Film Presents Consumerism on Indigenous Peoples

The Center for Sustainability Education [CSE] hosted a viewing of the movie “Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss.” It was the third movie in the three part Purchasing Consciously Film Series, which is a part of the college’s efforts to become carbon neutral in 2020.

CSE advertised the movie as “focused on the impacts to the global economy on three different indigenous communities.” Lynh Nguyen ’22, an intern with CSE, introduced the movie.

The movie told the stories of Indigenous communities that have faced relocation and destruction of sacred land by corporations. 

When Papua New Guinea gained independence in the 1980s, they wrote a new constitution that guaranteed protections to Indigenous peoples and their land. 85 percent of the population still live off the land. Only 3 percent of the land is owned by the government. For native groups, the land is sacred. Their rituals and well-being are intimately involved with the environment, especially water. 

The film followed groups near the Ramu river in Papa New Guinea. T of China (MCC) began harvesting for minerals near the Ramu river. MCC plans to dump thousands of tons of mining waste into the ocean. Bismarck Ramu Opposition Group has pursued legal action to prevent the MCC from continuing its hazardous waste that they have the right to, but mining has continued due to widespread corruption in the government.

The film then looked at oil extraction in Canada. Canadian aboriginal groups in Alberta like the Athabasca Chipewyan live on wetlands that hold much more carbon that the average biome. The groups ceded rights to some of that territory in the 1800s in Treaty 8 which was negotiated between various First Nation tribes and the colonizing British Government.

Oil companies deny that they pollute the area, but large amounts of toxins like lead and mercury have been found downstream from extraction sites. This has visible and invisible impacts. There are high levels of physical abnormalities and tumors among fish and other wildlife. And the pollutants contaminate plants and waterfowl which are central to the diets of Indigenous peoples. In one Indigenous community, there have been 20 types of cancer that are often linked petroleum. Despite finding a 30 percent higher rate of cancer than expected, Canadian Governments continue to say there is no connection.

The United States plays an instrumental role in extraction in Alberta. The U.S. imports almost 2 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta and many major US oil companies like Exxon and Chevron extract oil in the region.

Quinn Jones ’23 said she attended because “it’s important to be aware of how we are impacting the environment and how we can make a step to improve what we are doing.”  When asked if she would change her behaviors after seeing the movie, Jones said “I’d like to say I’ll reduce my driving but that’s hard to do. Maybe I’ll try to ride my bike more places.”

Kendra Beaver ’20, who is an intern with CSE, said that she “particularly like[s] this [film] because Indigenous peoples are left out of the discussion.” This film highlighted the “constant battle between people who need of jobs and money and those people being exploited in those conditions,” Beaver said.