12th Annual Native Spirit Film Festival 11-21 October 2018: Indigenous People and Activism Through Art

Five per cent of the world’s population belong to so-called Tribal Peoples, First Nations, Native Peoples, and Indigenous Peoples. Examples of Indigenous Peoples include Inuit communities in the Arctic, the White Mountain Apache of Arizona, the Yanomami and the Tupi people of the Amazon, Maasai pastoralists in East Africa and many more. These are just a few of the original inhabitants that populate certain parts of the world. Indigenous Peoples have many names and more than 4,000 languages.[2]

For those who are curious about Native cultures and traditions, Native Spirit Film Festival returns this October to promote education for audiences across London about Indigenous art, culture and heritage. Native Spirit is UK’s premiere and only independent annual festival promoting Indigenous cinema and art. This festival attracts a substantial audience from London and beyond, as it presents Indigenous film, Native media and promotes artists. For their 12th festival taking place from 11th to 21st October, the organisers curated a great line up of films from Africa, the Americas, the Arctic, Asia and Pacific, that tells Indigenous Peoples narratives.

Also, Native Spirit Foundation organises additional outreach events that take place throughout the year in collaboration with SOAS Native Spirit Film Society and other organisations. In 2018, the inaugural Native Spirit Taiwan festival, organised and led by Paiwan Indigenous Peoples will take place at Shih-Chien University in Kaohsiung City and Taipei City. The aim of Native Spirit Foundation is to promote education and the protection of rights of Indigenous communities.

Why? Because the human rights situation of Indigenous Peoples continues to be extremely worrying. Due to colonisation, unfair government policies used against them, corporate interests in their land and resources, Indigenous Peoples have been forced to adapt to the dominant culture’s way of life at the expense of their own.

Even though they are surviving the loss of land, language, resources, traditional livelihoods and culture, many Indigenous People still struggle to access to their human rights, such as food, health, housing, and cultural expression. Additionally, in recent years, there has been a worrying escalation in the criminalisation and harassment of, and attacks and threats against, Indigenous Peoples who have been defending their rights to protect their lands, territories and resources.[3]

Because of the continuing violations of Indigenous Peoples rights more attention has been dedicated among the international community to these issues. The current international human rights mechanisms include many instruments for Indigenous Peoples to protect their rights. These include the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples Issues (UNPFII); the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); the Universal Periodic Review (UPR); and some Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures. Additionally, United Nations declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages in order to promote awareness and appreciation of Native languages, that continue to disappear at an alarming rate. These entities, policies, and procedures offer essential opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to advocate for themselves, raise awareness, and protect their cultures, lands, and traditional livelihoods.

But these mechanisms are not the only way that Indigenous Peoples voice their concerns. Due to the fact that art is vital component of Indigenous Peoples lives, Native art is one of the ways that they keep their communities sustained and teach other cultures about their ways of life. From production of tools and clothing to constructing of homes, art is always intertwined. For Indigenous People, art is part of everything.[4]

Indigenous filmmakers control their own narratives, challenge the current status quo and share their stories with the audiences across the globe. Native Spirit offers a platform for Indigenous artists and activists to share their communities’ stories with wider audiences and keep the issues of Indigenous People at the centre of attention. Freddy Treuquil, Mapuche tribe leader and founder of Native Spirit Foundation from the south of Chile stated that:

“All the [activists] have come to the conclusion that one objective of making video, radio and television is for the other culture to know us. It is necessary to create a bridge to share our culture in an educational form, without losing our identity.”

Raising awareness and challenging existing stereotypes through various expressions, including artistic, is key. Indigenous filmmaker Red Haircrow used film to challenge damaging cultural stereotypes and Native American ‘hobbyism’ in Germany. Native Spirit is screening Red Haircrow’s ‘Forget Winnetou! Loving in the Wrong Way’ with a panel discussion on Wednesday 17 October 6-9pm session at Bloomsbury’s Senate House in Room 246. This is just one example of the great list of films that Native Spirit is showcasing this year. (Trailer: https://vimeo.com/263048951 )

Yet, in many parts of the world where Indigenous People live, states and businesses use and capitalise on Indigenous Peoples art. Native cultural heritage, identity, performance, music, food, crafts, and folklore, all of which are crucial for Indigenous communities’ artistic expressions, are represented as part of the state’s national cultural heritage whilst simultaneously neglecting their rights at home. This causes drastic economic disadvantages to the Indigenous communities. Not only does fake and culturally appropriated art divert income, but it also brings into question the authenticity of legitimate Indigenous work.[5]

Additionally, appropriated for profit by those who lack understanding of certain cultural traditions, or do not possess permission to share such expressions, creates a further divide between Indigenous Peoples and the dominant culture.

