the Dongria Kondh and their allies worry that with the 2014 national election victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its pro-business Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, their sacred landscape may once again be threatened—and along with it their spiritual and earthly livelihood. As Khajuri village resident, Kumthadi Vadaka told filmmaker Suma Josson in 2008,  “Niyamgiri is our God. We live in these mountains and survive. We don’t have any land on which we can produce and live. We are dependent on the mountains. We won’t leave Niyamgiri.”

The Land and Its People

The bucolic Niyamgiri Hills, rich in biodiversity, abounding with dense forests and meadows, are home to the Dongria Kondh and Kutia Kondh tribal groups, whose livelihoods and spirituality are inextricably linked with the land. The upper reaches of the hills are home to about 8,000 Dongria Kondh who primarily live off the land. The related Kutia Kondh live in the foothills. The Dongria Kondh are known for their diverse and intricate agro-forestry system that uses mountain slopes and streams to cultivate patches of land cleared from the forests, rotating uses to maintain soil fertility.

In addition to subsistence crops, the fruit they grow on forest plots earns a substantial income throughout the year. The streams they rely on are fed throughout the seasons from water accumulating in the mountains porous cap-rock formations rich in the very mineral—bauxite— that Vedanta Resources seeks to mine. They also raise chicken, pigs, goats and buffaloes. The buffalo are specifically raised for sacrifice in religious and wedding rituals.

The Dongria Kondh and Kutia Kondh regard the Niyamgiri hills as sacred and believe their survival is dependent on the integrity of the ecosystem. Their most revered god, Niyam Raja, “the giver of law,” lives in the highest peak. They worship the mountains (male) along with the earth (female). Their artwork and colorful clothing depict reoccurring triangular shapes representing the importance of mountains in their community and culture.

Investigators made note of the Dongria Kondhs’ self-sufficiency in a 2010 Ministry of Environment and Forests report:

The Dongaria Kondh we met were proud of their economic independence and freedom from want. Over and over again, they attributed their well-being and contentment to the Niyamgiri hills and their bounty.

The Dongria Kondh are classified as one of the scheduled tribes identified under India’s Constitution as entitled to protection of their occupancy rights, including reservation status and political representation. With such a small population the Dongria Kondh are also considered an endangered tribe and entitled to further protection.

The Niyamgiri Hills are also an important wildlife habitat and home to the rare lizard, the Golden Gecko. The hills’ location between the Kandhamal district of forests and the forests of Rayagada, Kalahandi and Koraput districts creates an important migration corridor for Asian elephants and tigers, which before Vedanta’s intervention had been selected for designation as an elephant preserve. The area is home to some 20 species of orchids which the Dongria Kondh use for medicinal purposes to treat different ailments such as poisonous bites, stomach disorders, arthritis, tuberculosis, cholera, eczema, wounds and sores, dysentery, asthma, malaria, and many more.

A key element of the area’s biodiversity is the Dongria Kondhs’ stewardship of the environment, as noted in a Ministry of Environment and Forests report:

The fact that this ecosystem is mostly prevalent in areas inhabited by the Dongaria Kondh suggests that, besides natural geological and climatic factors, it has also been modified by human actions such as burning for grasses and collection of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) practiced over a long period by the hill tribes.

But the Dongria Kondhs’ sacred hills are also home to an estimated 73 million tons of mineable bauxite—used to produce aluminum—which has brought commercial interests to the area.

Kalahandi, where the hills are located, is one of the most draught-prone districts in India. Bauxite-bearing soils have a highly porous structure that gives them an increased capacity for water retention. A Wildlife Institute of India report concluded that mining could harm the area’s aquifers and streams which are key to both the lush ecosystem, and the Kondh’s mountain agriculture.

Threats and Preservation Efforts

In 2003, Vedanta Resources signed an agreement with the State Government of Orissa to construct an aluminum refinery, a “captive” power plant, and related mining facilities at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district. This proposal met fierce opposition from the Dongria Kondh:

They strongly voiced their contentment with life and their opposition to any destructive change of the ecology threatening their culture. As Sikoka Budhga said, ‘We can never leave Niyamgiri. If the mountains are mined, the water will dry up. The crops won’t ripen. The medicinal plants will disappear. The air will turn bad. Our gods will be angry. How will we live? We cannot leave Niyamgiri. (2010 MoEF report)

Vedanta initially proposed a refinery with a capacity of one million tons of aluminum per year. They proposed extracting the 73 million tons of bauxite from the mountains above the refinery over a period of 23 years. The proposed mining area would cover 7 square kilometers on the top of Niyamgiri Hills. Vedanta planned open pit mining to a depth of 13.6 meters, crushing the bauxite, and transporting it to the refinery at the bottom of the hill via conveyor belt. Twenty percent of the Dongria Kondh live in the proposed mining area.

