Women for the Water | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Women for the Water

The latest film from World Muse focuses on water, from an indigenous perspective

For over a decade, locals have had access to a host of experiences that have fallen under the moniker of World Muse. What started as an effort to engage and empower women and girls through student clubs later evolved into a conference, and now, a series of films, all aimed at fostering a spirit of positive change for all people.

As it happens, that effort toward change lent itself well to World Muse's approach to programming, as well. With the advent of the pandemic, World Muse's signature conference moved first to an "unconference" online, and then, last year, to a hybrid in-person and online event.

click to enlarge Women for the Water
Source/World Muse
Acosia Red Elk is a co-producer of the film, "Reflection of Life"

"I like to think we've learned a lot and grown a lot in the last decade," said World Muse Founder Amanda Stuermer in a recent podcast interview with the Source Weekly. "Specifically as a nonprofit working with women and girls, and then realizing that that was really limiting, and that was not an inclusive space. It was around 2016 that we started to open up programming so that it was not just focused on women and girls – we started opening up the conference, not just bringing women on stage, and then also trying to bring diversity in all other aspects."

This year, World Muse is morphing once again, eschewing the conference model and focusing instead on a film centered around the topic of water in the Northwest. This year's film, titled "Reflection of Life," premieres April 20 simultaneously at the Tower Theatre in Bend and the Madras Performing Arts Center. The film's title follows a trend of recent Muse films; last year, Muse debuted several films with "Reflection" in the title, including the film focused on the experiences of local LGBITIA+ people, titled "Reflection of Self."

For Stuermer and Muse, moving away from producing events and into producing films offers a bit of longevity around important topics.

"Films give us something – a tool – that lasts beyond the event. It's something that we can share with other organizations around town that they can utilize to get their message out – to spark more conversations, that schools can use," Steurmer said.

"Reflection of Life," this year's documentary, produced by Jesse Locke and Unlocked Films, centers around the experiences of indigenous people in the Northwest, and how issues of water affect not just local tribal entities, but everyone. The film was co-produced by three local indigenous women: Acosia Red Elk of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Spring Alaska Schreiner of the Chugach Alaska Native Corporation and Bridgette McConville of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. People from seven tribal entities give voice to the film, along with climate scientists and policy makers.

For Schreiner, a Deschutes County farmer and educator who runs the farm Sakari Farms, creating the film came at an ideal time.

"We have spent years pulling back our crops due to drought, wildfire, lack of water access, etc.," she wrote via email. "Our on-the-ground work has helped grasp the reality of how to empower our resilience and create solutions for foraging ahead as we prepare for our next growing season. 'Reflection of Life' carries you on a journey from the native perspective (which is rarely asked or showcased) throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho lands (also South Dakota and Arizona) diving deep into the canyons and pathways of water use and concerns with how it's impacting our survival and right to live in a healthy existence."

Schreiner said her work on the film included filming some of her own farm and its story, as well as documenting the work of other indigenous farmers.

"This will be my debut as a tribal/woman producer. Also, [I] created the connection of bringing in Dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson, the Hopi Farmer on the project. We traveled to the Hopi Nation to film his portion of the project, bridging those important tribal food connections that were historical and are now crucial as we move forward to bring our people to the front of this movement of food sovereignty."

For McConville of Warm Springs, who owns Salmon King Fisheries and served on the Warm Springs Tribal Council for six years through May 2022, the issue of protecting water is also especially acute in the modern age.

"Warm Springs is in a crisis with water. We have a dilapidated system and it's in need of replacement. It's a very costly replacement – millions and millions of dollars to replace," McConville told the Source Weekly. "It's antiquated – there's wooden pipes. There's terra cotta pipes in the system. When it first was built the capacity was for around 600 people that were living on Warm Springs – now there's over 6,000 people."

McConville helped to coordinate interviews with elders and others as part of her work on the film – helping to connect the story of water from an indigenous perspective, as well as being interviewed herself.

For both McConville and Schreiner, the idea behind the film is to spark an interest and a recollection of the value of water in everyone's lives.

"This film is built to be used as an educational tool," Schreiner wrote. "The first step towards change in cultures and policies is education. You have to know the problems and systems in place in order to dismantle them. Through the native wisdom and philosophies discussed in this film we can begin to change the way our society views water. Water is a living entity, not a resource for extraction. These ideas can go a long way in changing the way we view the world around us."

On April 20, during the film premieres in Bend and Madras, filmmakers will be on hand for a discussion afterward. Find out more about "Reflection of Life" and World Muse's other films at theworldmuse.org.

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. While the pandemic reduced "hobbies" to "aspirations," you can mostly find her raising chickens, walking dogs, riding all the bikes and attempting to turn a high desert scrap of land into a permaculture oasis. (Progress: slow.)
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