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Films about Native American issues screened at Wild & Scenic Film Festival

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NEVADA CITY, Calif. – The recently concluded 7th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival featured five films about important American Indian issues.

“We’re seeing a rise in environmental films that focus on Native American issues,” said Kathy Dotson, film festival director. “The environmental movement and the Native American movement are very much entwined.”

Some 5,000 viewers attended the weekend-long festival which is being favorably compared to early Sundance Film Festival gatherings. Films were shown simultaneously at seven locations around town.

The efforts of Navajos to re-introduce churro sheep into their herds to improve genetic diversity is the essence of “Woven Ways,” a film by Linda Helm Krapf shown at the festival.

The film explores the role played by the discovery of energy-rich deposits of coal, oil, gas and uranium in the raising of livestock on native lands. “Government agencies are culling herds by force and moving Navajo families off the land where these resources were found,” Krapf said. She calls government resource exploitation, “not just a practice of the past, but very much a current nightmare for Navajos, Hopis and many native tribes living over these kinds of deposits.”

Krapf has shown her film at several festivals to emotionally moved audiences. “They ask questions and want to better understand how these things happened.” The film premiered at The Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz. “I hope teachers learn about the film and screen it to students with a rich discussion of the issues it raises.”

“American Outrage” by Beth and George Gage is about a roundup of horses and cattle by the Bureau of Land Management. The animals are owned by Shoshone Indians Carrie and Mary Dann in Nevada.

“I couldn’t understand why the U.S. would harass two elderly women who were supporting themselves and their family, grazing a small amount of livestock in an otherwise desolate environment,” Beth said.

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“We hope the film will bring more awareness of the situation the Western Shoshone are facing and also explain the inequality of U.S. law as it pertains to Native Americans,” she said. “I would suggest, as Carrie Dann always does, that indigenous peoples of the United States and beyond work collectively to fight and right the centuries of injustice they have faced.” She said audience reaction to the film was “outrage and passionate interest.”

Bo Boudart, director of “Power Paths” has been producing documentaries about American Indians for 30 years. He said his films attempt to expose the injustices and violations of human rights they have suffered and to help bring about social and environmental justice. His film entry is about coal mining on Navajo and Hopi lands that has been depleting aquifers and polluting air in the Southwest.

“We plan to use ‘Power Paths’ to create awareness in mainstream America and Indian country about how grassroots Indian groups and environmental groups are pushing to develop utility scale renewable projects on their lands and to build wind turbines and solar arrays to get clean energy onto the grid,” Boudart said. “What we want people to come away with is that the poorest and most disenfranchised people – Native Americans – can bring about major changes in dependence on fossil fuel; this should empower people in communities across the country to do the same. Our common survival on the planet depends on what we do now.”

Two other films dealing with American Indian environmental issues, “March Point” and “Sacred Place” were shown at the festival.

“March Point” is a film by Annie Silverstein, Tracy Rector, Nick Clark and others about young people from the Swinomish Tribe who feel the impact of two refineries on their reservation. It is a coming-of-age story about three teens who develop an understanding of the threat to their people, the environment and to themselves.

“Sacred Place” by filmmaker Terra Nyssa is about the Gwich’in people of Alaska who are struggling to hold on to their sacred way of life in the face of pressures from oil and gas interests to develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“What’s been happening on Native American lands over the last 100 years is reflective of what’s going on in the world, in terms of the degradation of the planet,” Dotson said. “Native Americans are starting to rise up and speak. It’s an environmental justice issue.”

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is produced by the South Yuba River Citizens League, an environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of northern California’s South Yuba River. The festival now takes to the road to show its films. Last year’s offerings were seen by 12,000 people in 80 places. This year festival organizers will send the films to 100 venues.