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On this week’s Making Contact, we feature an extended interview with Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso, a queer Diné filmmaker and director of the award-winning documentary Powerlands.
Powerlands traces how multinational energy corporations extract resources and profits while displacing and harming Indigenous communities around the world. The film follows Indigenous activists in Navajo Nation, Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines who are fighting back against corporations like Peabody Energy, Glencore and BHP.
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Featuring Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso, an award-winning queer Diné filmmaker and director of Powerlands This episode includes excerpts from the documentary film Powerlands. Music Documentary by Music_Unlimited
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso, an award-winning queer Diné filmmaker and director of Powerlands
This episode includes excerpts from the documentary film Powerlands.
Documentary by Music_Unlimited
Powerlands Documentary website:
Powerlands Documentary website: www.powerlands.org
Lucy Kang: On today’s Making Contact, we take a deep dive into the film Powerlands. Powerlands is a new documentary that looks at resource colonization on Indigenous lands around the world – and the resistance against it.
This week we’re going to bring you a conversation with the director and play some excerpts from the film. So let’s kick it off today with this short clip from the opening of Powerlands.
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: My name is Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso. And this is Dinétah, also known as the Navajo Nation. My family can trace our history to 85 generations with this land. I began working on this film to document our community’s struggle against resource colonization. Along the way, I found that we are not alone. This is a story of Indigenous people protecting and rebuilding.
Multinational corporations like Glencore, Peabody, and BHP have been extracting hundreds of billions of dollars in profit. It is happening in nearly every country on earth. First came colonization. Now corporations are stealing the resources from under our feet. This extraction is global, but so is our resistance.
From Dinétah, I connected with Indigenous people in Colombia, the Philippines and Mexico who are uniting to protect the earth. We are appealing to public opinion, changing laws, and putting our bodies on the line. This film is part of that resistance.
Lucy Kang: You just heard an excerpt from the documentary Powerlands. The director is Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso, an award-winning queer Diné filmmaker. We’re so glad to have you on Making Contact today. Thank you for joining us.
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Lucy Kang: Yeah, so just to start us off, could you introduce yourself and just say a little bit about what you do?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Yá’át’ééh. Shí éí Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso yinishyé. Hi, my name is Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso. I am a Navajo Diné filmmaker from Arizona. And I’ve been recently on tour with the latest film, my first feature Powerlands, which is about the effects that energy corporations have on Indigenous people on a global scale.
Powerlands really started from where I’m from. It’s called Black Mesa, and there has been a coal mine out here since the 1970s. Starting in the 1960s is when conversations around it happened. And so I grew up dealing with forced relocation and water rights issues and mining issues my entire life.
And I got into film around nine. And when I was about 18, I met with Jordan Flaherty, who is the producer of Powerlands. And he had just come back from Colombia, and he was working on a mining project there. It’s the Cerrejón mine, but they are run by BHP and Peabody. The Peabody Coal Mine out here in Black Mesa is by Peabody and BHP.
And we were talking about the similarities and the differences between Colombia and Black Mesa, and we found that there were so many similarities. One of the most glaring similarities was the fact that we were both being targeted by the same corporation, BHP. And that’s really how this film started to come, was realizing how many communities feel so separate and feel so different, but how there’s so much more in common with everyone. And so that’s really where the story came from.
Lucy Kang: You mentioned your experience growing up in the Black Mesa area of Navajo Nation and just living so close to all this really intensive resource extraction. I;m wondering, would you be able to describe kind of the current landscape of the resource extraction that’s ongoing and, you know, just describe in more detail what some of the impacts are on the people and the environment?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Yeah, well actually right now on this call, you know I am probably about 10 minutes away from an open uranium pit that is still open just outside of Tuba City. I can still see remnants of the coal mine from the road, like off of the road here.
And these mining companies are not required to clean up after themselves. So until they’re forced, they are not going to clean up after themselves. So we have these giant trucks and giant pipes and like, huge, like, I don’t even know how to describe them. They’re like 60, 70 feet in the air, just gigantic tubes, that used to slurry coal and water. And they’re just still littering the land. They’re gonna be out there until they either disintegrate or the company is forced accountable to hold them up.
