Defenders of Sacred Sites Around the Globe Featured in PBS Series – from Indian Country Today Media Network 5/19/2015


The Standing on Sacred Ground film series by Christopher McLeod will be broadcast nationally on the PBS World Channel. The film series on sacred sites from eight indigenous communities across the globe includes Islands of Sanctuary on Kaho’olawe.

(…) “If they had listened to the indigenous people from the beginning, we wouldn’t be in such a mess. Now, it’s a race against time to start ingraining our indigenous knowledge into the younger generations.”

From Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia to California and Russia, the indigenous people in the documentary series represent almost all the continents, but they face many of the same threats to their sacred sites and ancestral lands: government megaprojects, consumer culture, competing religions, resource extraction and climate change. But, producer Christopher McLeod said, the films show far more is at stake than indigenous religion.

“The sacred places are the heart where the indigenous worldview, the values and languages are anchored,” he said. “They’re a source of information and insight about adapting to climate change. It’s no coincidence the planet is dying and the sacred places are being destroyed.”

(…) the film series does include success stories, such as the saga of Native Hawaiians reclaiming the island of Kanaloa Kaho’olawe after 50 years of exclusive military use as a weapons testing range. It was won back after decades of occupation, organizing, education, and lawsuits. The island is now a Hawaiian cultural preserve.

“It’s rare we have films on national television that seek to enlighten the greater population about our customs and stewardship responsibilities,” said Davianna McGregor, a professor in Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawaii and a member of Protect Kaho`olawe ‘Ohana. “I hope the films will encourage people to learn about the sacred places in their areas and respect the indigenous people and their role of keeping that connection.”

She also noted that the films are being released at an auspicious time as Native Hawaiians are demonstrating and organizing to protect the sacred Mauna Kea from an international consortium’s plan to build a 4 billion 30-meter telescope. The conflict has drawn national media attention that often depict the Native demonstrators as anti-science, and McGregor said the films counter these misconceptions, giving Native people a venue to explain the value of indigenous knowledge and how indigenous spirituality can augment scientific endeavors.


According to McLeod, a World Bank study found that indigenous people own 22 percent of the land in the world, but the ecosystems under their stewardship account for 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

“The early environmentalists were from the school of the earth being the dominion of humans, but Native people are saying that idea is arrogant,” McLeod said. “The hope is the films help open the environmental movement to the indigenous values of being part of nature and subservient to its power.”


(Image source: Christopher McLeod)

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