Review of “Exploring the American Urban Experience in Yelamu” Watch Party
The SF Urban Film festival features and highlights the myriad experiences of marginalized communities in San Francisco. The curatorial statement for the 2021 festival, “Wisdom Lives in Places”, is poetically explained with writing that merges the struggle and resilience demanded of 2020 with the city streets and earth’s bedrock. The ties between people and places of their co-creation are honored and celebrated as the substance of the city. The tone of the films are positive and hopeful even while bringing awareness to events, policies and projects that undermine what is truly valuable—human connection and love for home. The festival’s website homepage, as well as the introduction to each film, includes a land acknowledgement that recognizes non-Indigenous people on the San Francisco Peninsula who are uninvited guests on Ramaytush Ohlone homeland. While land acknowledgments have become scripted and expected at all socially aware events in the Bay Area, the film festival followed through on their words with action through programming and uplifting Indigenous voices. This is present throughout the festival, and is given full expression at the watch party titled “Exploring the American Urban Experience in Yelamu.”
The main feature of the watch party “Exploring the American Urban Experience in Yelamu,” was the impressive panel discussion following the films. The screening portion of the event included two short films and an excerpt of “Beyond Recognition.” One of the shorts was a film called “The People’s Home,” which documented a recent re-creation of a poignant memory one panelist later shared. The film captures Indigenous youth led by an elder erecting a teepee on Alcatraz Island. The ceremony, as well as the structure, commemorate the occupation of Alcatraz 50 years earlier, when the elder leading the youth was himself a youth erecting a similar teepee in the same place. The ritual and story of it told and retold in different times is reminiscent of all the undocumented memories and rituals that may have taken place in the exact same location for thousands of years, and invokes the memory the land has of the people.
Getting to watch the panelists talk with each other was a true honor and privilege. Personally, it was my first opportunity to hear Indigenous leaders, artists and activists speak candidly with each other about their experiences, disappointments, joys and hopes for their collective future. I was deeply touched by the way Sharaya Souza (Executive Director of the American Indian Cultural District (AICD)) spoke of creating family among all Indigenous people living in San Francisco, and exemplifying this process in the way she referred to other panelists as “brother”, “sister”, “grandmother.” In turn, Mary Travis Allen (AICD Board President), thanked Sharaya for bringing the energy of youth to the AICD, as she reflected candidly on personal and collective trauma which included specific heartbreaking examples of aggressive racism. She also shared the evolving local Indigenous activism she has witnessed and participated in, and her expectations for the future. Mary’s reflection on the importance of the occupation of Alcatraz was echoed by Peter Bratt (filmmaker and AICD Board Member), who shared a poignant memory of helping to erect a teepee on the island as a young boy. The theme throughout the film and discussion centered on the importance of rooting in ancestral traditions for strong cultural identity and spiritual health. The spirit of this and the tone of the discussion were poetically encapsulated in the words April McGill used to speak about powwows, elders and intergenerational gathering on sacred sites. “You can’t wipe out 150 years of trauma,” said Gregg Castro (AICD Board Member) “You also can’t wipe out 1500 years of heritage!” All panelists nodded or snapped in agreement.
The films and the discussion, while touching on hardship, were immensely positive and hopeful about the impact and potential of various ongoing struggles for cultural autonomy in an urban context, and strategies for achieving it. The struggle and effects of disconnection from homeland and family are being overcome through efforts such as the AICD, and before it by the American Indian Cultural Center. The abysmal lack of political recognition and systemic respect is being overcome with an upsurge of highly educated Indigenous people claiming what has not been given. The affecting tragedy of sacred burial grounds being paved over by parking lots and eliminated with skyscrapers was overcome with hope for reclaiming sacred sites across the Bay Area through efforts such as the Sogorea Te Land Trust, a women-led collective reclaiming land one parcel at a time.
Maya Amichai is an American/Canadian/Israeli Queer Trans entry level planner and a rabbinical school dropout. They are comfortable with wandering and currently live on Karkin/Patwin/Muwekma land in Vallejo.
For information on how to pay your Shuumi Land Tax to Sogorea Te' Land Trust please visit: https://sogoreate-landtrust.org/
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