Native Village 
Youth and Education News

December 1, 2013

Film series grounds itself in sacred lands
Condensed by Native Village

“Standing on Sacred Ground” is a four-part documentary project about eight indigenous cultures resisting external threats to their lands. Director Christopher (Toby) McLeod is critical of many documentaries about indigenous people filmed by a white male perspective.

“There have been a lot of films about indigenous people where you have this National Geographic narrator talking right over the ritual and shaman,” he said.

Scientists say that a significantly higher percentage of biodiversity exists in sacred areas, partially due to indigenous groups’ efforts.  While Westerners often dismiss indigenous practices and rituals as superstitious, the techniques they use for preserving their lands can help protect other ecosystems around the world.

McLeod notes that “if you can show scientifically that sacred places preserve biodiversity, you have a scientific argument on why sacred places have value to the modern world.”

Episode 1:“Pilgrims and Tourists"

Winnemem Wintu





Republic of Altai

Episode 1 follows the indigenous people of the Republic of Altai and the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California. While each indigenous community has it's own culture and rituals:

Both share similar values in their connections to nature and the land 
Both face similar threats from industrial projects
Both are battling government projects that plan to build over consecrated areas such as ancient burial sites and natural springs.

The film shows an ecosystem that has remained intact for thousands of years because of the Altaians safeguarding practices. “Sacred places are not dead places where humans are forbidden to tread. Instead, sacred places require human visitation — or pilgrimage,” says Altaian activist, Danil Mamyev.

While human visitation is integral to the Altaians’ sacred land, tourism brings sightseers who disrespect the land and customs. Now the energy corporation Gazprom plans to run a pipeline through the Ukok Plateau.

Erased from the federal list of recognized tribes, the Winnemem tribe is fighting government expansion of the Shasta Dam, which would submerge their lands. They, like the Altaians, have established a network of indigenous groups working to help them protect their land and culture.

"Pilgrims and Tourists" is narrated by Graham Greene (Oneida), with the voices of Tantoo Cardinal (Metis), Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), Q’orianka Kilcher (Quechua), Rhoda Roberts (Bundjalung) and Luana Busby-Neff (Hawai‘i)

Episode 2 Profit and Loss


From the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, native people fight the loss of land, water and health to mining and oil industries.

Narrated by Graham Greene

Episode 3: Fire and Ice


From the to the Andes of Peru, indigenous communities protect their sacred lands from development, competing religions and climate change.

Narrated by Graham Greene (Oneida), with storytelling by Q’orianka Kilcher

Episode 4: Islands of Sanctuary


Native Hawaiian Homelands

Aboriginal Australians and Native Hawaiians reclaim land and resist the erosion of culture and the environment.

Featuring Patrick Dobson (Yawuru), Davianna McGregor (Hawaiian), Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), Oren Lyons (Onondaga), philosopher Satish Kumar and author Barry Lopez. Narrated by Graham Greene (Oneida), with storytelling by Rhoda Roberts (Bundjalung) and Luana Busby-Neff (Hawaiian)

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