Conversations with Sacred Land Protectors

Toby McLeod – May 21, 2020


Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke

When shelter-in-place orders came down in the San Francisco Bay Area on March 16, with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaching, we decided to stream all four Standing on Sacred Ground films online for free and host interactive conversations via Zoom at the end of each week.

The four conversations, with 1) Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk, 2) Anishnaabe activist and author Winona LaDuke, 3) Ethiopian elder Dr. Wolde Tadesse and former Christensen Fund executive director Dr. Kenneth Wilson, and 4) Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and Protect Kaho`olawe Ohana activists Davianna Pōmaikaʻi McGregor, Dr. Emmett Noa Aluli and Luana Busby-Neff were all provocative and insightful. As a special bonus, we have also added a fifth conversation with the production team that made our earlier feature documentary, In the Light of Reverence, 20 years agoMalinda Maynor Lowery, Jessica Abbe, Will Parrinello and Andy Black.

In case you missed them, the five hour-long conversations are embedded below after light editing and posting on YouTube. And if you missed the films you can still watch Standing on Sacred Ground and In the Light of Reverence on Vimeo for a modest rental fee.

For a couple of quick previews of our post-film conversations, as we all ponder the meaning of the coronavirus, here is Native Hawaiian practitioner Luana Busby-Neff’s answer to the question, “What is the Earth telling us? What is the meaning of this time?”

Luana Busby-Neff: “The Earth is just saying ‘stop.’ All the frenetic energy. We’ve been running around, we just go and move—exploit, exploit, exploit. She said ‘stop.'”

Luana Busby-Neff

“The Earth is actually a part of the coronavirus and the blessing of it is now is that it is allowing us to stop, take a breath, reset, rejuvenate, restore. Just in the very short time that this has been going on, and we’ve been shutting down, all over the world, we have seen a massive resiliency in our natural world, in our environment. I mean, it quit, very quick, and so it’s like, wow. For me this is the blessing: it is allowing everybody to step back, take a breath, slow down, really think about where you are, who you are, who’s your family, who really is important? There is so much gratitude, because everybody has been coming together during this epidemic, even with the social distancing, to care. And the aloha that has been showered out to myself and the families around, it is beautiful, it’s reconnecting. It’s having that quiet space, and bringing forth all those subtle nuances that we forget because we are all rushing around and doing things. That has really allowed our earth to rest, and for us to listen to her. She is in healing mode. She is needing us to really take a stand and say ‘enough is enough.’ We’ve seen cleaner air, cleaner waters, cleaner everything. Fish are coming back. Dormant plants we haven’t seen in a long time are coming forward. There is an ancestral memory that is taking place.”

“We have been on the mauna, Mauna Kea, and there is one prayer, the pule aina, that I have been using for years. It is a prayer that talks about ridding the disease, and the rot, and the decay and the blight that has set in, removing these toxic environments so new shoots can grow forward. And that applies to us, not just the earth, but allowing new shoots, our next generations, to absolutely flourish and take it to the next level.”

“So this is our leaping point. This is where we leap. This is where we gain sacred grounds and understand ourselves and our communities much better, and how to support those communities in a way that’s inclusive of a healthy earth, and healthy oceans, and healthy waters.”

And here is activist author Winona LaDuke’s take on the opportunity being presented to all of us at this momentous tipping point in history:

Winona LaDuke: “The prophecy says this is the time of the seventh fire and we have a choice between two paths. One path they say is well worn but scorched, and the other path is not well worn and it’s green. It’s out choice which path to embark on. There is discussion of the lighting of the eighth fire, which is this time of peace and harmony, and I feel like you’ve got to go out there and do it. Light the fire. You can’t sit there at the crossroads and say, ‘I don’t know.’ That’s not a very good survival plan. Do something beautiful, because we humans have the opportunity to do something awesome. So do it. Grow something. Grow some hope. As contagious as Covid is, and germs, so’s hope. Do something awesome and catch a little of that. Right? Do cool stuff. Don’t be a jerk. This economy—this is called the end of the fossil fuel era, and this is what it looks like—time to move on. Go solar. Use less. Ride your bike. The future economy is not competition it’s cooperation. That’s how to save the world and your self—work together.”

Here are the four Standing on Sacred Ground conversations, followed by the In the Light of Reverence 20th reunion conversation. Enjoy and stay safe.


Pilgrims and Tourists—Conversation with Chief Caleen Sisk


Profit and Loss—Conversation with Winona LaDuke


Fire and Ice—Conversation with Dr. Tadesse Wolde and Dr. Kenneth Wilson


Islands of Sanctuary—Conversation with Davianna McGregor, Emmett Aluli and Luana Busby-Neff


In the Light of Reverence—Conversation with Malinda Maynor Lowery, Jessica Abbe, Will Parrinello and Andy Black

If you missed the films you can watch Standing on Sacred Ground and In the Light of Reverence on Vimeo for a modest rental fee. Enjoy!

Blog Post Categories: Blog, Hawai‘i, North America, SLFP News