By Barbara Savage, Founder of Tribal Trust Foundation
For nearly twenty years, the Tribal Trust Foundation (TTF) has been an advocate for Indigenous Peoples. We frequently respond to requests for documenting – through film and photography – ancient ways of life before they disappear.
Historically, the TTF has been restricted from grants for Indigenous Media projects, primarily because many foundations require that Indigenous People receive the grants directly. This is problematic because most of our requests come from hunter-gatherers, who have invaluable knowledge and wisdom, but who do not have the specific expertise, equipment, or experience related to film, nor do they always the infrastructure to receive grant money. The TTF has been creative with unconventional fundraising, able to continue our mission through joint initiatives to preserve Indigenous knowledge.
One media project in particular served as a powerful tool for advocacy. At the request of the Ju’Hoansi, San Bushmen, we travelled to the Kalahari Desert of Namibia to film and document their way of life. The film included recorded songs, dances, hunting and gathering skills, as well as the beginning of their male initiation ceremony. As a sacred ceremony, we respected tradition and documented only the beginning. Being threatened by government-planned genocide, the San wanted these recordings for the future, in the hope that someone from their community would survive. We immediately sent the unedited footage to the United Nations to provide evidence of their existence and to bring international awareness to their plight. This documentation helped to save their lives and revitalized their culture. It also served to open dialogue with non-indigenous hunting organizations and highlight the importance of land rights and hunting rights of the San.
The most challenging and risky Indigenous Media projects are sometimes the most important. Travel is dangerous and politically hostile environments can make it often impossible to secure a filming license. In these scenarios, there are Indigenous Peoples who fear there may not be enough time to share their story.
The TTF’s Mbuti project is an example of these very issues. We found it incredibly difficult to raise the money to travel into the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Yet, the second-largest rainforest in the world was being chopped down and we urgently needed to bring the Mbuti’s message to the world. Miraculously, Molly Feltner and I were able to travel there and record their voices informing the world: “We are Mbuti. We are children of the forest. We cannot live without the forest.”