Despite multiple legal appeals to stop the mine and refinery, Vedanta went ahead and constructed the refinery, completing it in 2006. The refinery displaced 96 Kutia Kondh and Dalit households in the villages of Rengopali and Bandhaguda.

Seven years have passed since then, but middle-aged people like Moti Majhi still yearn for the past: ‘We used to grow vegetables. Now we have to buy them. We live here in the factory’s shadow, but there’s no comfort here. It gives us nothing except sickness.’ When asked if she wanted the factory to give her a job, Moti Majhi shook her head. When asked whether she would like land, she firmly assented. (2010 MoEF report)

Residents of Bandhaguda, the village closest to the refinery, complain of dust and water pollution. The fine dust emitted from the red mud waste settling pond that serves the factory has been reported to cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses among a large number of villagers. The settling pond location, close by the banks of the Vansadhara River, presents a serious threat of contamination to downstream water users.

In 2006, India passed the Forest Rights Act, landmark legislation that protects forests for established uses by their traditional inhabitants. The preamble states that forest dwellers are “integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem.” While the law does not grant formal legal title to forest dwellers, it guarantees perpetual rights of use by those who show their own or their forbearer’s pre-existing occupancy and use of an area. The Forest Rights Act has been a key to success in some important environmental and tribal victories throughout India. As Supreme Court lawyer Ritwick Dutta told an Asian Judges symposium in 2014, the Supreme Court hears cases weekly about the forests: “We don’t really have a green bench—we have a forest bench.”

In 2007, concerned about evidence of severe environmental and human hazards at other Vedanta-owned facilities, India’s Supreme Court put the Niyamgiri Hills mining project on hold, though Vedanta was granted permission to refine bauxite from already operating mine sites.

In 2008, the Indian Supreme Court approved the mining clearances for a joint operation by a Vedanta facility in tandem with the State of Orissa’s mining company.  But that arrangement was halted after a 2010 site inspection by the Ministry of Environment and Forests found several violations of environmental laws, including violations of the Forest Rights Act. A four-member committee convened to review the project issued a damning report, and a thorough review conducted personally by the Minister of Environment and Forests ultimately concluded that the mining should not be allowed in the Niyamgiri Hills and that the environmental clearances given to the refinery were unlawful: “Since the company in question has repeatedly violated the law, allowing it further access to the proposed mining lease area at the cost of the rights of the Kutia and Dongaria Kondh, will have serious consequences for the security and well being of the entire country.”


A Dongria Kondh woman picks millet in Niyamgiri, IndiaThe Forest Rights Act empowers village councils, known as Gram Sabhas to safeguard the environment in protected areas from decisions or destructive practices that could damage the environment, land use, habitat biodiversity, or natural and cultural heritage. According to the MoEF review of the process, Vedanta and government representatives did not get the proper approval from the community Gram Sabhas, as required by the Forest Rights Act.

The powerful accumulation of local and international protests, damning independent reports, and the legal requirements of the Forest Rights Act resulted in a Supreme Court order requiring the mine to be approved by votes of all of the Gram Sabhas in the twelve Dongria Kondh villages that would be most affected. In April 2013, all twelve village councils voted to deny mining rights to Vedanta, thus winning one of the biggest sacred site victories of all time.

But it appears that Vedanta has not given up and is likely to gain support from Prime Minister Modi and other allies in India’s new BJP government. In November of 2014 the Ministry of Environment and Forests announced plans to amend the Forest Rights Act to diminish the authority of the Gram Sabhas.

Following this announcement, 500 people took to the streets of Bhubanswar in protest.


The Dongria Kondh and their allies continue to demand that the Vedanta refinery be dismantled. Vedanta has a pending application to expand the refinery six-fold, despite the fact that the refinery currently operates at 25 percent of its capacity due to a lack of raw materials.

More than 1,000 people attended a public hearing on the refinery expansion in July 2014. Dongria Kondh representatives testified that pollution from the refinery is causing harm to their health and environment. They also said that Vedanta’s promises of jobs, schools and health care haven’t been fulfilled. Many people present at the hearing told Survival International that the majority in attendance opposed the expansion, but the media, local authorities and company representatives reported the meeting as a success in favor of expansion.

