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Film Review - In the Light of the Sacred by Christopher McLeod and Malinda Maynor

In the Light of the Sacred

 

by Christopher McLeod and Malinda Maynor, narrated by Peter Coyote and Tantoo Cardinal
Bullfrog Films, Box 149, Oley, PA 19547, 800/543-3764 www.bullfrogfilms.com

They said it would bring prosperity to the people. They said they would take only what amounted to a cup of water from a vast ocean. What they did was to cut open and rape my mother, and dry up the sacred pools of water. We should have known when they offered prosperity that it would come at a high price, one that we ultimately could not afford.

Today, Peabody Coal Company and other mining companies are strip mining the earth on Hopi and Navajo sacred home lands. Pipelines use millions of gallons of precious water to transport coal slurry from the desert Southwest to the massive powerplants that supply electricity to growing cities. Huge scoop shovels have carved out the coal deposits for almost 30 years.

“We have made a terrible mistake, and how do we rectify it?” asks an Hopi elder, referring to the agreement signed with Peabody Coal. Mistakes were made on all sides. Now we must determine how we will correct and stop the continuation of those mistakes before we destroy the sacred places of the earth.

In the Light of the Sacred centers on the struggle over three sites: Mato Tepela (lodge of the Bear), also called Devil’s Tower, in Wyoming, sacred to the Lakota people; sites in the Four Corners region of Arizona, sacred to the Hopi; and parts of Mount Shasta in California, where the Wintu people come to pray. Sometimes it is non-Native rock climbers, miners, new age seekers, or resort developers who fail to recognise the sacredness of these ancient sites. But Native people’s mistakes have also brought about depletion of water and destruction of their sacred lands.

In each case, the film shows the clashing of world views, the sharply contrasting beliefs about what is offered and what is stolen, what is to be protected and what is to be exploited. Even if we ourselves do not revere a site as sacred, the film asks, what obligation do we have to respect its sacredness to someone else?

“I just didn’t see what they saw, and I couldn’t get there,” said a gravel mining company owner, his voice nearly drowned out by the bulldozers as a hill sacred to the Hopi people is flattened and dropped into a waiting gravel truck. That hill was gradually being transformed into gravel for a highway road bed.

The film asks each of us which side we will take. Will we be grateful servants or lording masters? Will we be givers of life to the earth, or will we be takers of her gifts and life? The film shows what happens when places that were given to us are lost. But it also shows the people, both Native and non-Native, who have come to honor these sites and to preserve them.


Timothy Iistowanohpataakiiwa is a Siksika elder, teacher, and lay pastor in the Episcopal Church.

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