This short film The Hunt, by Sanjay Rawal, follows two characters from his feature film Gather—Chef Nephi Craig of the White Mountain Apache Nation and master forager Twila Cassadore of the San Carlos Apache Nation—as they work with Indigenous foodways to promote processes of healing and recovery from historical trauma. The following op-ed written by Sanjay and the film’s executive producer A-dae Romero-Briones (Cochiti/Kiowa) emphasizes the power of strengthening traditions and relationships with the land.
A Restorative Revolution
We often refer to ordinary citizens collectively asserting their rights as movements. In the food justice world, there are movements for food security, for farming rights, for inclusion and diversity, and countless other ones, all no doubt important.
Indigenous people speak of foodways and collective action through strengthening traditions and relationship with land and each other not as a movement, but as a responsibility given in the original agreements that granted humans permission to live in this world. The duty to exist in balance with one’s environment, to use resources as well as to regenerate them, and the journey to spiritual oneness through these activities have been realities since time immemorial. It is only in the context of contact and colonization that Indigenous people have needed to frame food systems in binary terms: of losses and gains; of allocating resources to some and not others; of working for individual survival and benefit rather than for the good of all; moving in one direction as opposed to another.
Indeed, that binary perspective drove colonial empires to extract land-based wealth to a degree never before seen. These empires, in their dominion over nature and the environment, created destructive practices but generated enormous wealth in a system that had little consideration for life, Indigenous or otherwise. Armed with imprimaturs from the religious dogma later codified into treaties and constitutions, these extractive capitalists laid the foundation for the twenty-first-century imperialist economy.
We are in the era of the fourth major agricultural revolution, where calories have profound economic value and where the higher quality calories are reserved for those who can afford them. Yet, Indigenous people see sustenance everywhere. Indeed, our local food systems recognize the extraordinary diversity Turtle Island offers—from fish to game to crops to herbs, which we have harvested with a dizzying array of techniques forged over millennia. But in a system that takes high-value calories and sends them to customers based on economic variables, society has witnessed the decimation of salmon, of buffalo, and heirloom corn, to name just a few. Our society is only now recognizing the value and role of our trees and their roots, the salmon and their runs. We struggle to revive herds of buffalo that balanced the entire continental biosphere. We eke out meager livings as farmers under the shadows of massive dams created to benefit populations hundreds of miles away.
And it is in this context that Indigenous people reassert rights to gather, hunt, fish, and cultivate food as we always have—using time-honored traditions that establish the spiritual, the communal, and the personal value of food. This is food sovereignty: the restoration and rebalance of the interconnected web of relationships that sustain life on Earth.
The feature documentary Gather, on which the short film The Hunt is based, explores the stories of Indigenous people who are connecting with their original foodways and in doing so seek to reverse the devastation of colonization, specifically the destruction of physical, psychological, and spiritual health caused by the Western diet and food economy. However, the characters in our film, as well as gatherers across Indian Country, are constantly being threatened with fines or imprisonment (often by state Fish and Wildlife agencies) as they seek to live in balance, to feed themselves and their communities, and to live outside of a Western binary system of winners and losers.
We remember a world where everyone, including the earth, thrived. But in a system that seeks to destroy our ways, we feel the fundamental urgency to restore our own well-being first. Only when we thrive can we can help our lands and water into a new era of collective environmental and spiritual prosperity.
The Hunt is adapted from the feature documentary film Gather, now available on iTunes and Amazon. To learn more about the film visit gather.film.