Ivan Sawyer, founder and director of Voices of Amerikua, a multimedia platform that shares the stories of indigenous people from North, Central and South America through films and social media campaigns, and cherished longtime collaborator of The Esperanza Project, has launched a series in which he interviews indigenous elders and leaders to talk about their environmental movements.
Tracy: Ivan, I’ve been looking at the lineup for your new series, and it looks amazing. Can you tell me a bit about this project? How did it come to be, and how did you get involved?
Ivan: I founded Voices of Amerikua about five years ago, and in the process I’ve been following and researching different indigenous movements in the Americas, and most of those movements have to do with environmental issues. And, you know, the role that indigenous people play in protecting nature and resources and standing up protecting their land and rights and water.
The project was born in 2014, a couple years before the Standing Rock movement began. The Standing Rock movement was very important as it visibilized the important role that indigenous people play in water protection and in the defense of nature and resources threatened by extractivism.
As part of my ongoing work with Voices of Amerikua, I recently got invited by a group called Weaving Wisdom that organizes online workshops regarding ancestral wisdom, and they asked me to put together a program of any topic that I would like in which we would invite indigenous leaders, elders, guests to come and speak every week for different sessions.
And so that’s how I came up with the idea of creating a series focused on environmental messages from the elders as a way to feature these speakers and their messages regarding environmental issues, which are so important to me as an activist.
I have been involved with many environmental issues, efforts and movements since long before Voices of Amerikua, as you know. In my home in Mexico, I was first involved with indigenous and environmental issues back in 2010, at the beginning of the movement to protect Wirikuta, where we started organizing activities around the country to support the Wixárika or Huichol people in stopping a mining project from being developed in the sacred land of Wirikuta, the desert where they believe the sun was born.
This movement influenced me in a big way to create Voices of Amerikua as a place to be able to share these stories and bring together different voices of communities, leaders, activists and artists for different environmental causes in the Americas. So it’s out of that inspiration that I decided to put together this program that we called “Sacred Earth,” and for which we invited different guests. Most of them I know personally and I’ve met them throughout the years as an activist and researcher of indigenous activism and culture. And that’s how this vision came together.
Why did you choose these particular guests to participate?
Mainly because, to my knowledge, these were the people who not only speak to the indigenous ways and their own culture, but they also have focused a lot of what they do towards environmental causes and different aspects of the environmental crisis that we are living in the world today. We are faced with the weight of issues such as climate change, water pollution and human rights violations.
The different speakers in the Sacred Earth series are deeply active and involved in addressing many of these issues and thus have an important message to share regarding the way that their culture, and indigenous culture in general, play a key role in generating solutions to environmental collapse. I believe that indigenous people and their message is not a thing of the past but actually provide a key to humanity’s future.
The series starts with Ilarion “Kuuyux” Merculieff, who is native Unangan (Aleut), from Alaska. Ilarion has been researching indigenous cultures for many years and has written several books. He speaks to the need to change the way we think and the way we perceive ourselves, and how the outer ecology is a reflection of the inner ecology. He is founder of Wisdom Weavers of the World, an organization that brings together indigenous elders who created a short film of the same name. I first met him in Hawaii in 2017 when I participated in the making of that film.
Then we have Grandmother Mona Ann Polacca. She is Hopi/Tewa/Havasupai, and she’s from Arizona. She has been an activist for over 30 years, and has participated in the United Nations indigenous forums speaking about water, the World Water Forums, speaking about the role of indigenous people in the ethics of water from an the indigenous point of view. She’s also the director of the Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, which is a very interesting movement that has traveled the world for more than 15 years years bringing together different indigenous women elders.
Then we have Ati Quigua from Colombia, an Arhuaco activist and political leader; Alex Isidro Lucitante, an environmental activist and traditional healer from the Cofan people of Ecuador, who was recently awarded the Goldman Environmental prize.
Then we also have Drupon Lama Dorje, who is a Tibetan lama, who speaks to the development of inner and outer resilience and changing the world from the inside out. He brings his traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachings into the modern world and focusesd also on environmental activism and ethics and inner activism.
We close the series with Pat McCabe, a Diné grandmother, artist, activist, writer, ceremonial leader and international speaker. from New Mexico. Pat is a voice for global peace, and hwiser paintings are created as tools for individual, Earth and global healing. Her work draws on the indigenous sciences of thriving life to reframe questions of sustainability and balance, and is dedicated to supporting the next generations, Women’s Nation and Men’s Nation, to be functional members of the “Hoop of Life” and champion the honor of being human.
What have you learned in the process of putting together this event?
Well, it’s been a really beautiful process, weaving together, coordinating and putting together the program and structuring the themes so that it makes sense, and communicating with each of these amazing guests that have so much to share. We’ve had to postpone the program a couple of times, and it’s been slow but it is all coming together at just the right time. We began in October with a beautiful talk with Ilarion; then it was Mona. The last in the series was Pat McCabe, and these talks are now available HERE for people who want to listen to the entire series or to specific talks.
Each of the guests have their own organizations and initiatives, so this will be able to connect the participants with the different initiatives and organizations that the guests are leading. And specifically, I’m very excited about the initiative to support Alianza Ceibo, which is an indigenous-led Ecuadorian organization focused on supporting communities and the protection of their land, and also the supporting of cultural initiatives within their territories. The funds raised from this series will go in part to support this beautiful and powerful organization, and also to pay for we are also offering scholarships for people who would like to participate but cannot pay.
It sounds like a really worthwhile and fascinating program. If people are still on the fence, can you say in a few words what will they take away that will be of use to them?
I think a lot of people are seeking hope and inspiration, and this webinar series will help inspire people to see ways to be of service to the planet and to their community. The sessions will provide practical tools for people to also work on the inner and outer resilience and transformation. We need to start from the inside, you know, from our own being. And there are a lot of practical exercises and tools that will help people to connect more with their own being and with their sense of belonging to where they are, and see how they can be of better service to their community and to the planet.
What are you most proud of about the way the event is coming together?
Ivan: I’m very happy and pleased with the way this webinar series has been able to come together and how many of the guests are actually really interested in participating in the other talks as well. I’m very excited about the way it has been creating a lot of exchange and reciprocity in terms of interest in each other’s themes and topics.
Global transformation starts with inner transformation, and we all have a role to play in the healing and the restoring of our Mother Earth. It is up to each and every one of us to be the change we want to see in the world. Join us in this journey into the Sacred Earth and learn from the words and experience of iindigenous leaders of the planet.