Natasha Deganello Giraudie, a filmmaker from Venezuela, first encountered Indigenous wisdom keepers as a child on a road trip through her home country. She noticed, even at her young age, how the Pemón people had an emotional and spiritual connection to their ancestral lands, and treated rivers, mountains, and forests with respect.
Eventually, Giraudie found herself raising a daughter of her own in the ancestral lands of the Ohlone and Coastal Miwok people, otherwise known as the San Francisco Bay Area. She wanted to offer her daughter the same opportunity her parents bestowed upon her—to be guided by Native knowledge holders. With this in mind, Giraudie started to envision a project that features young Native people sharing one word from their ancestral language that has changed their lives in some way. A word they could pass on to newer generations that might help to heal humanity’s relationship with the Earth.
The result is One Word Sawalmem, an award-winning short film that Giraudie co-directed with Michael “Pom” Preston of the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Mount Shasta, California. Giraudie shares with Yes! magazine seven important lessons she learned from Indigenous wisdom keepers through the duration of the making of this film.
WISDOM. Indigenous wisdom is human wisdom, which has been miraculously preserved by Native people.
For millennia, humans recognized their reliance on nature and cultivated a strong relationship that is based on mutual respect and centered around reciprocity and reverence. As we continue to advance into modernity, we introduce forces that threaten to destroy this mentality. Indigenous wisdom keepers fight to preserve the natural and reciprocal relationship we have with the Earth alive. They are the people most capable of taking us from this era of exploitation and guiding us back to remembering a way of life that is in harmony with our environment.
LAND. Environmental resilience requires Indigenous land to be returned in a significant way.
Our world is facing a climate crisis due to the mistreatment it has endured at the hands of humanity. We have forgotten how to live in a good relationship with the Earth and to remember how to foster this way of life we must learn through first-hand, place-based experiential learning—not simply through reading and research.
U.N. climate scientists have affirmed that restoring ancestral lands to Indigenous communities is one of the most impactful and important things we can do to address the climate crisis.
LANGUAGE. Preserving native languages will give us the direction we need for renewal and restoration.
Giraudie and Preston’s film revolves around the word sawalmem, which roughly translates to “sacred water.” This word is common to many Indigenous languages but doesn’t have an equivalent translation to dominant colonial languages. The loss of the word for “sacred water” also represents the loss of the reverence and relationship we have with the water.
Within the 7,000 Indigenous languages that are now at risk of being lost forever is a guide to how we should interact with our environments to survive the current crisis and to thrive with nature in the future.
SPIRITUALITY. Remembering life-centered ways calls for spiritual commitment.
All of the crises we face today—be they environmental, medical, financial, or political—are rooted in a spiritual crisis. We have stopped recognizing ourselves as within nature, but rather see ourselves above it, and this attitude has allowed us to make decisions without considering the well-being of all living things.
Spiritual awareness and re-matriation, though often dismissed in our contemporary, consumerist, and patriarchal cultures, is exactly what Indigenous peoples call for. Spirituality requires us to humble ourselves and not only learn about our environment and the beings within it but to learn from them.
FRIENDSHIP. Developing authentic, supportive relationships can’t be rushed.
Any meaningful friendship or relationship takes time to develop. When the foundation of a friendship has already been weakened through countless injustices committed over generations, then it will take even more time and effort to reconcile and build something stronger. You must be prepared to be patient, quiet, humble, curious, and open when forming new relationships with Indigenous people and communities.
ALIGNMENT. The deeper our relationship with nature, the more fulfilled we are with less.
We are natural beings, meant to be in communion with nature. So, when the majority of us in the US are enclosed indoors 90 percent of the time, on average, then we submit ourselves to the painful effects of biological homelessness. We feel the void, but instead of filling it with the natural world that our bodies crave, we find ourselves overworking, overconsuming, and overmedicating.
To restore a life centered on nature, we have to intentionally put ourselves out there to experience more wonder and awe at the amazing planet on which we live. This will naturally help us become deeply satisfied with less material things and cause us to align ourselves more with the Earth.
HUMANIZATION. Uplifting storytelling is at the core of overcoming invisibility.
In mainstream media, education, and culture, Native people are sorely underrepresented. This underrepresentation is known as invisibility. To combat this dehumanizing invisibility, there is an urgent need for Indigenous storytellers to take the stage and tell their stories from their perspectives, especially in a modern-day context. This can help dissipate the stereotypes of Indigenous victimhood and demonstrate their strength and resilience.
Source image: Rosa Guayaba LLC