What You Can Do

Survival International is calling on supporters of the Dongria Kondh to write letters to the Indian government opposing the refinery expansion.  A template is available on their website:

You can also sign up for campaign updates.


Top Photo:
Forty Dongria Kondh from several villages blockaded the road to the proposed mine site. Dongria activists swore not to leave Niyamgiri and stated, “Niyamgiri is Dongria land. Vedanta cannot come here without our permission. We say no.” © Survival
Second Photo: A Dongria Kondh woman picks millet in Niyamgiri, India. Credit: © Toby Nicholas/Survival

Government of India. Ministry of Environment & Forests. Report of the four-member committee for investigation into the proposal submitted by the Orissa Mining Company for bauxite mining in Niyamgiri. By Dr. N C Saxena, Dr. S Parasuraman, Dr. Promode Kant and Dr. Amita Baviskar. New Delhi: August 16, 2010

“Media Kit: Dongria Kondh mining decision,” Survival International,

“India: Vedanta’s public hearing declared a ‘success’ despite tribes’ outcry,” Survial International, August 1, 2014,

Express News Service. “Tribals Decry Centre’s Decision to Amend Forest Rights Act.” The New Indian Express, November 16,2014.’s-Decision-to-Amend-Forest-Rights-Act/2014/11/16/article2525797.ece

“Government rules out relaxing provisions of Forest Rights Act.”  The Economic Times, September 26, 2014.

Campaign for Survival and Dignity. “Environment Ministry’s New Amendment to the Indian Forest Act””

“Mr. Ritwick Dutta, Lawyer, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, India.” YouTube video, 10:34, posted by Asian Judges Network on Environment, May 16, 2014,

“Niyamgiri, You are Still Alive.” YouTube video, 16:43, posted by Pocket Films – Short Films Channel, January 13, 2011,

“The Battle for Niyamgiri.” YouTube video, 25:53, posted by Awadesh Kumar, December 7, 2013,

“Special Report – Battleground Niyamgiri.” YouTube video, 23:55, posted by Rajya Sabha TV, August 26, 2013,

Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Is Narendra Modi a climate sceptic?” The Guardian, September 9, 2014.

Edmond, Deepu Sebastian.  “Rahul Gandhi brings up land rights issue in Jharkhand rally, says Modi craves more power.” Nation, December 18, 2014.

Special Correspondent.  “Modi diluting Forest Rights Act: Brinda Karat.” The Hindu, December 15, 2014.

Bera, Sayantan.  “Niyamgiri answers.” Down to Earth, August 31, 2013.

Dasgupta, KumKum. “Vedanta’s India mining scheme thwarted by local objections.” The Guardian, August 21, 2013.

Editorial. “The significance of Niyamgiri.” The Hindu, May 3,  2013.

Kothari, Ashish. “Revisiting the legend of Niyamgiri.” The Hindu,  January 2, 2015.

Jagger, Bianca. “The battle for Niyamgiri.” The Guardian, June 12, 2010.

Padel, Felix. “Addressing the Present Conflict in India with Intellectual Satyagraha.” The Gandhi Foundation.

Survival International. Royal descendants of the mountain God.


Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Slideshow from Australia and Papua New Guinea]]> 2015-01-09T22:43:10Z 2014-12-03T23:45:18Z For two weeks in November, I journeyed to Australia and Papua New Guinea for film screenings at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia and in rural Papua New Guinea. The journey began at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where Altaian leader Danil Mamyev (at left) and I explored how sacred sites are co-managed by Aboriginal Traditional Owners working with government park professionals. At the World Parks Congress we hosted two sessions on Sacred Natural Sites along with two film screenings and there were many spirited debates about the best ways forward to protect sacred lands. A congress highlight was a new campaign to declare sacred places as “No Go Areas for Mining.” My journey came to a wonderful conclusion in Papua New Guinea with a visit to Mindere village and a screening of Profit and Loss in Madang. A dozen Bosmun men traveled eight long hours to attend the screening and were full of stories about how the filming process helped them revive their traditions of chanting and transcendental flute playing. Very nice to know that the films are having a positive impact.

Please check out my slideshow report.

Thanks to Gleb Raygorodetsky for tireless translation for Danil—and for the photo!

Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Sacred Sites and Biodiversity]]> 2014-10-24T23:06:18Z 2014-10-24T23:06:18Z

Click here to view the embedded video.