Lucy Kang: Peabody Energy filed for bankruptcy in 2016, but it kept operating.
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: But through the bankruptcy filing, they were allowed to pre-mined coal for the next 30 years. And that’s still being extracted technically, even though they cut down on any jobs that were done by locals are all completely gone. And that was probably the only benefit that a small, few amount of folks in this area ever got. And that’s completely gone.
But we still have to deal with their pipes, and we still have to deal with their tubes and their trucks. And even the entire landscape has changed. This mine at one point in time was so large you could see it from space. And all they did was just push dirt onto it. So these beautiful natural hills and valleys and crevices that used to be up there with these like painted colors are completely gone and they’re flat with just like little lumps, with short plant growth. So we’re seeing a massive difference in this region.
And it’s not just from coal mining. Fracking is happening nearby, so you can feel the oil slick in the water. Again, the uranium pits so our cancer rates are really high. We have really high birth problem rates. And there’s even currently several tests happening across Navajo Nation to see what happens to folks who live or are exposed to this much radiation.
Lucy Kang: Do you see these ongoing projects as a continuation of, you know, the project of colonization in this country?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: It is a part of genocide that has not stopped happening within this country. We are not allowed to dictate our healthcare systems. We are not allowed to dictate our education systems. We are not allowed to dictate our own police systems. And all of these are meant to be essentially just a non-active form of genocide where it’s essentially just ongoing, where we are put in very desolate, isolated areas with limited resources, limited capabilities to like higher education, to bring more things onto the reservation to help ourselves.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t do it. We are still actively doing it. And that’s, I think, a testament more to us as people across the entire world is the fact that all Indigenous people are still actively forced up against with this like idea of genocide. And we are actively fighting against it and are still surviving and are still able to keep parts of our culture alive and are still really helping ourselves because our culture is based in community. And our community is what’s keeping us going.
Lucy Kang: Here’s another excerpt from the film Powerlands. We’ll hear from Gerald and Duwayne Blackrock, who are resisting relocation.
Gerald Blackrock: For ourselves, you know, the best way to, as Native people, to hold on to a lot of our ancestral ways is to stay here and live our ancestral way of life, you know.
Duwayne Blackrock: Just a quarter mile, maybe three, three eights of a mile from where we stand is where my grandmother, that’s where she’s buried, by [word]. We still go to that place for strength, for guidance. This place will always be a part of our lives. This is who we are. And this is the only place we want to be.
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: For thousands of years, we shepherded the wealth and beauty of this land. Before colonization, we lived in balance with nature. In 1966, Peabody, the world’s largest private coal company, created a tribal council to sell them the mining rights, forcing 20,000 people out of what was left of our home. Many of the largest corporations in the world have taken their profits from our land. BHP and Peabody mined coal. Others extracted oil, gas, water, and uranium.
Lucy Kang: Large energy companies continue to be a major driving force behind land theft from Indigenous communities. Decades ago, corporations eyed Navajo and Hopi reservation lands that were rich in oil, coal and uranium. And the federal government backed them, creating tribal councils to lease land to these oil and mineral companies – at very lucrative terms.
In 1974, the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act abruptly partitioned lands that had been shared in northern Arizona. Tens of thousands of Navajo people were suddenly on the wrong side of the partition line and were forcibly removed… All for the sake of extracting resources and profits for energy and mining corporations.
Lucy Kang: You know, there’s so much information in this film. Like really it’s just jam-packed. I wonder, you know, another piece of the context I’m hoping we could get into a little bit in this interview is just around how the US government, through the Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act, essentially imposed like artificial land boundaries that were then used to justify the forced displacement of thousands, of tens of thousands of Diné people.
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Yeah, so in the 1950s, if you were to look at the reservation map borders, you would see that the Hopi reservation used to be a perfect square. And so when conversations were happening between Peabody Coal, BHP, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Nation, and the federal government, they were looking at it and the Navajo Nation said no, and the Hopi Nation said yes. And that was part of how they for a long time turned Hopi and Navajo against each other, even though we’re brother and sister tribes. We’ve always worked together and always supported each other. And so I wouldn’t say that it was like the Hopi who said yes. But their government officials were the ones who said yes.
