Sacred Land News & Reports From the Field
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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!
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
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:
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!
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.
Awakening one night in the middle of editing the Standing on Sacred Ground series, I tossed and turned and worried about the challenges of telling eight, long, complex stories in a society with an ever-shrinking attention span. I asked myself, “Who is going to watch four hours of documentary film?” The answer came within seconds: “Indigenous people, that’s who.” So, when my friend Cynthia Ong, Executive Director of LEAP—Land/Empowerment/Animals/People—offered to take a set of four DVDs to Malaysia to screen the films for leaders from Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo, I was more than happy to deliver four DVDs.
Hi Toby, Sharing pics of the first screening on May 27 @ the opening of Harvest Festival celebrations, at the heart of indigenous leadership in Sabah. About 50 leaders and community organizers, including elders and shamans. There was deep appreciation and emotion as we moved through all eight stories (in one sitting, with short pee breaks between episodes!). There will be more screenings tomorrow and the day after at another location – CREATE: Centre of Renewable and Appropriate Technology – hosted by the indigenous renewable energy movement with support from JOAS (Jaringan Orang Asal Se-Malaysia or the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia). This is also part of the Harvest Festival celebration. Thank you for your beautiful and powerful story-telling, already deeply appreciated and felt here, Cynthia
A few days later we received an e-mail from our friend, Rosa Koian, at Bismark Ramu Group in Papua New Guinea:
Hi Toby, Can’t wait to share the experience of screening Profit and Loss this afternoon. People were emotional, screaming and shouting—and a lot of tears. The Al Jazeera section was the highlight as people screamed angrily at our former prime minister. Talked with some people in the group about a film festival in PNG. Reps from France are interested as well. UNESCO people were so happy (Smile). Anyway I am so over the moon this evening. Best regards, Rosa
Hearing this news from PNG and seeing Danil Mamyev’s image up on a screen in Malaysia, a wintry Altaian pilgrimage shared with rainforest dwellers fighting dams and palm oil plantations, was literally a dream come true. As we await the judgement of PBS, and a decision about whether, when and how the series will be broadcast, it is deeply satisfying to know that, like my kids, the films now have a life of their own.
We’ve created a new web page offering short sample scenes from each of the eight amazing stories featured in our new Standing on Sacred Ground series. Now you can get a taste of each story and decide which film you want to watch first. Please check it out!
We are pleased to announce a new partnership with
The Cultural Conservancy and the joint creation of the Sacred Land Media Collaborative. Together we will produce and highlight short videos that further the protection of sacred lands and indigenous cultural traditions.
Big thanks to the Tamalpais Trust for both the inspiration and the funding to launch this new initiative!
It was a cold afternoon in DC, gray skies but no rain, perfect weather to drive a crowd into an auditorium to watch four hours of films. The Capitol dome sat quiet and irrelevant off to the northeast, spitting distance from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. For me, NMAI is the crucible we needed to enter. When Melissa Bisagni, the film curator, agreed to host the entire Standing on Sacred Ground series as part of the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, it was a very sweet moment for the Sacred Land Film Project. I think the fortress door swung open because my old friend Winona LaDuke offered to appear with the films, and boy did she show up.
When the films started at noon there was quite a buzz in the air. By the time the fourth film began at 4:30 the room was packed, with people standing in the doorways. Quite a few brave souls watched the entire series. It was very exciting to screen at the Smithsonian, with PBS considering our series for broadcast this very week, and the slow-building momentum of independent film distribution starting to build—slowly, slowly…
After watching the tar sands story in Profit and Loss, Winona and I shared the ironic reflection that 35 years ago we started working to stop national sacrifice areas and now we are fighting international sacrifice areas. Winona commented, “We want to move gracefully out of the fossil fuel economy. We don’t want to crash our way out of this. And remember, only 3% of the tar sands have been mined. We can stop it now—and we have to.” Winona poignantly joked that she would rather be growing wild rice and corn at home in Minnesota but this phase of her life has been taken over fighting tar sands pipelines proposed in the Midwest.
After watching the melting glaciers of Peru in Fire and Ice, a young native Yup’ik woman from Alaska described the imminent flooding of her home village of Newtok, from rising sea levels. Her village is being evacuated as climate change continues unabated.
The high point of the afternoon came for me at the start of the fourth and final film, Islands of Sanctuary. A big cheer went up after Hawaii’s Derek Mar said, “If we can take on the most powerful military force in the world, and win, there is hope for indigenous people all over the world.” The room just erupted. It was one of those moments filmmakers dream about.
After Islands of Sanctuary, Native Hawaiian Leimomi Apoliona-Brown told some great stories about the original occupation of Kaho`olawe and how the strategic Protect Kaho`olawe `Ohana activist movement sparked a renaissance of Hawaiian language and culture. Leimomi focused on the deep and complex meaning of Hawaiian words, `aina, kuleana, `ohana, malama — the love, responsibility for, familial relationship with and caretaking of the land that gives us life. Kaho`olawe is truly an inspiring, modern-day success story, and we are honored to be able to help tell it to the world.
Big thanks to Katsi Cook, Akwesasne Mohawk midwife and community health and environmental justice activist, and José Barriero, Director of the Office of Latin American Research at NMAI for excellent commentary after the films, and to Brad Forster of the Environmental Film Festival, for filling my memory card with great photos.
We are honored to have been invited to show all four Standing on Sacred Ground films at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian on Sunday, March 23, as part of the U.S Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. Anishinaabe author and activist Winona LaDuke will join director Toby McLeod for Q&A and discussion after each film.
The screening schedule for NMAI’s Rasmuson Theater is:
12 noon – Pilgrims and Tourists
1:30 – Profit and Loss
3:00 – Fire and Ice
4:30 – Islands of Sanctuary
We’re in the process of inviting other speakers to comment and participate in discussion after the films. Please join us if you are Washington, D.C. on March 23, and please tell your friends!
On March 27, we will show Pilgrims and Tourists at the David Brower Center in Berkeley with a VIP reception for special guests Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk and Danil Mamyev, Founder of Uch Enmek Nature Park, Altai Republic, Russia. Last summer, Caleen visited Danil in Altai to gather water to bring home to her sacred spring on Mt. Shasta in California. Our March meeting will strengthen the global alliance of sacred land guardians that we are nurturing with our Standing on Sacred Ground distribution campaign.
This upcoming event is a benefit being organized with our longtime partners, The Altai Project and Snow Leopard Conservancy to support Danil and Caleen’s work protecting sacred sites in Altai and Winnemem country. Our thanks to Don Weeden and the Weeden Foundation for supporting this work for many years.
Please join us for the special reception prior to the film screening.
March 7 is the last day the State Department will accept comments on the final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. This is the last step before President Obama makes his decision in the next few months.
The pipeline would be a body blow to the U.S. effort to curb global climate change, is destroying First Nations’ sacred sites in Canada and endangering human health.
Tar sands mining in Alberta to feed the proposed Keystone Pipeline clears boreal forest and then produces lakes of toxic sludge, deformed fish and health problems, including unusual cancers.
- Hawaii’s Legislature Should Fund Commercial Free Kaho`olawe
- Yes, We Are Coming to Public Television!
- Kaho`olawe’s Legacy—as told by Clifford Nae`ole
- Report From Four Corners
- Slideshow from Australia and Papua New Guinea
- Sacred Sites and Biodiversity
- Transcendental Flute Ceremony Reborn in Papua New Guinea
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