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concordia 17/10/2017 - 11:00AM

Standing up for Standing Rock with Michelle Latimer

A standing ovation for Michelle Latimer at CP Concordia's screening of SACRED WATER & RED POWER

Michelle Latimer (Métis/Algonquin) honored Cinema Politica Concordia with her attendance on Monday, October 2nd, for the Montreal premiere screening of her immensely inspired two-part documentary on Standing Rock: SACRED WATER: STANDING ROCK PART 1, and RED POWER: STANDING ROCK PART 2. The screening moved the audience of 450 to a teary-eyed standing ovation that goes down as one of the longest in CP history. The projection was followed by a lengthy Q&A with Latimer in which she discussed the experience of making the documentary, being one of the first filmmakers among the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, the importance of Indigenous-led resilience and resistance, and how audiences can take concrete action to protect our land and water.

The two part doc on Standing Rock is part of a larger Viceland series called RISE, which is written, produced, directed, and show-run by Latimer. RISE is an inspiringly ambitious project that documents global Indigenous resistance to industrial energy extraction, which continues the brutality of colonialism by violating Indigenous rights, destroying sacred sites, forcing communities off their land, and in the case of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline, will likely poison the drinking water of Indigenous populations in the area while driving a wedge in the Sioux Nation.

Latimer’s SACRED WATER and RED POWER follow the largely matriarchal movement that initiated the fight that expanded into the great resistance and (though temporary) success of what we know as the Occupation of Standing Rock by 5,000 Red Warriors, while crucially educating audiences on the context of the lengthy colonial history leading up to it.

Women are the guardians of water in the Sioux tradition (men are the fire protectors): We start our life in water, and water starts in the womb. The Dakota Access Pipeline, allegorically portrayed and known in the film as The Black Snake, would, in addition to destroying and defacing a sacred burial site, poses a huge threat to if it were to be compromised (a predictable outcome for any pipeline - while no waterways have been affected yet, the DAPL has already leaked more than 180 gallons of oil in North and South Dakota since its construction. A leak in the pipeline would completely contaminate the Missouri River, the sacred source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

SACRED WATER and RED POWER make clear that this fight is everyone’s fight, and that it is but one part of the larger battle for Indigenous rights that continue to be violated ever since Canada’s colonial inception. However, Indigenous women pay the biggest price, something Latimer thoughtfully probes in the documentary’s two parts, which together outline the interconnectedness between Indigenous women, water, the Earth and its ongoing violation. Considering these parallels, when the extraction of oil—its pipelines, its penetrative pump jacks—is described in the film as “a rape of the Earth,” it resonates beyond metaphor. Latimer’s documentary portrays Indigenous women of all ages joining the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest, with a foucs on the sharing of traumatic experiences of women upon the arrival of fossil fuel extraction infrastructure. The film shows how oil and its extraction brings industrial infrastructure, which clusters male workers in “man camps” situated in proximity to Indigenous communities. Upon the arrival of a “man camp”, the statistics of sexual assault of Indigenous women in nearby communities show an increase of 168%. 

Latimer’s film compassionately takes on the responsibility of listening and carefully representing Indigenous stories in a powerful display of knowledge that is deployed in the fight against one of the largest power structures on the planet. Latimer’s film work demonstrates that perhaps the most effective fight against colonialism and its sinister Black Snake involves strengthening community, listening attentively and compassionately, knowing history and practicing the traditions colonial violence attempts to erase. There is power in numbers, and there is power in cultural knowledge. In the documentary a young Indigenous boy is asked why it is so important to learn about his own history, and his answer illustrates the urgent educational importance of Latimer’s films: “So that it never happens again.”

The evening closed with Latimer sharing ideas for action with the audience - How to help?

Latimer’s first response is to “speak the language of money” and divest.

According to the filmmaker, one concrete thing one can do is to keep your money, if you have any, in Credit Unions and, “Take it out of the Royal Bank, take it out of TD, and ask your bank the hard question- ‘Who are you supporting?’”

Latimer also stressed the importance of making media, and getting information and knowledge out to wider audiences. For her part she told the audience: “I don’t know if I’m effecting change, but I’m going to fucking try.” Judging from the response that Monday night, we’re confident that a sizeable portion of those 450 people are already doing something.

Now it’s our turn... Divest! Join the fight!


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