Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 17, 2015

'Crying Earth Rise Up' Lakotas battle contaminated water and uranium mines

Crying Earth Rise Up Examines the Human Cost of Contaminated Water 
& the Fight to Prevent the Expansion of Uranium Mines
Distributed by the National Educational Telecommunications Association on April 4

         By Vision Maker Media
         Censored News
Elisha Yellow Thunder (Oglala Lakota) waits with her daughter, Laila, during a dialysis session.
Photo by Suree Towfighnia. 
Lincoln, Neb: Crying Earth Rise Up, a one-hour documentary premiering this April on Public Television, is a community-engagement project addressing the impact that modern uranium extraction has on the land, water, and communities. 

Produced and directed by Suree Towfighnia of Prairie Dust Films with consulting producer Debra White Plume (Oglala Lakota), the name of the documentary comes from a belief of the Lakota that Mother Earth needs to be cared for through good stewardship of the land and caring for its natural resources.
The project follows Elisha Yellow Thunder (Oglala Lakota), a young mother and geology student. Elisha is fully aware of the contamination dangers posed by the uranium mines to the vast and precious Ogallala Aquifer. During Elisha's first pregnancy, she drank contaminated water. Today, her nine-year-old daughter, Laila, continues to suffer from serious, life-threatening birth defects and medical abnormalities. Elisha is determined to identify the source of the contamination in an effort to protect her water supply, as well as that of her Lakota people.
Debra White Plume is a grandmother and tireless leader in the fight to protect her people's water and land from corporate polluters. Debra is the lead plaintiff in a case challenging uranium mining on Lakota treaty territory and speaks out about the issue from her own community on the Pine Ridge Reservation to the steps of the White House in Washington, D.C.
The narrative arc of the film follow's Elisha and Debra's parallel search for answers to the questions, "Why are there high levels of radiation in our drinking water? And, how can we protect our families and community against this threat?" They are supported by members of the tribe, environmental activists, and a host of others who have filed a case to prevent the mine's expansion in the region. Balancing the story are local residents and the mine company itself, who claim that the town would fold if the mine were shut down.
As this struggle looms over the Great Plains, Crying Earth Rise Up stands in defiance to contemporary uranium mining assertions of minimal impact on land and water. When nations discuss "green and clean" alternative energy, uranium and nuclear are often touted, however, the discussion never includes the long-term impact of mining.
"We live in a world where 40% of our energy comes from nuclear sources, so uranium mining impacts all of us. Flipping a switch powered by nuclear energy makes you wonder where that uranium comes from," explained Suree Towfighnia.
The practice of in situ leach mining (ISL) involves combining groundwater with a leaching solution, then injecting the solution through plastic pipes into uranium reserves located below or within the water table. The uranium in the groundwater is pumped to the surface to be drawn out and dried into yellowcake. After this process, some of the leaching water becomes radioactive sludge and must be stored at a uranium tailings facility for disposal. The remaining groundwater is then treated by cleaning it through reverse osmosis and re-injected back into the aquifer.
"With 70% of the world's uranium resources being located in the lands of Indigenous people, this topic is especially relevant and pressing to Native communities. Crying Earth Rise Up aims to increase awareness about the timely and critical need to protect water," said co-producer Courtney Hermann.
Bruce Ellison states in the documentary, "Until companies can prove that mining is safe, they shouldn't be allowed to operate in our communities."
Crying Earth Rise Up--which received major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and Vision Maker Media--is an offering of the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA). This documentary will be available to Public Television stations nationwide on Saturday, April 4, 2015, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. This program is suggested for scheduling for Earth Month in April. For viewing information in your area, please visit
About Vision Maker Media
Vision Maker Media shares Native stories with the world that represent the cultures, experiences, and values of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Founded in 1977, Vision Maker Media, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) which receives major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, nurtures creativity for development of new projects, partnerships, and funding. Vision Maker Media is the premier source for quality Native American and Pacific Islander educational and home videos. All aspects of our programs encourage the involvement of young people to learn more about careers in the media--to be the next generation of storytellers. Located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we offer student employment and internships. For more information, visit

About the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA)
NETA is a professional association that serves Public Television licensees and educational entities in all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Since 1967, our reason for existing is to connect Public Television people and ideas, by providing quality programming, educational resources, professional development, management support, and national representation. For more information, visit
Additional Information Regarding Crying Earth Rise Up:
Run time: 56:46
Credits: A Prairie Dust Films Documentary.
Crying Earth Rise Up is a co-production of Prairie Dust Films and Vision Maker Media.
Major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Vision Maker Media. Additional funding provided by Seventh Generation Fund, Honor the Earth/Headwaters Foundation for Justice, and the Indigenous Environmental Network/Western Mining Action Network (WMAN).
Listen to Suree Towfighnia and Debra White Plume's Producer Profile:
Film Pages:
Official Film Website:
Film Facebook Page:
Prairie Dust Films Website:
Vision Maker Media:
DVD Distributor:  Vision Maker Media
 1800 N 33rd Street
  Lincoln, NE 68503

