I can’t begin to know what it feels like to be a Native American (in Canada the reference is to First Nations people), to be of that culture and ancestry, to be part of a legacy of that squashed history, to embrace a meaning that long precedes the White Man and still has much to teach not only the White Man but an encompassing species called the Modern Man.
“Sacred,” as in the film called “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” what is that? It’s “reverence.” Lacking better tools, I go to a dictionary: “deep respect tinged with awe.” “Sacred” tends to get conscripted into religious connotation. Institutional and other constructions aside, human beings seem to find the sacred somewhere between humility and pride.
For the Gwich’in people – there’s like 8000 of them – sacred is a coastal strip in Northern Alaska where herds of caribou give birth to their children. This sacred place where life begins evokes connection to an indigenous way of life today, tomorrow, and back thousands of years. This sacred place assures food, clothing, shelter, community, reverence.
The film “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins” is not a big, deep, charged film. It’s only 19 minutes long. While it’s put together with appropriate settings of the Gwich’in life and landscape, it has a talking heads way of standard documentaries. Co-existing in the space between humility and pride is a spirit of long-haul activism.
It is difficult to remain quiet when caribou herds are threatened by huge oil excavation projects such as the one slated since President Reagan for Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Without feeling shallow or crammed, the film states its sacred case. It touches on justice for indigenous peoples and symbolic messages from their culture.
The subtitle of the film, “Gwich’in Women Speak,” stages the mothers and sisters, the grandmothers and granddaughters to testify somewhere between humility and pride to protect the caribou’s place in the world, the Gwich’in place in the world; to stop the ruinous, fossil-fuel-mucking proliferation where we all live.