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It's Mother Earth vs. Father Greed in New Pine Ridge Uranium Documentary

A new documentary links uranium mining to the high rate of birth defects and stillbirths on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The emotionally charged documentary Crying Earth Rise Up! was showcased to a full house at this week’s Sedona International Film Festival in Sedona, Arizona.

Filmmaker Suree Towfighnia and film editor Sharon Karp were on hand for the screening. “This is the fourth screening of the film," Towfighnia said. " We literally finished production just last week. So I feel a sense of relief and accomplishment."

The film, narrated by Tantoo Cardinal, focuses on two Oglala Lakota women on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One is Elisha Yellow Thunder, a young mother with a daughter, Laila, who was born with cloacal abnormalities that causes internal organs to be connected. Laila’s only functioning kidney fails at age 8. Elisha’s quest to determine the cause of her daughter’s birth defects leads her to the water on her homeland. Majoring in geology, she is mentored by Dr. Hannan LaGarry, a geology professor and author of 5 year study on hydrology the Ogallala Aquifer who teaches her to study water and uranium outcroppings on her homeland as a possible cause of the high number of birth defects and stillborn babies on Pine Ridge. “My little girl’s story is too big not to tell,” Yellow Thunder said.

Water brought Elisha together with Debra White Plume, a frontline activist who is challenging Canadian mining giant Cameo, who operates the Crow Butte uranium mine near Crawford, Nebraska, near the Pine Ridge reservation. White Plume filed an intervention opposing Cameo’s 10 year renewal license and application to expand their mining operation in December of 2007. She is the only individual intervener in this case against Cameo. In the film, White Plume attributes the in-situ leach mining operation at Crown Butte for contaminating the aquifer that flows under her homeland. Dr. La Garry serves at the expert witness in White Plume’s defense. 

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"Without water, there is no life," White Plume says in a quote that is featured on the film's website. "It's like Mother Earth against Father Greed.? ?You're either for uranium or against it. There is no middle ground."

“This work is about protecting precious water, for all of us, for Mother Earth and our coming generations," White Plume said at the Sedona screening. "This film will help tell our truth to the world, all over the world water is in shortage, there are droughts or floods, or water is so contaminated it cannot be ingested by humans. We tell our truth based on our love of our generations." Her words earned a standing ovation from the crowd.

Activist Debra White Plume and filmmaker Suree Towfighnia, center, flanked by supporters at the premiere of 'Crying Earth Rise Up!' at the Sedona Film Festival. Photo by Natalie Hand.

This is Towfighnia’s second production that features Oglala Lakota activist Debra White Plume. Her first collaboration with White Plume was a pro-hemp film entitled Standing Silent Nation.

The film is scheduled to screen in Portland, Oregon; Sante Fe, New Mexico; California; Nebraska; Navajo Nation and other venues.

For more information or to host a screening, visit Crying Earth Rise Up! on Facebook.