When an Indigenous group faces down a multinational energy corporation, it would be easy for those grassroots resistors to feel alone. The documentary Powerlands illustrates that they’re not.
The new film from director Ivey-Camille Manybeads Tso depicts the defiance and solidarity of Indigenous groups—from Colombia to the Philippines to Standing Rock to the Navajo Nation—against companies that seek to forcibly extract energy from Native lands. Despite the overwhelming prevalence of what the film terms “resource colonization” (see: how destructive mining on Navajo land powers Phoenix and Los Angeles), we see Native populations in all corners of the world fighting for their homelands. Powerlands depicts vocal protests and collectivist planning in the face of literal and cultural violence, while delving into how spiritual connection to the land influences and informs the protestors’ ongoing battles.
Director Ivey-Camille spoke with us briefly about how the themes and conflicts of Powerlands stretch across cultures, continents, and even forms of renewable energy. You can watch the documentary here.
One memorable quote in your film is from a farmer who notes how energy corporations attempt to turn Indigenous populations from “producers into consumers.” Can you unpack the impact of that attempted producer-to-consumer change?
Thank you for that insightful question. I agree: that moment was very clarifying to me. It comes in the context of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities being forced to move from their homes, and their livelihoods, by the mining corporation. But it’s not just that community, and it’s not just mining. This kind of transformation has happened to all kinds of communities and continues to happen.
Your film seems to suggest that energy corporations get away with targeting Native lands by being faceless and diffuse. How can resistors, who are often more vulnerable, combat this?
It’s not just the corporations that are invisible; it’s also the people who are being harmed by their extractions. Capitalism encourages us to block out what is happening around us, whether it is homeless people on the street or war across the world. I hope this film helps make these dynamics more visible. I know that the organizations we highlight in the film are doing this work. I encourage people to find ways to support them.
In the film’s section on Oaxacan wind farms, we see how renewable energy plays out a very similar pattern to coal mining when it comes to land and cultural encroachment. Do you see climate change as exacerbating resource colonization or simply changing its face?
It is both. Climate change is certainly placing all of us in danger, in ways I think most of us cannot truly imagine. And corporations are excellent at changing their image without changing what they do. This dynamic will not change until we shift power in a meaningful way to those on the bottom.
Your film certainly depicts the damage and tragedy inflicted upon Native people and their lands, but there are clear victories in the stories you highlight. What do you consider the most valuable takeaway from recent successful fights against resource colonization?
It was important to me that this film shows the many daily ways we resist and the power of that resistance. It takes so many forms, from prayer to protest, from art to learning language. The most important lesson is that everyone is Indigenous somewhere, and we all have a stake in preserving this planet.
For folks who wanted to support the resistance against resource colonization, how and where would you direct their efforts at this moment?
Start in your own community. This dynamic is playing out everywhere. Find the people who are being harmed most, and listen to them. Those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution.
Read on for more climate-related media recommendations from CCDC organizers:
A Psalm for the Wild-Built
This novella by Becky Chambers is an acclaimed new work in the solar-punk genre: an avenue of science fiction that imagines a future driven by sustainability and interconnectedness. The first book in Chambers’ Monk & Robot series, A Psalm for the Wild-Built chronicles the thoughtful conversations of a tea monk and a robot on a distant moon. This year, it won a Hugo Award—one of science fiction literature’s highest honors. You can order Pslam via Indiebound or borrow it from the DC Public Library.
Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest
An amalgam of natural science, poetry, and memoir, this book by Melissa L. Sevigny explores the promise and dearth of water in the Colorado River Basin. What is the meaning, necessity and future of water in this increasingly dry region? You can order Mythical River from the University of Iowa Press. Sevigny’s new book—about botanists Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter studying the Grand Canyon—is due out in May.