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Documenting global Indigenous resistance 

Kahnawa’kehró:non Carlee Kawinehta Loft sits down with Navajo filmmaker Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso to discuss her feature-length documentary Powerlands. Eve Cable The Eastern Door

Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso was nine years old when she started making movies. Now, she barely knows what timezone she’s in as she travels the world screening her award-winning, feature-length documentary.

“I just want to give you a quick warning,” Manybeads Tso said before the latest screening, which took place at Concordia University through Cinema Politica this Monday. “This film has seven different languages in it. If you’ve got to get closer, if you’ve got to move forward, I would recommend you do it now.”

Powerlands is the Navajo filmmaker’s first feature-length documentary, and it took seven years to make. She’s seen it at so many screenings by now that she went to grab a bite to eat with Kahnawa’kehró:non Carlee Kawinehta Loft, who was on hand to moderate a post-screening question-and-answer period.

The documentary makes connections between Manybeads Tso’s own Navajo community and several other Indigenous communities, demonstrating how each one is engaged in a similar fight against resource colonization. As Loft emphasized after the film, this is a struggle every community can relate to. 

“This is Dinétah, also known as the Navajo Nation. My family can trace our history to 85 generations with this land,” narrates Manybeads Tso during the introduction. “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.”

Manybeads Tso travels to the La Guajira region in rural Colombia, the Tampakan region of the Philippines, the Tehuantepec Isthmus of Mexico, and Standing Rock, meeting Indigenous women leading the fight against corporate resource extraction. Throughout, Manybeads Tso highlights how each community comes up against similar experiences of displacement and environmental catastrophe.

After the screening, Loft opened up further discussion about Indigenous resistance and the impact of corporations on land and water defenders, first asking about the importance of solidarity in resistance movements. 

“I think one of the biggest things, if you’re in any type of resistance, is to know you’re not alone. Even if you’re really involved, sometimes we all need that reminder,” Manybeads Tso said. “Building community wherever you go is super useful. You have to do little acts of resistance every single day.”

Loft then asked Manybeads Tso how she felt about screening the documentary to a mostly non-Native audience, and what she hoped the audience would take away from the screening. 

“A lot of the time, people would see something like this and be like, ‘Oh my god, I need to go to Colombia. I need to go to the Philippines, I need to go to Black Mesa,’” she said. “But we really don’t need you there. We’re holding it down. But what would be really useful is you there holding those energy corporations accountable. Because you have a voice where a lot of us don’t.”

Another question focused on how Manybeads Tso interacted with her subjects, particularly when some were operating a resistance that could result in them facing further violence if they were publicly identified. Before releasing the film, she hesitated about showing the faces of individuals in the Philippines. She reached out to her subjects for their input.

“We reached out to the communities and I got the most terrifying response back, which was that ‘it’ll be harder to make us disappear if people know who we are,’” she said. “So that’s why we show those faces in the Philippines, because knowing who they are is helping keep them alive.”

Near the end of the question and answer session, an audience member made a particularly poignant connection with Manybeads Tso, demonstrating in real time just how important the documentary’s message of shared Indigenous resistance is. 

The audience member passed on a message from the Huichol community, an Indigenous community in Mexico. 

“Similarly to our brothers and sisters in the Philippines, (the Huichol community) wants people to know that they’re there, and they’re resisting,” they said. They explained that the group’s sacred medicine, peyote, has become endangered by non-Indigenous over-consumption of the plant. “It’s important to understand the process (of taking it). Don’t take something you don’t understand, and don’t take something without asking permission.”

Manybeads Tso related to the audience member’s message, with peyote also being used ceremonially in her community. 

“It’s not for you. It’s a medicine, but everyone has their own medicine, and you need to find your own medicine because it’s different for everybody,” she said. “People can’t just take someone’s medicine, they’re just grabbing.”

Manybeads Tso’s upcoming projects are varied, with preliminary work on a complex cave system, the connections between Navajo and Jewish communities, and a story about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

For now though, she’s just trying to remember what city’s next on her schedule. 

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.