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Protecting Native Land and Waters

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Two films that showed at the recent Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California (January 14-16), document the struggles of Native American tribes to preserve their history and way of life. “This Place Has a Name” (produced by Greenfire Productions) documents the Umatilla, Oregon, tribal elders’ reaction to a highway development project that impacted revered archaeological sites.

“We brought together a group of tribal elders to get their stories and perspectives on the roles that the land and wildlife play both in a cultural perspective and a practical one,” says filmmaker Karen Anspacher-Meyer. Her co-producers are Ralf Meyer and Umatilla tribal archeologist Shawn Steinmetz. The film brought key tribal elders to the disputed highway site to be interviewed in the middle of a freeway cloverleaf. “It’s an interesting visual with the roar of modern traffic as a background,” she says.

County, state and federal governments are required to consult with tribes when working in disputed territory. In this case the consultation took place but did not end up with the outcome that the tribes were hoping for. “The remains were still impacted,” says Anspacher-Meyer. (The video above shows the film in its entirety.)

From Highway to Waterway

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In “We Live by the River,” filmmaker Karin Williams gives light to the efforts of the indigenous nations of the Yukon River basin to protect and heal the watershed when their wildlife, lands and waters were contaminated by military, mining and municipal waste.

“The film is about a grass roots tribal environmental movement on the Yukon River in Canada and Alaska,” Williams said. “It’s a 2300 mile river with a 300,000 square mile watershed. A very small tribe in the center of Alaska was dealing with hideous contamination on its land from mining gold and huge fuel spills. They decided to go into partnership with the Department of Defense to clean up the mess. A shocking notion at the time.”

By exercising stewardship over their own lands, they proved that even tiny, remote communities can work together to create fundamental change. Melding traditional ecological knowledge with modern science, they collected data and forged partnerships with supporters – and the polluters – to clean up their own backyard.

Their work has become a global model for ecosystem protection. Indigenous groups from Washington State, British Columbia, Canada’s Northwest Territory, South America and Siberia have adopted principles and practices of the Yukon nations.

“We Live by the River” won a Denali Award at the Alaska International Film Festival.