And so the US government actually went in, and if you look at a map of the Hopi reservation now, you’ll see that one edge is jagged, whereas it used to be a perfect square. And if you put that map on top of a resource mineral map, you’ll realize that map actually follows the coal seam along the edge. So they redistributed where the land line would go. And my family happened to fall on the wrong side of that redistribution land.
And even though like I literally can go out and see hogans from my great, great, great, great, great grandmother out there –
Lucy Kang: Hogans are traditional Diné dwelling structures.
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: – we are told that it is not our home anymore because we fell on the wrong side of that border, which was called HPL, Hopi Partition Lands, as opposed to NPL, Navajo Partition Lands.
Lucy Kang: But actually the US government also created the Navajo and Hopi tribal councils, right?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Yeah. So a lot of our tribal councils were set into place by BIA. And this tells you a lot about where it’s at, is it’s still called BIA, Bureau of Indian Affairs. And they set up our governing systems.
And so yeah, at that point in time, a lot of our… We vote a lot more of them in, but even our capability to get, like even our guidelines for who’s allowed to be voted in, were set up by BIA, were set up by the federal government. So our governing systems are in a lot of ways still actively controlled by the federal government. So we do not get to have a full say in what happens there.
Lucy Kang: Well, turning back to the film, one of the most moving parts of it that I felt personally you know was the part that showcased the displacement of Diné elders from the land. And I’m wondering, could you just give us a little bit more background on that history?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Yeah. So there is several different steps where the displacement went.
In the 1970s and 80s, the Bennett Freeze Act was put into place. Which meant that you could not build or bring anything new to build with onto the land. So you could only repair with what was already there. So a lot of outside [unintelligible] forces would come and like break people’s windows because you can’t bring new glass onto the land. And if you did, you would be forcibly relocated.
There was a lot of animal impoundment that was happening where they would round up your, round up horses and cows and sheep. And in doing so when they were rounded up, you would have to buy them back after being rounded up. And for sheep, it would be somewhere between like a hundred to 300 dollars per sheep. Cows, it could be between 500 and a thousand dollars per cow just to get back your own livestock. And that’s how people lived and survived. And, you know, we live completely off the land. We don’t need to, we don’t need money to survive. But they were stripping down any financial resources that anybody was able to gain or gather.
And so elders were either forced off with some type of like carrot being like, here, we’ll give you financial money to move into these tiny little trailers in the middle of a desert far away from anything. And you’ll get this set amount of money one time, and you’ll never be allowed back on the land. Or they were eventually forced off by having their homes destroyed and their livestock and their food and their water resources slowly being cut off and were forced off. And the folks who did stay out there really had to… you know, they’re still out there, and we’re still resisting. But the amount and the number of house sites has lowered.
You know, our springs have been capped, our livestock has been capped, our corn fields have been capped. And so it’s really returning back to a way of life that has been pushed to the brink of extinction.
Lucy Kang: Let’s turn back to the film again. Here’s marie gladue and Spike Manning.
marie gladue: For a long time people were terrorized with livestock impoundments, having their livestock be forcibly taken away. And of course that’s traumatic for people.
Spike Manning: They’ve done things where they’ve brought big trailers out here and have literally, you know, forced people into their homes, you know, with like, you know, guns and for someone to point guns at elders and tell them to back up. And for them to come in here and take what’s theirs… it’s just not right. And you know, it really hurts that, that people do that you know.
marie gladue: We need to, we, we as the people need to just like go back to, this is what I mean, go back to these, some of these things that our own families used to do. Me, I’m, I’m trying to keep a few head of sheep going, you know. And I feel like that’s a little bit of a resistance, you know? That’s my resistance
Amy Gastelum: We’re jumping in to remind you that you are listening to Making Contact. If you like today’s show and you want more information, or if you’d like to leave us a comment, visit firstname.lastname@example.org. There you can access today’s show and all of our prior episodes. Okay, now back to the show.
