'Rise' series documents frontlines of Indigenous movements

Rise is a fantastic new series by VICE and APTN that covers a resurgent Indigenous cultural urgency, filmed expertly by Toronto's Christopher Yapp and executive directed by the talented, award-winning Ontario filmmaker Michelle Latimer.

I was able to preview two episodes of the eight-part series (which debuts January 27 on VICELAND): "Apache Stronghold" (Arizona) and "Red Power" (North Dakota). If the rest of the series is just as powerful -- in storytelling, educational components and underlining human stakes -- I would highly recommend watching this series. 

The "Red Power" episode unwraps the historical underpinnings that led to the takeover of "Indian land" through the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent slaughter in 1890 at Wounded Knee. The Rise team ends up right in the middle of the massive Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest. The whole piece gives you goosebumps. 

"We're still existing when we're supposed to die," intones the sage barber who has joined the #NODAPL encampment, as he cuts hair.

"It's time to rise and be who we are born to be… we come from chiefs, dreamers, dancers, singers, hunters."

The episode lays out the sacredness of the Standing Rock Sioux land and details its history of colonialization and what one member describes as the "rape of lands" -- violent, hateful and destructive.

In "Apache Stronghold" host Sarain Carson-Fox lends a narrative voice as she reports from the anti-mining movement in Oak Flats, Arizona. Carson-Fox is an amiable reporter and the episode -- compared to the "Standing Rock" chapter -- has more of a traditional journalistic feel.

The episode looks at efforts by politicians to railroad anti-mining activists who are concerned about a Rio Tinto copper mine being imposed onto their sacred lands -- where ancient petroglyphs still tell the story of their ancestors.

The episode unravels how "Congressional corruption" -- as one resident proclaims -- underpins the expropriation of land by the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act. Indigenous activists are followed all the way to Washington, D.C. where they plead their case.

"There are lots of places to get copper… there is only one Oak Flat," declares one activist.

The cinematography is no less breathtaking than the "Standing Rock" story and a fireside conversation lends intimate texture to the episode. There is clearly a lot of care and attention in creating the series.

Some of the other Rise episodes are:

  • MMA Warriors -- Young Navajo fighters involved in mixed-martial arts.
  • The Urban Rez -- Looking back the intergeneration effects of residential schools and violence directed at girls and women.
  • Hawaiian Rule -- Indigenous Hawaiians fight the construction a billion-dollar telescope at the summit of their sacred Mauna Kea.
  • Warriors Rising -- About a militant Native hip-hop crew, Savage Family.

rabble.ca asked host Carson-Fox -- a New York-based dancer/choreographer of Anishinaabe heritage who grew up in Barrie, Ont. -- about the series and her experiences during production. Her answers have been condensed and annotated for brevity.

 VICE

Host Sarain Carson-Fox. Image credit: VICE

Are there certain episodes that you feel a more personal connection with?

As an Indigenous person I was not raised with the concept of "I" -- I was raised to see myself as part of a larger community. I was raised to be accountable and responsible to that community, and to make all my decisions in this way. "I" is "We."

That being said, having been raised with a deep-rooted spiritual connection to water, I found it immensely difficult to visit communities fighting for water.

In Brazil, for the first time in my life I experienced a dead river. The reality of this dead river was overwhelming. Water and all that it offers us is considered scared to almost all Indigenous people. It doesn't just provide us with life, it is much more profound than that and for the Krenak, the river was their mother, their father and it was the centre of the community. That connection is now gone forever.

That thought, of losing our connections to the stories and the land lit a fire in me that changed the way I approached this narrative, of protecting sacred sites.

I experienced the Krenak fight just weeks before I landed on the banks of the Cannonball River, at what is now known as the Sacred Stone Camp on the Great Sioux Nation.

When the people talked about the possibilities of an oil spill, of toxic contamination, it wasn't just a thought to me. It was a reality. I thought of the Krenak people, of their lost river every time I listened to the people of Standing Rock cry for support.

Describe some experiences during production that highlight the soul of the movements you are profiling.

It was a warm spring day in Standing Rock, North Dakota when my crew and I were invited on a buffalo hunt, a very sacred ceremony for the Sioux people. The buffalo would be used for a Sundance ceremony, a multi-day event that celebrates life and the sacrifices we must make to sustain it.

I was both excited and nervous, filled with humility and honoured to even be a part of such an event. I was ushered into a pickup truck and within moments driving towards the centre of a heard of majestic buffalo. These creatures demand respect. Their presence is unavoidable. As soon as we started driving towards them, Syd, our guide, pointed out a young buffalo that was being pushed out of the herd. He explained that this is how it happens. The herd knows that the hunt is happening and they choose a member of the herd to be taken.

It was an incredible process to witness, to see this animal willingly offer up its life. It was so humane and beautiful and reminded me of the way my people hunt and fish back home. How much respect you must give an animal to take its life.

This buffalo kill didn't end until we had processed every single part of the animal to be used in ceremony. Together, we skinned the buffalo and processed it, all while old stories and songs were shared. This day and its beauty will stay with me forever.

Another beautiful and profound moment is the first time I made the journey to the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It was also the first time that I ever experienced a volcano as a mountain. It is the highest elevation I have ever been to, and the first time I felt above the clouds.

I travelled to the top of Mauna Kea with a group of incredibly strong women, women whose sole purpose of summiting the mountain that day was to prepare their community for their first court hearing the following day to fight the TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope) This action, of summiting a mountain to pray, is an act of love.

It reminded me of the ancient knowledge that Indigenous people still have access to. It reminded me, that no matter how hard governments have fought to exterminate the Indigenous people, we are still here.

With a new U.S. president, where do you see things going?

The presidential shift will affect Indigenous communities gravely. To this day, every single treaty ever signed between both the Canadian and U.S. government and Indigenous people has been broken. So in many ways, nothing will change, the fight will just become harder, more visible.

My greatest fear is that the future will look more like the past. What I know is that the power of the people is strong and injustice to one will always be injustice to all.

I can say with every part of my spirit that I would do nothing short of put my life on the line for the land and my people. I know this to be true, because I stand with the protectors of the world, and this is a life-or-death fight.

It's not about war, it's about love -- a love so strong for the people that they come before all else, even yourself.

United we rise.

Rise debuts January 27 on VICELAND. Watch the trailer here.

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

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