Imagine Indigenous and Black people free
to love and live with liberated Land.
Imagine the unique gifts the Land and her people have
to offer future generations.
This is happening now—a groundswell, a watershed moment.
This is happening here—in Northern California
We are dreaming up a feature narrative fictional film, documentary of the imagination, created by land stewards and artists embodying the spirit of this movement, together animating these questions: What happens when you find yourself in the nightmares of your ancestors, and are then invited to step into their dreams? What happens when the wounded land invites you to heal your connection to home, and you accept?
This film is emerging from inspiration gained and relationships strengthened at the Bay Area BIPOC Land Justice Convening in 2019. During this multi-day workshop, a broad network of deep-rooted organizations collectively articulated a 100-year vision for land justice in the Bay Area.
Participants sharing at Land Justice Covening, March 2019 at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. Photo credit: Mateo Hinojosa
Following this Convening, numerous organizational and individual partners continued dreaming into weaving stronger movement towards this vision. Mwende and Mateo Hinojosa, directors of media and strategic storytelling at Sustainable Economies Law Center and The Cultural Conservancy, took inspiration from this dreaming to propose a film with a focus on Indigenous and Black land steward circles in the East Bay and Sonoma County.
This film aims to activate and embody this dreaming, this 100-year vision. It will amplify the work of the circles central to this moment, this place, this movement. It will give us space to stretch and play in our visions.
What do we mean by “participatory narrative building”?
If we want to tell a story about remembering our interdependence with each other and the land; about the beauty of reunion with the land; and showing that Indigenous and Black people can thrive in the aftermath of capitalism, we must practice that story at every level. Our collective story must be collectively shaped.
We are inspired by Indigenous and Black storytelling traditions, which emerge from collective agency and authorship, from the land itself. We don’t tell stories alone in oral cultures. Our stories are communal knowledge — a call and response shaped by the mouths of storytellers across generations and the receptive ears and hearts of the audience. In many African and Afro Diasporic communities, you begin a story by engaging the audience. Mwende's mother Christine shared with her that in their Akamba tradition of sharing riddles, before the taleteller can begin, they ask the audience, “Kwata Ndai?” With which the audience responds, “Nakwata.” The taleteller is asking the audience if they can hold a riddle. The audience responds, “I’m holding.” The audience is now ready to participate in the learning process to uncover the meaning of a riddle. Similarly, this film will call the audience to hold this story with us: to steward the story we are embodying by liberating ourselves with the land.
We also take inspiration from the Law Center's Participatory Budgeting process, which follows facilitator and movement thinker adrienne maree brown’s emergent strategy principle: Trust the People (If you trust the people, they become trustworthy). And we’re moving at the speed of trust. We trust that the land stewards know this story. We’re leaning into multiple ways of knowing, and we believe that knowing a radical story requires radical methods: in this case, embodying it collectively, telling it in a radically different way from the standard non-profit and movement storytelling models, beyond the standard film production model. This is slow media, and the process is as important as the product.
Participants lounging under walnut trees at Heron Shadow. Photo credit: Mwende Hinojosa
We want our shared future to be beautiful and nuanced. We believe that practice of collective storytelling develops the ability to radically imagine into our shared future and enacts our commitment to solidarity. Practice implies rigor; which is fundamental when working with multiple partners. But we also want to play! Playing and imagining allows our bodies, minds, and souls to embody our hopes and dreams, to confront inevitable hardship with bravery.
Gathering on the Land to Listen, Play and Dream
On Friday June 9th, 2023, Sustainable Economies Law Center co-hosted a Participatory Narrative Building Workshop with The Cultural Conservancy at Heron Shadow. Representatives from Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, The Nest, Shelterwood Collective, Movement Generation, The Cultural Conservancy, and Sustainable Economies Law Center were in attendance. We shared a ritual opening led by Redbird Ed Willie from the Cultural Conservancy and Ras K’Dee of The Nest. Every land steward took a turn sitting in a hand-carved storytelling seat to share the story of their land.
Layel sitting in the storytelling chair. Photo credit: Mwende Hinojosa
Mwende offered libations to give thanks to the land and channel the spirit of the story we’re creating together, after which the group gathered organic material from the land to incorporate into a mesa ofrenda in the Andean tradition. The smoke from the burned mesa offering carried our collective prayer for the film to the sky.
After lunch, the group rested under the shade of a circling of black walnut trees, because you can’t dream without rest!
Mateo and Mwende shared the skeleton of the narrative arc we had developed leading up to the workshop, to gather thoughts and feedback. Then we broke out into groups around the following themes— Trickster, Ordeal, Transformation, Reverence, & Homecoming — and how we might imagine them as medicine the characters in our film might encounter.
We used collage, polaroid cameras, poetry, dialog, sitting in silence, and divination cards to help us channel stories within these themes.
Workshop participants build a mesa ofrenda to burn in a ritual fire. Left to right: Bernadette Zambrano, Mwende Hinojosa, Amythest Faria, Mateo Hinojosa, Ras K’dee. Photo credit: Alexandru Salceanu
We’ve been in pre-production now for nearly two years. We’re currently spending the next 10 months fundraising, writing, talking, playing with visionary scenes in collaborations between the land stewards, the filmmakers, and Indigenous, Black, and PoC artists who will facilitate the creation of characters who will encounter and transform the films’ main characters. Most importantly, these next 10 months will be spent listening to the land and each other as the story takes shape. We plan to reconvene in person in Summer 2024 to incorporate all the narrative elements into one continuous arc and hopefully begin filming in Fall 2024.
We’ll be sharing more of our collaborative process, so stay tuned! In the meantime, we invite you to join us on this journey by holding this guiding question in your own life: What happens when the wounded land invites you to heal your connection to home, and you accept?
To tell the story, we have to be able to live it.
Special thanks to Mateo Hinojosa for co-writing and co-editing this piece.