Lucy Kang: We’ve been talking about the documentary film Powerlands, which documents resource colonization around the world, and the ways that Indigenous communities are fighting back.
Part of the film features younger Diné people who are coming to reclaim the land, including members of the group Indigenous Youth for Cultural Survival. Here’s a clip where they are joined by activists, Kim Smith and Makai Lewis.
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Younger generations are returning to Dinétah building unity and resistance.
Kim Smith: This lake, it’s called Morgan Lake. It was built to cool down the power plant, which is one of the dirtiest coal fired power plants in the country. They’ve extracted uranium. They extract oil and gas by fracking. They extract coal. All around there’s this resource colonization, this resource extraction.
Makai Lewis: An average person in Phoenix uses about 200 gallons per day as far as domestic use. And a person in Big Mountain, they use about 12 gallons a day. You know, corporations and dirty politicians, you know, they’re all about money. You know, they want money, money, money, money. I’d like for these guys to have them try to eat money, you know, and see what happens to them. Have them drink oil or drink water that’s contaminated with oil. You know, I don’t think they’re gonna last.
Lucy Kang: You know, in the excerpt the listeners just heard the film, you know, introduces us to a few of the members of the newer generation of activists. So is there a movement to kind of like return to this place and continue to cultivate cultural traditions?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Yes, yes. There is a lot. The youth that you saw in the film are still actively doing work out on the land to make it. We’re seeing my own aunties and uncles are out there building up corn fields. And then my cousins who are having babies, we’re making sure to take them out to the land. They’re learning how to live off of it.
And then it’s even, you have to have a large community source, because if there’s one elder out there, you know, you have to have the younger folks around, make sure to go check on them, make sure they’re okay. They’re sometimes two hours away from a paved road, which is another hour away from the nearest hospital. And so that could be three hours before someone could get medical care. So you need to make sure that everyone’s really working together and having a solid community base.
And that’s what you see happening. And definitely, it’s happened my entire life. But we’re seeing more and more of that come back with other members of the community coming back and buying like the general store and bringing in more community events such as like bike repair classes happening. And it’s really beautiful to see so many people returning back, flocking back, bringing back new teachings and old teachings that may have been lost for a period of time.
Lucy Kang: Wow, and yeah, so the film takes us to other Indigenous communities around the world as well. So Colombia, which you mentioned, and Mexico and the Philippines. Could you say more about how these struggles are connected? And I’m just wondering, did anything surprise you in the process of learning more about these other struggles?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: [laughs] Yeah, so I think one of the big things was we actually reached out to like 15 or 20 different communities. So there are five communities featured in the film, across three different continents. But we really reached out to places who actively wanted to be there. We had this whole series of accountability to make sure that the film beginning to end was not extractive in any way or exploitative, cause that’s been a huge problem within my community. And I didn’t wanna perpetuate that in other communities. So we really reached out to so many places. And everyone who actively participated in the film is who made it to the final and the end part of it. And so a lot of it was word of mouth. Some of it was through different organizations like the London Mining Network or Frontline Defenders.
And I think one of the most shocking things was, again, just how similar every single place was. Everywhere we went, we found corn, or we found rice, or we found little girls whispering to each other, or we found, you know, people just giggling and laughing and like being so full of life. And growing up in an Indigenous space, when people show up at your door, you feed them, you accept them, and they become part of the family. It’s this thing called k’é in Navajo, which means relationship. You’re building relationships with the world around you and with the people around you. And everywhere we went, that was exactly how it was.
And I think that was the most shocking is, especially when you go into Western society or colonial society here in the States, you often find that everything’s separated by fences and it’s like, well, this is my property and you have to keep that on your property. And there’s all these set lines that separate all of us.
But in every single place that we went, everywhere with Indigenous ideology being at the forefront, it was immediately like, open the doors, come on inside, let’s feed you. Tell me about your grandparents. I’ll tell you about my grandparents. How are we gonna stay friends forever?