Cara Romero’s Jenna, 2016.

However, recently there have been initiatives implemented to address this issue. In Australia, systems were created to end the practice of the production and sale of art products and merchandise which misappropriates Indigenous artists and culture for tourism. Those who want to purchase Native artworks ethically and support Indigenous artists should use the Indigenous Art Code and buy from its members. The Code was developed by Australian governmental and non-state stakeholders, including Indigenous artistic associations, and it sets standards of ethical behaviour for art dealers and galleries.

Indigenous Peoples are also driving social change in other areas through their grassroot movements. Indigenous activists organise protests and create educational institutions suited for their communities.[6] Indigenous groups continue to protect and care for approximately 40 per cent of the world’s protected and ecologically intact landscapes.[7] Indigenous women are protesting against climate change, pushing for fossil fuel divestment, and challenge past abusive state policies that affected them.[8]

For those who want to know more, Native Spirit Film Festival will provide more information on these and other topics relating to Indigenous Peoples and their rights. Native Spirit invites you to their 12th annual Native Spirit Film Festival at Bloomsbury, London. Further information and program updates here: http://www.nativespiritfoundation.org. Opening night will take place at Senate House, School of Advanced Study, Thursday 11th October 6pm following a conference on ‘Fulfilling Indigenous Peoples’ and Minority Rights to Culture and Language’.

Book your place for the Opening Night via Eventbrite link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/12th-native-spirit-indigenous-film-festival-2018-opening-night-black-divaz-tickets-42806537506

For further inquiries contact: nativespiritfilms@gmail.com



[1] Lilija Alijeva is a Research Student in Law at the School of Advanced Study (University of London), Research Assistant at the Human Rights Consortium and the Native Spirit Foundation. Her research focuses on minority and Indigenous Peoples rights and their implementation.
[2] ‘The Issues’ (Cultural Survival) <https://www.culturalsurvival.org/issues> accessed 7 September 2018.
[3] United Nations General Assembly, Seventy-third session Item 71(a) of the preliminary list: Rights of indigenous peoples (17 July 2018) A/73/176 para 4.
[4] ‘21st Century Learning – Links to Our Collection: Honouring Tradition: Reframing Native Art’ (Glenbow) 7 <https://www.glenbow.org/media/honour_full_package.pdf> accessed 7 September 2018.
[5] Angela Heathcote, ‘Fake Indigenous art and the Commonwealth Games’ (Australian Geographic, 14 July 2017) <https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2017/07/fake-indigenous-art-and-the-commonwealth-games/> accessed 7 September 2018.
[6] Fred Langan, ‘Indigenous activist Vernon Harper organised a cross-Canada protest’ (The Globe and Mail, 29 May 2018) <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-indigenous-activist-vernon-harper-organized-a-cross-canada-protest/> accessed 8 September 2018.
[7] Monica Evans, ‘Indigenous lands crucial for conservation’ (Forest News, 4 September 2018) <https://forestsnews.cifor.org/57661/indigenous-lands-crucial-for-conservation?fnl=en> accessed 8 September 2018; Paola Totaro, ‘Indigenous People best custodians of threatened forests, studies show’ (Reuters, 21 March 2017) <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-forests-landrights-conference/indigenous-people-best-custodians-of-threatened-forests-studies-show-idUSKBN16S2QA> accessed 8 September 2018.
[8] Katharina Wecker, ‘Indigenous women show the way for banks to divest from fossil fuels’ (Deutsche Welle, 24 April 2018) <https://www.dw.com/en/indigenous-women-show-the-way-for-banks-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels/a-43544987?maca=en-Twitter-sharing> accessed 8 September 2018; ‘Peru’s Indigenous Women Bring Forced Sterilisations Case to UN’ (Telesur, 10 May 2017) <https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Perus-Indigenous-Women-Bring-Forced-Sterilizations-Case-to-UN-20170510-0022.html> accessed 8 September 2018.

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