Tahila Xicahuamazatl Mintz is a photographer, filmmaker, artist, educator, community organizer, and healer. Tahila has lived photographing and recording stories of women and communities throughout the Americas, Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, and East Europe. Her work focuses on the empowerment of humans with a focus on women and Indigenous peoples. Recently, Tahila involved herself in the #NODAPL movement centered at Standing Rock and participated and photographed the Native Nations Rise march and 3-day gathering in Washington DC to contest the removal of the encampment, enforce water protection demands, and continue the spirit of resistance.
MeM: As a Native American/Yaqui photographer and documentary filmmaker, can you tell me more about the role that photographers and media creators are taking with current Indigenous resistance movements? And did you feel covering the Standing Rock encampment and Native Nations Rise march in DC?
TM: As the guardians of the land, we are placed in a position where big business, and thus governments, still take steps to try and annihilate and silence us because we stand in the way of the dollar bills and ego driven power they want to attain. With their control of the mainstream media there is no real coverage that could show the evils that they do. Within many indigenous communities, social media is our means to share what is happening internally, between communities, and more potently outside of our communities. From Standing Rock calls went out in a very effective way to generate support, to be seen, to be heard. We, the indigenous nation, said loudly, we are still here and we are going to stand united, peacefully, fighting to protect our mother, Mother Earth, to protect our waters, our peoples and the generations to come. Social media are our smoke signals. We put a message up and out and it is read and seen by people in the distance, who then can share it from their fire to their people and so it can continue.
I believe the amplitude that the call for the uniting at Standing Rock reverberated to can be largely credited to the peoples movements with documentary work and social media that those standing strong on the frontline and also at a distance were participating in.
Within the Yaqui territories in Mexico, the people are also fighting for water, and social media is one front, along with court rooms, demonstrations and other community work. If you look in many communities the same is being done. I believe the amplitude that the call for the uniting at Standing Rock reverberated to can be largely credited to the peoples movements with documentary work and social media that those standing strong on the frontline and also at a distance were participating in. As people of more mainstream media moved to cover the front lines in an honest way at Oceti Sakowin they were arrested and seen as threats. So much never makes it to the news because of all the censorship under the United States government as well as the very corporate nature of mainstream media.
The Native Nations Rise march and the week leading up to it was an important space to be in as water protectors. It gave us an opportunity to share, look at what steps people are making to fight for the multitude of places that are being threatened, to inspire, to learn, to rejoice and to feel sadness. It was important after the camps were cleared to stand in Washington, to speak loudly. We are still here. We are the protectors. We are defending the sacred.
There, we were working together, eating together, praying together, sharing protector to protector, to put our bodies on the line, be incarcerated, give of energy, whatever was needed to be the one to stand up or to support the ones who were on the front lines.
Being at the [Standing Rock] camps feels beyond words to me. It was leaving the sidewalks and the buildings, the construct of the 9 to 5 and individual-for-oneself mentality. There, we were working together, eating together, praying together, sharing protector to protector, to put our bodies on the line, be incarcerated, give of energy, whatever was needed to be the one to stand up or to support the ones who were on the front lines. It was emotionally, physically, psychologically challenging and empowering at the same time. It was incredibly beautiful to be surrounded by those who moved with their heart and did what truly mattered. I don’t think my words can express this feeling. To know that you and those around you are listening and acting on the real truths, the only truths – protect and love our mother so that we can continue to survive.
MeM: During the Native Nations Rise march in DC you joined a meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders. Was solidarity and support communicated or acted upon while at Capitol Hill?
TM: It is always a movement in the right direction to get a meeting on The Hill, especially with a constituent who wants to support you. To get an audience with Senator Bernie Sanders was very exciting. Bernie is an ally and I am not sure that anything will specifically come from the meeting, but every piece is important. The meeting was short and many people were voicing concerns from their communities. He asked about strategies and how do we work together to fight back effectively. The privatization and commercialization of Native lands is within Trump’s plans. Bernie spoke of the general population not being in support of these measures and wanting to be a part of defending the territories from Trump’s plans. How do we communicate with the public what is happening and then what is the next step for the public to bring this to Trump and communicate NO to what he is attempting? This is the question we have all been working to find a solution to. Standing Rock Reservation is not the first place where an Indigenous nation has been taking steps to try to answer this question. It is an important catalyzing place and moment for our generation.
I know more because people are sharing, not keeping quiet. And I know more because I am positioning myself to be present and work for the change I believe in.
MeM: Did you come to any realizations or gain new wisdom through attending the DC protest? And what is something important for the public to understand through your insight and a presence at Native Nations Rise march?
TM: The march was not so large like the women’s march. We have much less population, money and visibility as a “group”. I saw so much beauty and heard so much power in the voices of those around me. I also felt the wounds that our people have across the Americas and how the knives are being dug deeper and deeper. But I know more because people are sharing, not keeping quiet. And I know more because I am positioning myself to be present and work for the change I believe in.
To speak about the march is to ask me about the days leading up to it. A panel discussion of women with a water protector commitment ceremony in the tipi afterward for the women who wanted to step forward, groups speaking and welcoming participation, people uniting, drums, songs, prayer, food and laughter. And then we marched.
To be at Standing Rock was being in my whole heart, broken wide open experiencing the beauty of the land, water, and community in the face of the oil industry and the police state. To be at the march was to be on the concrete of the manicured facade that is the United States while also continuing to celebrate the positivity of being united. It was a joining point to come together before heading off in different directions to continue to do our duties to protect. I felt loneliness and then completely surrounded with the energy that are so many people working to protect.
Every day we have an opportunity to inspire others to commit to being guardians. Every day we can look with our open hearts and clear being to make prayers and take a stand.
Indigenous Women Rise Panel held on 3.8.17 in Washington DC at the Native Nations Rise week long event. Courtesy of Jittoa Productions & Tahila Mintz.
Currently, Tahila Xicahuamazatl Mintz is working on her documentary project, Woman of the Water, which explores the relationships between Indigenous women and water both in ceremony and life. She is also a contributor and builder of the Jittoa Library. For more information visit: womanofthewater.com