Lucy Kang: Wow. Yeah, that sounds like such a powerful and connective experience to have. And I guess sort of related to that is, you know, just this question of why do you think it’s important specifically for Indigenous media makers to be telling these stories?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: One is, you know, growing up in these spaces, how we interact with each other is a little bit different. You know, there are certain social norms that in Western society are very common. For example, on the rez, it’s actually pretty rude to look people in the eye when you’re talking to them here on Navajo Nation.
And so, but you know, within Western society it’s, you look people in the eye when you’re talking to them. And so you can even tell in my style of filming that I’m allowing people to not look us in the eye. We’re allowing people to have that done while still putting it in a perspective where they’re, they’re still framed as like, you know, truth tellers. Cause a lot of times in media when people look around a lot, it’s framed that they’re lying. But within our culture, that’s how you’re polite. That’s how you show respect.
And so there are little things that if you aren’t from that culture, you’re not gonna be able to show correctly. So people come to my nálí’s house, to my grandmother’s house. And you know, they’ll see barrels full of water, and they think it means that we’re poor or we’re all these other things. But it’s like we have to haul water cause we don’t have running water. But we also opt to not have running water.
This is our way of life. This is how we live. This is, we show respect to the earth is by being not wasteful with our water. We’re still very clean. We still keep everything up to date. We tend to like recycle everything ourselves. We stretch everything ourselves and other people will come and see it as poor, and they show like this poverty porn. And that’s not how I see the world.
And so going into these other communities, I wanted to show just like the vibrancy of the colors that they wear, how proud they are of the food that they make you. It was all of those little moments, and I think that’s what’s so important for Indigenous people to tell specifically Indigenous stories is cause we’re the only ones who can tell them accurately or correctly and give you a lens and a perspective that you wouldn’t get if you went out on your own.
Lucy Kang: Well, Ivey Camille, I feel like I could talk to you for hours about this, but I do think we need to wrap up. And so my, my last question to you is just, around, you know, what’s the impact you’re hoping to make with this film, and what do you want people to watch your film to get out of it? And also can you talk about how you see this film as also part of the resistance?
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Yeah, I think this film is part of the resistance because one form of resistance is art. And this film is art, even though it’s a documentary. [laughs] This is, you know, my form of art. This is how I see the world. This is how I can share it with people, tell you a little bit of my story, and then also tell other people’s stories.
So I think it’s actively a part of resistance. It’s also a part of education. It’s kind of a how-to guide on various forms of resistance. It’s also a reminder to other Indigenous people like you are not alone. We are here. I would love to see more like inter-continental, you know, communication and grouping. And we’re seeing so much of that happening.
And then it’s also a good reminder to those who maybe aren’t in Indigenous spaces, you know, when you flick a light switch on and you turn under your stove, all of that, it feels like such a simple little act where maybe you sent money to an energy company. But that comes from somewhere. And a lot of the times that comes from displaced people.
And so what can you do in your own backyard? Who in your own community can you help? And if you’ve never had access to another point of view, if you’ve only grown up with the Western or colonial ideas, here is a new form.
And a lot of it is like, I was taught we are shepherds of the earth. We were put here for the betterment of the earth. The earth is not here for the betterment of us. We work in three generations. So you need to make the world better. But you’re not making it better for you. You’re not even making it better for your kids. You’re not making it better for your grandkids. You’re making it better for your great-grandchildren.
Lucy Kang: Wow. Well, thank you so much for your time and for joining us on the show. Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso is an award-winning queer Diné filmmaker and the director of the film Powerlands. We’re so grateful to have been able to have this conversation.
Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Oh, thank you so much for having me. Yeah, I’m so glad we could do this.
Lucy Kang: Powerlands has won a number of awards and has been screened at film festivals across the country. To learn more about it, check out Powerlands.org. You can stream it now on Fuse Plus.
And that does it for today’s show. If you’d like more information visit us at radioproject.org. Or find us on social media. We’re @Making_Contact on Twitter and on Instagram we’re @makingcontactradioproject. If you have thoughts about today’s episode, drop us a line! We’d love to hear from you.
I’m Lucy Kang. Thanks for listening to Making Contact.