Standing on Sacred Ground

Standing on Sacred Ground


Indigenous communities around the world and in the U.S. resist threats to their sacred places—the original protected lands—in a growing movement to defend human rights and restore the environment.

In this four-part documentary series, native people share ecological wisdom and spiritual reverence while battling a utilitarian view of land in the form of government megaprojects, consumer culture, and resource extraction as well as competing religions and climate change. Narrated by Graham Greene, with the voices of Tantoo Cardinal and Q’orianka Kilcher, the series exposes threats to native peoples’ health, livelihood, and cultural survival in eight communities around the world. Rare verité scenes of tribal life allow indigenous people to tell their own stories— and confront us with the ethical consequences of our culture of consumption.

Film One: Pilgrims and Tourists in the Pastures of Heaven

In the Russian Republic of Altai, traditional native people create their own mountain parks to rein in tourism and resist a gas pipeline that would cut through a World Heritage Site; in northern California, Winnemem Wintu girls grind herbs on a medicine rock as elders protest U.S. government plans to enlarge one of the West’s biggest dams and forever submerge the touchstone of a tribe.

Film Two: Profit and Loss

Villagers in Papua New Guinea resist forced relocation and battle a nickel mine dumping waste into the sea, while in Canada, First Nations people are divided by a tar sands industry that provides economic growth but destroys traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

Film Three: Fire and Ice

In the Gamo Highlands of Ethiopia, elders defend traditional taboos that protect biodiversity and an ancient culture as Christian fundamentalists disrupt their rituals; in the Andes of Peru, Q’eros farmers are forced to adapt to a warming climate that threatens food crops, glacial water and a way of life based on reverence for mountain spirits.

Film Four: Islands of Sanctuary

Aboriginal Australians reclaim indigenous protected areas and battle government collusion with an international mining corporation over a sacred river; Native Hawaiians restore the damaged island of Kaho`olawe after 50 years as a military bombing range. Throughout the series, authentic native voices describe the practice of place-based spirituality and everyday ecology, and tell compelling stories of determined resistance to threats from mining corporations, fundamentalist religions, climate change, consumerism and the irreversible effects of exploitation of land. In a growing global movement, local resistance provides the spark for a renaissance of traditional knowledge as indigenous guardians assert management authority over sacred lands and point the way to a future of mutual cultural respect.

Seven years in the making, Standing on Sacred Ground is directed and produced by Christopher (Toby) McLeod and written and co-produced by Jennifer Huang and Jessica Abbe of the Sacred Land Film Project. Cinematography by Andrew Black and Will Parrinello. Edited by Quinn Costello and Marta Wohl. Original score by Jon Herbst. For 30 years, McLeod’s Sacred Land Film Project at the Berkeley, California-based Earth Island Institute has made high-impact documentary films, including the Henry Hampson Award winner In the Light of Reverence (POV, 2001). The four-film Standing on Sacred Ground series will be completed May 31, 2013.




Release Date: 
Monday March 30, 2015
Expiration Date: 
Friday March 29, 2019


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