Loren Waters (Cherokee/Kiowa) in attendance at 4th World Media Lab Summit 2022

Loren Waters (Cherokee/Kiowa) in attendance at 4th World Media Lab Summit 2022.

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October 14, 2022

Indigenous Storytelling as a Way to Connect to and Protect Land – Reflections from Camden International Film Festival 2022

Loren Waters (Cherokee/Kiowa)

The sun had already set when I arrived in Camden, Maine. I could smell the salty air of the ocean, but couldn’t see it. The almost full moon lit up the drive to our hotel, illuminating the trees and winding roads. When the sun rose the next morning, I was greeted by many picture perfect white houses, sail boats, and a sparkling vast body of water. I could finally place the salty smell.

The Camden International Film Festival 2022 (CIFF) hosted the 4th World Media Lab Summit, a collaborative fellowship between Nia Tero, CIFF, Seattle International Film Festival and Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Many fellows from the seven previous cohorts traveled from across the U.S. and Canada to share space with each other. It was a special and diverse group of Indigenous people in different stages of their careers. Yet, we shared a mutual understanding that we came here to learn from each other, laugh (a lot), and foster community.

Educator Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy) kicked off the morning with a traditional welcome song and histories about the land and the community. Sabaah Folyan, a powerhouse filmmaker from Firelight Media, led us in thoughtful conversations around the film industry. I joined the summit as a community member, and as soon as we started our introductions, I knew it was a space that I could be vulnerable. We discussed successes, challenges and risks that we’ve taken in our careers. We collectively agreed that everything we do in the film industry is a risk because of who we are as Indigenous people and where we come from.

I’m a Cherokee Nation and Kiowa tribal citizen from the plains of Norman, Oklahoma. I spent most of my life running around the reservation with my cousins, going to basketball games, ceremonies, and swimming in lakes and creeks. In some places nearby, we can’t swim in the creeks anymore due to industrial pollution. Many traditional practices are at a standstill since we can’t go to water. It affects our ability to move our culture forward.

We have to be still to hear the land that calls to us. That’s what our stories teach us. We must seek understanding from our ancestors and the land they know well in order to heal it. They teach us interconnectedness to our non-human relations and the natural cycle of reciprocity between all beings. Our stories are a powerful tool that remind us it doesn’t have to be this way. They remind us that Indigenous peoples need to be centered in discussions of environmental restoration.

It was visible that CIFF is working to champion Indigenous storytellers through its programming, partnerships, and forums. We attended a town hall and participated in a critical discussion towards values-based filmmaking facilitated by the Documentary Accountability Working Group. How can we prioritize reciprocity in our work? How can documentary move away from extractive filmmaking? We have a responsibility as storytellers to be accurate and authentic. As an Indigenous filmmaker who returns to my community, I tread carefully in this industry, knowing that we have been historically misrepresented and made invisible. Its our responsibility now to make it right. We can use our stories to champion our ways, to learn our medicines, to know our landscape. We can use our stories to empower our communities and protect our land and that’s what I hope to do.

We are often made to feel isolated, separated and individualized in our journeys, when it fact, that is not reality. The 4th World Media Lab Summit reminded us of our kinship and inherent understanding of the internal support system that we offer each other. Our laughter and joy created a lasting bond between all of the Indigenous creatives. We will bring this energy into our lives as we move forward in creating, collaborating, and telling stories together.