The land does not belong to us. We belong to the land.
This is where the deep roots lie within the history and spirituality of the Indigenous people of the American Southwest.
Since the beginning of time, they have been stewards and protectors of their homelands.
These areas connect the people through their beliefs to the natural world.
This is the story told through the documentary, “However Wide the Sky: Places of Power.”
At the helm of the documentary are Santa Fe-based Silver Bullet Productions and Pamela Pierce.
“We do documentary films and we try to produce them every two or three years,” says Pierce. “We take an important message and use the vehicle of film.”
The film will air at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, on New Mexico PBS.
Pierce says the concerns about the use, misuse, development, drilling and mining of scared places in New Mexico began a conversation between Silver Bullet Productions and tribal leaders about the importance of education in 2016.
“The land was treated as a commodity, something to be owned, mined, drilled or developed,” she says. “In order to protect land and water rights, it seemed that educating about the significance of land might help alert those leaders. The more we know, the better we do. Film can be a powerful tool to change thinking, and motivate people to vote. The danger to land, and the fight to protect land, will always be an issue worth fighting for, regardless of culture or national origin. All land is sacred, and it is (a) universal concern worth fighting for.”
Pierce says about three years ago, the fundraising started for the production. She then reached out to Conroy Chino to write the treatment for the documentary.
“We don’t begin production until we are fully funded,” she says. “Even with the pandemic, we were about three months overdue.”
Chino, who is a former broadcast journalist, says Pierce reached out to him in 2018 and talked about the project.
He had worked with Pierce on a previous project and immediately jumped on.
“It’s significant and the locations are under siege,” Chino says. “Chaco Canyon is facing drilling for wells. It’s not just the wells and the roads that have an impact on the land. Tribal leaders see it as a real threat to their spiritual well being. So much extends from Chaco. I thought it was important to really put that out there for the public to see and make them understand why this issue is important to tribes.”
The production enlisted scientists, historians, educators and 27 tribal leaders for the documentary. The film is narrated by Indigenous actress Tantoo Cardinal.
Chino worked with tribal leaders to film on the land. The areas chosen are: Chaco Canyon, Bears Ears, Zuni Salt Lake, Mount Taylor, Pueblo of Santa Ana, Taos Blue Lake, Mesa Prieta and Santa Fe.
According to Pierce, each location has a message or theme that could be applied to dozens of other locations.
“We selected each place as a clear example of a message about protections and risks to land,” she says. “For example, the return of Taos Blue Lake is the epitome of a government injustice – the taking of land from Taos Pueblo – and the political correction of that injustice 60 years later.”
Pierce says Chaco Canyon speaks to the layers of cultural migrations from several tribes, the thousands of years of civilization, at risk of destruction and abuse under the federal government’s eye.
Meanwhile, Mount Taylor tells of the use of law to protect it, and the risk of uranium mining to the resources.
“Zuni is the creation story of a deity whose protection of the Zuni salt was at risk due to failure to protect,” she continues. “Santa Fe is the story of acknowledgment of the culture and ancestors beneath at vibrant city, still living and protected by agreement of city and pueblo; Bears Ears is a modern day story of government versus layers of culture, and the risk of development if the power and policies of the U.S. shift – it is just how fragile the protection of land is.
“Santa Ana is the irony of the need to buy back from other sources – Spain and ranch owners – what was always theirs. It is also the epitome of stewardship of land. Mesa Prieta is the record, across cultures, of history on rock, vulnerable if we fail to protect.”
Chino says it was important to consult with advisers and tribal leaders.
“Something that was missing is that we wanted to point out the lack of tribal consultation when it comes to development on public lands,” Chino says. “Bureau of Land Management has oversight and they’ve not done a great job of consulting. Tribes haven’t been invited to share their concern of connection to the land. I have to commend Pam for putting together each film and making the effort to ask for guidance.”
Pierce says some of the themes in the film include a distinction between stewardship and ownership, the layers of cultural life on every piece of land, no place is ever abandoned, but remains living from the ancestors who have come before, places have shared cultural history and the difference between being from a place, and of a place.
Chino says he wanted to convey a story that would be universal and pique the interest of a non-Indian viewing audience.
“When you think of how long Indigenous people have been in this area, it’s been a very long time,” Chino says. “The result is a connection to the landscape. Indigenous people know that connection and want to hold onto it.”