Bo Boudart and Norman Brown


Bo Boudart and Norman Brown

While the environment is a popular documentary film topic, few seem to explore today’s ironic impact of man’s growing demand for energy on the Native people who lived for centuries off of the land.

In a new film, called Power Paths, veteran producer Bo Boudart and first-time documentarian Norman Brown explore grassroots environmental movements throughout Indian Country with a focus on the Navajo, Hopi and Lakota tribes’ Reservations. For Norman Brown, a member of the Navajo Nation who lives in Chinle, Ariz., this is a very personal issue that piqued in him a sense of activism.

“I started in the 70s. I guess too many people in their 20s that’s probably ancient history,” Brown joked in a joint interview with Boudart. “But as a young teenager, you know I’d always been involved in environmental justice issues, protests, occupation, a lot of direct action type protests. Mostly regarding sacred sites issues.”

 His father, who was a Navajo code talker and environmental advocate himself, instilled in Brown the value of justice and advocacy for the preservation of the Navajo people’s land. Mining, oil and uranium issues throughout Indian Country first got his attention and took him all over the country, Brown said. One instance that stands out most for him was a days long occupation of a mining area in Utah that was situated on tribal lands.

It pleases him that now a new generation of young Navajos and other young Native Americans have taken the reins on environmental advocacy through grassroots organization for their people.

“We’re finally being more involved as a grassroots community,” he said of Native peoples. “I’m just really happy and glad that we have young people so intelligent, so savvy in this technology that can understand, that can read and write, that have a great grasp of the future. I mean they’ve done so much in a little bit of time than we did back in the day you know because of the Internet and cell phones…I applaud them.”

Because Brown has ties to the environmental advocacy community within the Navajo Nation, access to interviews was greater than without, Boudart said. Initially, Brown was not a producer but was later asked to sign on to the project.

The idea for the film originated with Boudart, who lives in the San Francisco area and has much experience in producing environmental films. According to his website, he has done documentaries on wildlife, ecology, cultural, educational and science programs that have taken him around the world. One of Boudart’s most recent works is an award-winning story about the Gwich’in Athabascan Indians and Inupiat Eskimos of Alaska who struggle with oil developments on their lands and coasts. Engaging the audience in a discussion about such impacts is important to Boudart.

“What we hope this film will convey for the audience is really a sense that it is really up to every individual who uses energy and who cares for the planet today that each person has to be involved in some way,” Boudart said. “Unfortunately, for most people it comes down to flipping a switch and taking for granted that it’s there. What we see and what we hope audiences will realize and come away with in this documentary is a sense that they are participants in the way that our resources are expended today and the direct impact you can see with what’s happened on the Indian reservations.”

He added, “Native Americans are showing the way of how to look at the land that they live on in a way that they want to see in the future. In other words, they want to have access to clean water and to clean air and to be able to grow their own crops and live healthy on their own land.”

People in urban areas don’t share the same kind of connection that Native peoples on the reservation do, Boudart said. “Hopefully this will give the audience a sense that where their power comes from does matter.”

For example, the film explores the sources of energy in Navajo country that supply the power grids of big cities that many people on the reservation may never see hundreds of miles away. Seeking forms of renewable energy in place of the “dirty energy” to which most Americans are accustomed is a large part of the two producers’ film.

Written by Nancy Kelsey

Interviews conducted by Nancy Kelsey. Edited by Ben Kreimer.

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