Crew Bios:
Suree Towfighnia is a director, producer, director of photography, and documentary educator from Chicago, Ill. She directed Standing Silent Nation (, a feature that chronicles a Native American family's struggle for economic empowerment by growing industrial hemp on their sovereign Reservation lands. A co-production with Vision Maker Media, it was broadcast on POV and garnered many awards in competitions and festivals. More recently, it has been the centerpiece of outreach and community engagement pushing for legislative change. Her thesis documentary, Tampico, about a low-income Latina street performer, won the Studs Terkel Award for Community Media. As an educator, Suree works in youth media and teaches master classes in documentary making for universities, non-profits, and internationally at EICTV in Cuba. She began the Lakota Media Project (LMP) in 2003 to train Lakota girls and women dedicated to telling their own documentary stories. Suree has been dedicated to working on social justice documentaries and community engagement since 1997. 
Courtney Hermann is an award-winning independent documentary filmmaker and educator from Portland, Ore. Her most recent independent films include Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival (2012) and Standing Silent Nation (2007). Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival (2012) enjoyed a World Premiere in summer 2012 at dOCUMENTA13, in Kassel, Germany, and is currently in film festival and DVD distribution. Standing Silent Nation (2007), which aired nationally on PBS's Emmy®-Award winning documentary series, POV, was favorably reviewed by The New York Times, and won the Audience Award at several film festivals, including the Sedona International Film Festival. The film was featured daily at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. in July 2008. 
Debra was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. She has been involved in Lakota cultural preservation and revitalization work her entire adult life, including work to protect Treaty Rights and Human Rights. She has been an active community organizer around such issues for 40 years, from the grassroots level to the United Nations, where she participated in the drafting of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples and Issues. She lives along the banks of Wounded Knee Creek with Alex, her husband of 30 years, where they raise horses and provide stewardship to the small buffalo herd kept for spiritual and cultural purposes. Debra earned undergraduate degrees from the Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation. 
Sharon Karp has edited documentaries for over 40 years, beginning with the original Kartemquin collective. Among her award-winning films are the Emmy®-nominated Silent Pioneers, Chicago Film Festival Silver Hugo Winner; The Chicago Maternity Center Story; and Return of Navajo Boy, a Sundance Film Festival official selection. Her most recent projects include Standing Silent Nation, a Pare Lorenz nominee; The Innocent, winner of the Crystal Heart Award for documentary feature, about people wrongly sentenced to death; and Burnt Oranges, winner of the Cine Golden Eagle Award, about state terrorism in Argentina during the 1970s. Sharon is the owner of Media Monster in Chicago, Ill., which provides full-service production and editing services.
Since 2002, Rosebud White Plume has studied documentary film theory, technique and production under the tutelage of Prairie Dust Films. As a mother of six, Rosebud is inspired to use media to preserve her way of life through documenting stories and issues that present alternatives to the limited representations of her people by mainstream media. Lakota Media Project (LMP) is Rosebud's outlet for creative energy and professional development.

Reuben is a father/musician/poet/organizer/humanist from the Gila River Nation near Phoenix, Ariz. He documents stories of love and circumstance gathered from the places he's seen or lived. As an emcee (Che Christ), he uses his storytelling skills to bring messages of social justice and respect for all peoples through positive hip-hop music. Reuben teaches writing workshops with youth in urban centers and in Native communities. He collaborates on events that use film, art and music to celebrate contemporary activist movements. As a member of Prairie Dust Films, Reuben works as story consultant, writer, sound recordist, artist, and post-production assistant on feature documentaries.
An initiative of Owe Aku and Prairie Dust Films, the LMP began in 2003 to mentor Lakota youth and women on documentary filmmaking. LMP creates projects that complement social justice and activism work happening on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The work of LMP on different issues benefits the Tribal Nations' population and beyond, through the distribution of educational materials about Native issues from a Native perspective with a Native voice. Although LMP suffered a devastating loss when they lost almost all their equipment, footage, and archives in a house fire in 2007, the stories exist in the minds of participants and their activism continues. Little by little the work goes on. The Lakota Media Project is collaborating on Crying Earth Rise Up. They work on production, editing, and music. 

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