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Wind River Reservation Video Project

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In October 2005, Video Volunteers worked with The Northern Arapaho Tribal Council on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming (USA) to begin the process of setting up a Community Video Unit (CVU). In this first phase of the project, a campaign video was produced. In the next phase of the project, slated for February 2006, community members will be trained to produce such videos themselves. The reason for producing the campaign video was to give people a voice and to increase participation in Tribal affairs - particularly with regard to water rights. The video project is a central component in a larger awareness-raising water campaign that is designed to alert Tribal people to, and involve them in, critical government issues. Video Volunteers is motivated by the belief that "This Tribe, like many communities around the world, needs to look at its overall communications systems, because two-way communications is critical to people's empowerment and to democracy."
Communication Strategies: 

The two-month project began with the intention of training tribal members to produce the video themselves, with Video Volunteers involved only in guiding the process. However, organisers explain that it proved impossible to find community members to train (a real contrast with their experiences working with communities in India): “We organized numerous meetings advertising the free video training and posted it in the newspapers and on the radio. But people didn’t come forward. There are many reasons for this, prime among, we thought, being the lack of people’s organizations and [non-governmental organisations, or] NGOs working to mobilize and empower people. Another issue was a sort of hopelessness and cynicism on the part of the people, and lack of awareness that the people can play a role in government affairs. In the long-term, these are the very issues the Community Video Unit was meant to address."

"Why is a group of people with the second largest private water asset in the country not able to water their lawns? This is primarily due to a lack of
information, disenfranchisement, and lack of participation. The campaign video is aimed at addressing these three factors." In short, this project
draws on participatory use of video as a tool to give people a voice in decisions on water development. Even though people did not come forward to be trained and most of the camera work and editing was done by Video Volunteers, “we tried to keep the production method as participatory as possible. We set a goal, and reached it, of interviewing at least 100
people for the film. This was to generate a sense in the community that people’s voices DO matter in Tribal decisions. We organized an Approval
Screening, which had a very large turn out, where the people interviewed and other community members would be able to make any changes they wanted to the
film."

In the end, the only Tribal members Video Volunteers conducted trainings with were the Wyoming Indian High School video class, who produced a portion
of the video. On their first day of video polling, the 15-year-old students discovered that most people on the Reservation don't have any idea of the value of this water, and think that the government, not the Tribes, own the water. They gave "F's" (failing grades) to 7 out of their 10 teachers on their knowledge of the Tribes' water rights. The students' research and perspectives were part of the documentary, which features the use of analogies to communicate to their people how much water they own (enough to fill up 300,000 football fields with water every year), and just how
valuable it is.

As part of an effort to reach every one of the 10,000 people on the Reservation with information on what their rights are (and to call them to take action in response to government injustice), Video Volunteers is again capitalising on local participation. To facilitate distribution of the 10,000 copies of the video that will be made, Video Volunteers is asking teachers to provide the video to each student along with a homework assignment to watch the video with their families and to complete a survey that asks them to rate the various options for water explored in the film,
including reservoir-building, bottling, recreation, hydropower, conservation and restoration. The results of the survey will be given to Tribal leaders; the film was also scheduled to be screened in "every possible community venue" - basketball games, supermarkets, health clinics, all the Tribal offices, and water meetings. Video thus becomes a way for a community to push their leaders to take action on their water rights.

The documentary is part of a larger community activism campaign that will involve the Tribal radio station, school curricula, the local press, and use
of billboards and posters. Tee-shirts and bumper stickers have also been designed bear the slogan "Hands off. It's our water!"

In the long term, the CVU is designed to serve as a tool for improving governance and accountability, and increasing participation in Tribal affairs. Still in its early development as of this writing, the idea is that
Tribal members will make videos on community issues and screen them back to the community and to the Council, as a bridge between the two. The plan is to send volunteers for several workshops as a curriculum offering of the Tribal College. The CVU will aim to give people a forum to speak out - especially by amplifying the voices of those who live too far away to ever attend meetings, the voices of elders, and the indigenous knowledge that cannot be written in a report. The project, as currently envisioned, would
involve one staff member running 2 month-long video workshops with different constituents.

Development Issues: 

Water Rights, Natural Resource Management, Democracy and Governance.

Key Points: 

The Wind River Reservation, with an average household income of only US$6,000 a year and 70% unemployment, is home to about 10,500 Northern Arapahos and Eastern Shoshones. These two tribes own and govern this 2.2 million acre reservation with their own sovereign tribal government. With a
total capacity of 1 million acre-feet of water per annum, the Wind River is "one of the most important watersheds in the Western United States....In a situation similar to indigenous peoples around the world who are robbed of their water or displaced for dam projects, the Arapahos and Shoshones have to constantly battle the State and Federal government to use their water."
For instance, in the late 1980s, the State of Wyoming sued the Wind River Tribes; the Tribes ultimately won that case, and were given rights to 500,000 acre-feet of water every year. "But by that point, the Tribes had
spent all their funds on litigation, and couldn't afford to develop with the
water. The result was that the state just kept taking their water anyway. Today, fifteen years later, nothing has changed." Video Volunteers claims that most of the water is either used by white farmers (i.e., discrimination is a key issue), or flows off the Reservation into a dam. People can no
longer fish on the Wind River, Indians with cattle don't get enough water to sustain their crops, "and for the Tribes, water is not just a source of livelihood and sustenance, but it also has significant spiritual and ceremonial value."

A screening of "Our Water, Our Future" was scheduled to take place on December 20 2005 in New York, NY, USA; please see contact information below to request details.

Partner Text: 

Video Volunteers, The Northern Arapaho Tribal Council.

Source: 

"Notes from the Wind River Reservation, Wyoming, USA", by Stalin K and Jessica Mayberry - forwarded to The Communication Initiative by Jessica Mayberry on October 18 2005; emails from Jessica Mayberry to The Communication Initiative on December 9, 17, and 20 2005; and Video Volunteers website.

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