Please check out our new film clip “Sacred Sites and Biodiversity,” which contains three scenes from Standing on Sacred Ground—from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia. Over the years we’ve frequently been asked the challenging question, “What is the tangible value of sacred places?” Our scientific, materialistic culture demands proof. These three film scenes answer the question. Then there’s this fact to ponder: according to the World Bank, indigenous people make up 4% of the world’s population, control 12% of the Earth’s land surface, and on that land is 80% of the remaining biodiversity on the planet. Indigenous people are obviously doing a remarkable job respecting and conserving the diversity of life around them. Where do sacred sites fit in? Within indigenous territories—universally and crucially—are sacred places that provide the anchor, the center, the cultural values and customary laws that connect communities to wise ancestors and future generations. These are the reasons that sacred places and indigenous land rights are so important and need to be better respected and protected.


More proof: This satellite image shows Kayapó lands in the Amazon Basin of Brazil. The green area comprises the Xingu Indigenous Park with smoke plumes rising from burning primary forest remnants outside the indigenous territory. Dark green areas are indigenous lands and surrounding brown areas are agricultural ranch lands.

Photo courtesy of International Conservation Fund of Canada







Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Transcendental Flute Ceremony Reborn in Papua New Guinea]]> 2014-09-04T18:57:09Z 2014-09-01T21:31:19Z When we filmed the canoe ceremony in Bosmun village on the Ramu River in Papua New Guinea, there was an all night debate about whether we would be allowed to film the transcendental flute players who started playing at midnight heading into the final day of the four-day ceremony. They play inside a thatched hut, hidden from sight. As the sun came up, the eerie harmonic melodies of two flutes—one male, one female—echoed through the village, and we were told: the elders’ decision was no. No filming. “Someone might die,” was the convincing reason we were given.

The Bosmun leaders admitted at the time that the flute players had to come in from a village upriver because the tradition had died out in Bosmun. Well that has now changed. We received word from PNG last week that the good feeling generated by our 2010 filming expedition led the villagers to decide the transcendental flute ceremony must not be lost, and in fact should be revived.

The Little Green Palai blog reports that elder Anthony Tibong, 73, the local transcendental flute master (pictured at right), taught 13 young men “in the art of making mystical music” and after two years of training Mr. Tibong graduated his students in an emotional ceremony on July 30.

“As tears rolled down his face Master Artist Anthony Tibong is happy the flutes have been given life again after nearly 60 years. He is now at peace,” reports the blog.

We are very pleased that our film Profit and Loss has been well-received in PNG and that the village of Bosmun has such a tangible—and audible—result from participating in the film.

Here is the text of the email we received this week from Rosa Koian, of Bismark Ramu Group:


Hi Toby,

Last night I returned from Bosmun with my BRG colleagues feeling more uplifted. After the canoe making rituals in 2010 for the film production some of the young men wanted to continue with these trainings and so after two years, since mid-2011, 13 men graduated on Wednesday as transcendent flutists in their community. This was their cultural practice some 60 years ago and was kept by Mr. Tibong until 3 years ago. Recognizing that the last practicing artist is now 73, they made sure he left the skills behind. In yet another moving and tearful ceremony Mr. Tibong completed his rituals from 60 years ago and graduated 13 of his students.

As you saw when you filmed it was not just the students and elders ceremony. The whole village took part with young people performing various dances.

Bosmun people once again convey their thanks to you and the film crew for realizing the richness in Papua New Guinea.


As the flutes play on, hidden inside the thatched hut, may the Ramu River continue to feed the village and run free of toxic waste from the new Ramu Nico Mine.

And once again we send our thanks to the villagers of Bosmun for entrusting us with their beautiful story, and to everyone at Bismark Ramu Group for your invaluable assistance during production and beyond. Onward!



Toby McLeod <![CDATA[Screening at Hawai`i State Capitol]]> 2014-08-20T00:13:55Z 2014-08-19T23:41:37Z

On Wednesday, August 20 at 6pm, I Ola Kanaloa will be screening our film segment on Kanaloa Kaho`olawe at the Hawai`i State Capitol, to launch the presentation and discussion of a new draft Strategic Plan for Kanaloa Kaho`olawe. The 15-year plan focuses on ecological and spiritual healing of the sacred island after 50 years of military test bombing. The strategic plan was developed after discussion at 15 community meetings on all eight Hawaiian islands in 2013. We are honored to be part of this process.

Other screenings are planned on Oahu and Kaua`i on Aug 20-21. Check out the I Ola Kanaloa website to find out more about the strategic plan and upcoming screenings. We hope our many friends in Hawai`i can attend a screening and contribute to this visionary, collaborative plan.