Thirty-five years ago, listening to Hopi elders, I first understood the message of a chorus of indigenous voices around the world: that the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis—the absence of a conscious connection to land and water inevitably leads to violence and threatens all life. Each film I have produced explores this environmental-spiritual crisis, and reveals the clash between proponents of a utilitarian view of private property and communities that bear responsibility for sacred land. The films spark dialogue about western culture’s relationship to nature and the growing global yearning to reconcile with native people and the earth.
In the spring of 2005, I was invited to screen my last film, In the Light of Reverence, in Tokyo at a UNESCO conference on sacred sites, biodiversity and cultural landscapes. Hundreds of people attended and I was amazed at the rapidly growing international interest in this issue, and the sense of urgency about threats to sacred places around the world. Indigenous people are asserting their land rights on every continent and it became clear to me that these stories need to be documented on film—now.
The Standing on Sacred Ground film series is simultaneously an amazing opportunity and a heart-breaking challenge. It is the culmination of seven years of preparation, and is only possible because of the good will and trust generated by past works and long-standing relationships. My goal is to artfully and accurately tell stories of indigenous peoples’ resistance to the destruction of sacred places, and to use this to inform, inspire, and give strength and hope to others. These stories of conflict and triumph are doorways that transform our perception.
Support for indigenous worldviews and values—and protection of sacred places—strengthens the earth’s biological and cultural diversity. This makes the world a healthier and more vibrant place. A sustained international effort is already transforming public awareness of issues surrounding sacred natural sites. Cultures are banding together to defend against attacks on their resources and their past—and our common future. The time for this transformative film series has arrived.
After I returned home from my visit to Japan, a Hopi friend, Leonard Selestewa, and his wife and daughter visited my family in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. We took them to see the towering redwoods near our home. Standing by a clear stream in the green forest, the desert-dwelling corn farmers experienced the tall trees’ magic. The place brought back a memory for Leonard: "My grandfather told me: 'To be Hopi, your prayers have to encompass the entire world.'"
Preserving what we love at home and beyond has never been a greater challenge. Listening to native people and learning from them has never been more crucial. They have preserved the ancient wisdom that we are part of nature, not separate, and that what happens to nature happens to us. Indigenous communities nurture the values that can sustain us in the future and help keep the earth alive.