The word “sacred” has often been linked to the roots of various orthodox religions worldwide, but in a new documentary by Silver Bullet Productions, the term takes on a broader, more personal meaning for indigenous people and the lands for which they have acted as stewards for millennia.

The film, titled “However Wide the Sky: Places and Power,” features a segment on Blue Lake at Taos Pueblo and will debut today (Nov. 4) at 7 p.m. on New Mexico Public Television Station, Channel 5.1, out of Albuquerque. The film will also be available on the PBS Video app. 

Although two people involved in the production shied away from specifically attributing the genesis of the film to the effect of protected lands around Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument being drastically reduced under former President Donald Trump in 2017, the narrative thrust of the film clearly indicates there was some influence. 

The monument, incidentally, was originally created by President Barack Obama in 2016. Then, shortly after President Joe Biden was elected in 2020, the protected lands were restored. The monument is named for two buttes that look like the ears of a bear peeking over a mountain. It is considered a place of great spiritual significance to many Native American tribes all over the Southwest.

“Concerns about the uses, misuse, drilling and mining of sacred places began the conversation between Silver Bullet and tribal leaders about the importance of education,” said Pamela Pierce about how the the film was developed. Pierce is program producer and CEO of Silver Bullet Productions. The film was directed by David Aubrey, a well known New Mexico filmmaker who has directed all the Silver Bullet films. It was narrated by Native actor Tantoo Cardinal.

Pierce emphasized that Silver Bullet is not necessarily a film company, but rather an organization dedicated to education, which uses motion pictures as a “vehicle for change.”

That change involved bringing to light the thoughts and feelings of Native people for the land they now occupy and that which they have cared for long before the arrival of foreign colonists. “Why is land so significant and sacred to Native people,” said Conroy Chino on the ideas at the heart of the film, “and why is it so worthy of being preserved and protected – at any cost?” Chino, an Acoma Pueblo native, journalist and filmmaker, wrote the treatment for the film and acted as one of its many advisors.

The film highlights the nearly 60-year fight for the return of Blue Lake as an example of the tenacity Native people have exhibited toward restoring lands important to their cultural heritage.

Legislation signed in 1970 by President Richard Nixon represented “justice,” he said. “In 1906, an injustice was done in which land involved in the bill, 48,000 acres, was taken from Taos Pueblo Indians, and now, after all those years, the Congress of the United States returns that land to whom it belongs, and we restore this place of worship for them for all the years to come.”

Despite decades of opposition by politicians and lobbyists, it came down to the influence of a school sports coach, a Native American man, who had “strong indomitable character,” which Nixon remembered and made him want to help.

Incidentally, Taos Pueblo tribal elder and leader of the Blue Lake Youth Movement Gilbert Suazo, Sr., will speak Sunday (Nov. 7), 2 p.m., at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street in Taos. He will be the first speaker in a monthly lecture series featuring distinguished figures recounting the history and legacy of the battle to return sacred land back to Taos Pueblo. It accompanies the exhibition “Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo: A New Day for American Indians” on view now through April 17, 2022.

Each place profiled in the film, from Chaco Canyon, Bears Ears, Zuni Salt Lake, Mount Taylor, Pueblo of Santa Ana, Taos Blue Lake, Mesa Prieta to Santa Fe, “has its own story of cultural strength and sustained connection through the continuous fight to protect the integrity and existence of these revered places of power. Respecting the original land boundaries of the tribes, also transcends state lines and borders,” a Silver Bullet statement reads.

This production was guided by 27 tribal advisors, from 11 tribes. These included scientists, historians and educators, artists and tribal leaders. “Each place of power is introduced to the film by the words of contemporary poets, providing a unique cohesion among the sacred places,” the film’s statement continues.

“The land does not belong to us. We belong to the land,” as Natasha K. Hale of Twin Lake, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation, says. But, the idea is sometimes easier to say than to illustrate to those who need to hear it and understand it. Asked if he thought the film was designed to change people’s minds, Chino said “I hope so … There’s a movement now to move away from fossil fuels so perhaps this film will be just one more effort to get people to see it that way.”

He said this film is “not a political statement about that. I don’t think tribes overall are opposed to every single extraction activity. I think what they would like to see occur as a result of this film is an understanding of why areas are sacred to them.”

Chino’s personal experience lends more credence to the fight to protect Mt. Taylor from uranium mining, important to Acoma Pueblo and many other tribes. “I’m hoping that, as a result of gaining understanding, that they will reach out to tribes in a further attempt to understand why a place like Blue Lake was so significant, why Mt. Taylor or Chaco Canyon or Bears Ears or Zuni Salt Lake were so critically important to them.”

All Silver Bullet documentaries have discussion guides that are part of the film to help teachers use the film with ease. These are written by Indigenous teachers and students. The guide that will accompany this film was the result of brainstorming by Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute students and faculty. 

Return of Blue Lake Sunday Lecture Series

Taos Pueblo tribal elder and leader of the Blue Lake Youth Movement Gilbert Suazo, Sr., will speak about the history and legacy of the battle to return sacred land back to Taos Pueblo.  Suazo's speech accompanies the exhibition, “Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo: A New Day for American Indians,” on view now through April 17, 2022.

Where: Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street

When: Sunday (Nov. 7), 2-3 p.m.

Cost: Free

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