A standing-room only crowd of indigenous leaders, NGOs and U.N. representatives previewed Sacred Land Film Project’s forthcoming film series Standing on Sacred Ground at a side event of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York on May 9. It was the first of two successful May screenings of the four-part series, which explores the interconnection of indigenous communities, sacred-site protection and environmental justice.

The event showcased a segment on the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California, whose ancestral sacred site on the McCloud River, known as Puberty Rock, is at risk of being submerged forever if the U.S. government raises the height of nearby Shasta Dam. The Winnemem are also fighting to preserve the sanctity of their annual puberty ceremony from the often disrespectful public who gather at Lake Shasta, a popular site for tourists.

Immediately after the segment was shown, Winnemem Chief Caleen Sisk spoke on the historical plight of her tribe and provided an update on plans for this year’s puberty ceremony. Sisk reminded the audience that the effort to save sacred places “is not an individual struggle — it’s our struggle overall.”

The U.N. event also featured a segment about the efforts of the Telengit of Russia’s Altai Republic to create nature parks to protect sacred sites and to stop a planned gas pipeline across their sacred Ukok Plateau, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Afterwards, Suzanne Benally of Cultural Survival updated the audience on their global campaign to stop the pipeline. A lively dialog between the audience and the participants continued on well after the presentations.

On May 15-16, SLFP had the opportunity to participate in the annual conference and film festival of the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples, whose theme this year was “Towards a Better World: Strengthening Indigenous Sustainability.” In a dedicated screening room, SLFP previewed the first two episodes of Standing on Sacred Ground over the course of two evenings.

The first night featured episode two, “Profit and Loss,” which focuses on threats to indigenous sacred lands  in Papua New Guinea and Alberta, Canada. In Papua New Guinea, construction of the Ramu NiCo nickel mine has led to the forced relocation of a village and destroyed a cemetery; the mine threatens to pollute the life-giving Ramu River and will soon begin dumping mine waste into the sea. In the Athabasca River Delta of Alberta, the Dene, Cree and Métis people are on the front lines of a corporate onslaught caused by tar sands extraction, which is polluting their land, river, air and sacred sites, coinciding with a surge in deformed fish and cancer rates.

On the second night, audiences previewed episode one, “Pilgrims and Tourists in the Pastures of Heaven,” which featured the above-mentioned stories of the Telengit of the Russian Altai Republic and the Winnemem Wintu of California.

On both nights, Standing on Sacred Ground Producer/Director Toby McLeod and Managing Producer Jennifer Huang were on hand to discuss the films and answer questions.