I have long wondered why a country founded on the value of religious freedom would deny religious freedom to its native people. The irony and tragedy deepens when we recognize that we have simultaneously trashed the very land the native religions seek to balance and renew.
From 1979 to 1983, I produced a film called The Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area? It documented the cultural and ecological impacts of coal and uranium mining in Hopi and Navajo country. I spent hours listening to Indian elders reflect on the land — telling stories, singing songs, explaining petroglyphs and, occasionally, taking me to ceremonies. Though I had been to Yale, majored in American history, pursued great teachers, I had never encountered anything like the wisdom I felt pouring from the indigenous people I met. One weekend I went from a Hopi kachina dance in the village of Walpi to the Peabody Coal Company’s stripmine on Black Mesa — from a community song for rain to the industrial destruction of the earth. The clash of worldviews was stark, and very upsetting. The realization that my education had left out an entire way of seeing and knowing the natural world was a shock. That shock has been the motivating factor in my work ever since and the collision of worldviews has been the story I have tried to capture and articulate.
While touring with the Four Corners film and listening to the dialogue it sparked, it struck me that the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis — that disconnection from the land leads to destruction of the land. Relationship requires care. The land is alive and what is alive is sacred. Over and over my Indian friends spoke of sacred places being destroyed. Twenty-five years of education in a Judeo-Christian value system provided me with no idea what they were talking about, but I could tell from the depth of feeling I sensed in their words that there was something profoundly important in their communion with the earth. They did not speak of abstract landscapes, but specific places of prayer, offering, and ritual.
Having spent the last 10 years making In the Light of Reverence and trying to translate the meaning of sacred places, I am now interested in exploring how we can heal our relationship to the land through the healing of the land itself. Restoration. Renewal. Reconciliation. A vision of what the earth might be like if we acknowledge our past mistakes and begin to put things back together, not just physically but spiritually, not in isolation, but with native people collaborating and leading the way.
— Toby McLeod
(Courtesy of P.O.V.)
Christopher McLeod, Producer
Christopher “Toby” McLeod has produced three previous hour-long broadcast documentaries, including The Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area?, which won a Student Academy Award in 1983, Downwind/Downstream, and Poison in the Rockies. His first film was The Cracking Of Glen Canyon Damn — With Edward Abbey And Earth First! McLeod’s credits also include the shorts Voices of the Land and A Thousand Years of Ceremony, the latter a 40-minute profile of Wintu healer Florence Jones meant for the use of the Wintu community. McLeod works as a journalist and photographer as well as filmmaker. He is a graduate of Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Malinda Maynor Lowery, Producer
Malinda Maynor is a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina who has made several shorts about her native culture that have aired on public television. A graduate of Harvard University and of Stanford University’s documentary masters program, Maynor is a recipient of a 2001 Rockefeller Film and Video Fellowship and is pursuing a Ph.D in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.