Inhabitants, a collaborative documentary based around indigenous land stewardship in the United States, shows the stories of five tribes, their ways managing the land, and their resilience in a changing climate.
We interviewed one of Inhabitant’s filmmaking team members, Cōsta Boutsikaris, and asked him a few questions regarding the film.
What gave you the inspiration to make this film?
This project is a culmination of many years spent making films about solutions to the existential environmental crisis that we face. After releasing our first documentary “Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective” (www.inhabitfilm.com) we began digging deeper into the origins of Permaculture and learned that the founder, Bill Mollison, had based a lot of his teachings off of the traditional ecological knowledge of the indigenous peoples of Tasmania, Australia, and many other countries he had visited. It began to dawn on us that many of these newer sustainable design and agricultural movements are based on indigenous ways of knowing and stewarding land and yet their voices are continually marginalized and left out of the broader conversations.
“There are 573 federally recognized tribes across the US and over 5,000 recognized indigenous groups around the world who have been stewarding their landscapes for millennia. It is imperative that we create more platforms for their voices to be heard and this film is a small part of making that happen.”
How did you learn about these indigenous tribes and their stewardship of the land?
Our team attended a few conferences such as the National Adaptation Forum and Rising Voices, where Tribal leaders were giving talks about their land management restoration projects and strategies for adapting to a changing climate. We had the opportunity to meet a lot of these folks in person and began to develop the idea for the film. There was a strong positive response for creating a film that would highlight different tribal stewardship practices across the many diverse ecosystems of the US. We then developed a Tribal Advisory Board with Representatives from each Tribe and began to create a timeline for filming at each location.
What tribes did you feature in the film and what makes each of them unique?
The film travels across diverse bioregions of North America, and focuses on five stories of stewardship traditions: the return of prescribed fire practices by the Karuk Tribe in California; the restoration of buffalo on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana; sustained traditions of Hopi dry-land farming in Arizona; sustainable forestry on the Menominee reservation in Wisconsin; and the revival of native Hawaiian food forests on the Big Island in Hawaii.Each story takes place in a dramatically different landscape, from deserts and coastlines to forests, mountains, and prairies. Each stewardship practice remedies a unique aspect of the climate crisis: Karuk provides solutions to the devastating wildfires; Blackfeet demonstrates how to produce sustainable meat while also restoring the native bison and the degraded prairie; Hopi and Menominee address industrial agriculture/logging practices; while Hawaii shows how to be self-sufficient in traditional ways as food supply chains become less reliable. We hope that by examining various ecological contexts there will be a clear picture of how these landscapes have been traditionally managed, how colonialism disrupted that management and how they are proving resilient in a changing climate.
What do these tribes all have in common?
Although these stories are not connected geographically they all share the common dimensions of “traditional knowledge.” According to Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledge in Climate Change Initiatives,
“[traditional knowledge] broadly refers to indigenous communities’ ways of knowing that both guide and result from their communities members’ close relationships with and responsibilities towards the landscapes, waterscapes, plants, and animals that are vital to the flourishing of indigenous cultures.”
Each tribe is using traditional knowledge and nature-based solutions for working towards a common goal of connecting their people to the ancient traditions of stewarding their land. The motivation for every project leader is to help their tribes become more resilient and to ensure that future generations will be able to keep their identity and knowledge alive.
How does the fire stewardship of the Karuk community shown in your film address the current situation in Australia?
There is a major parallel in our film between the Karuk tribe and the current situation in Australia. Both indigenous groups have an ancient history of using prescribed fire to keep their landscapes safe and abundant.
Just recently CNN (https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/
Indigenous peoples from California to Australia have used fire for tens of thousands of years to eliminate the dead trees, shrubs, and grasses around their home or community. Part of the reason for this is to improve the health of the vegetation and another part of this is to ensure that if a wildfire did break out it wouldn’t have nearly as much to burn as it would when it goes unmanaged. The Karuk Tribe of Northern California has been reintroducing prescribed fire back into the landscape after 150 years of suppression by the US government and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia also had their practices suppressed. Before the suppression started, the Karuk had been using fire to manage their land for basket materials like hazel and willow, elk habitat, huckleberry patches, acorn harvests and to make the communities safer in the face of a wildfire.
The Karuk, along with the Aboriginal people of Australia have been using time-tested knowledge about how to manage forests long before colonization came and disrupted these practices and need all the support they can get to bring these systems back.
How can we be allies to indigenous people in 2020 and beyond?
Through making this film we have learned that there are many ways to help indigenous communities, but it is recommended to start by learning about whose ancestral land you are on. The modern U.S. is home to more than 573 Indigenous tribes and nations. This is a great interactive map https://native-land.ca/ to identify the territory you are in. Find the closest indigenous group to where you live and look into ways to be of help whether that’s a donation, showing up at a rally or volunteering for their community. We found that showing up at public events and showing interest is an important part of building trust and being helpful.
There are many current indigenous rights issues unfolding right now that to stay up on, here are some media outlets that will keep you informed:
And here is a helpful ally tool kit we have learned from:
What is your goal with the project?
By creating a feature-film designed for use in film festivals, conferences, and educational institutions, we hope that these native voices will reach a much wider audience. By bringing this film to intended audiences that include adaptation practitioners, native youth, tribal councils, natural resource managers, and non-governmental organizations, there is a huge opportunity for inhabitants to offer a valuable, contemporary context in which to incorporate the voices of tribal leadership; ultimately expanding their role in climate and environmental policy.