Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 30, 2015

Mojave Desert Natives Expose Dark Side of Solar

By Robert Lundahl

"Who Are My People?" Debuts at Three Film Festivals

When Green is Not Sustainable: Native Elders Fight Energy Development on Sacred Lands in the West

"Who Are My People?" by documentary filmmaker, Robert Lundahl, poses a conundrum for audiences. How can energy plants proposed to mitigate atmospheric carbon and fight climate change be so bad for the environment and for people? The film is revealing of contradictions in federal policy and law, and the difficulties Native Americans face in protecting antiquities. 

The film has been accepted to three festivals. The Joshua Tree International Film Festival, and the Tulalip Tribe's Hibulb Film Festival, where it played in September 2015, and the Red Nation Film Festival in Santa Monica/Los Angeles, to be scheduled in November. Check the website for the schedule as it is announced - DVD copies are available for education/libraries and for home use, on-line at and Public performance rights are available. Please email the filmmaker

To Alfredo Figueroa, Chemehuevi cultural monitor and founder of La Cuna de Aztlån Sacred Sites Protection Circle, federal decisions to site energy plants in the desert are nothing short of disaster.

The giant Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, outside Las Vegas, has been shown to devastate the birds of the Pacific Flyway. It is also built atop the route of sacred pilgrimage, atop altars, and cultural resources, on the old Salt Song Trail, sacred to the Southern Paiute, Chemehuevi and Uto-Aztecan peoples.

The National Congress of American Indians has stated in its Resolution #LNK-12-036:

"Whereas, BLM, as a result of its fast-track process, has failed to conduct meaningful consultation with Tribes, particularly with CRIT (Colorado River Indian Tribes), and has taken actions that violate federal laws which include provisions designed to protect Tribes' sacred places and cultural resources, such as the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act..."

Dr. Alan Hoffman, advisor to 5 presidents, states: "What all this comes down to in my mind is a clash of values: a people's religious beliefs and culture (which are hard to argue with) vs larger societal issues related to energy and climate. Not an easy balance to achieve."

Who Are My People? features a scene in which Figueroa, Mojave Hereditary Chief Reverend Ron Van Fleet, and Chemehuevi Elder, Phillip Smith, lead a group to the top of Metamorphic Rock, where trails converge, just outside Ivanpah's boundaries.

Here are triangular altars, shaped like arrowheads, that point in the direction of Clark Mountain to the West and Spirit Mountain to the East. Clark Mountain is the site of purifying hot springs, and Spirit Mountain is the center of creation for all Yuman and Hokan language speakers. The mountain, a Traditional Cultural Property, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 8, 1999.

In the film, Lowell John Bean, Ph.D. explains that for all cultures, "history becomes religion," and he places Native opposition to the building of large, renewable, solar plants into context, as the tribes of many different language groups fought "Termination" policies of the US Government in the 1950s, and residential schools in the 1960's, to which Indian youth were compelled go. The residential schools forbade tribal children from speaking their language, and according to Bean, enacted a deliberate policy of the US government intended to "deculturate" tribal peoples.

For filmmaker Lundahl, who made two previous films with Indian communities in Washington State, "Unconquering the Last Frontier," and "Song on the Water, "Who Are My People?" carries on a commitment to recording the history of the interactions of tribes and the federal government over energy. "I had worked on a documentary dealing with the conversion of military bases in California, in 2009, and was introduced to CAre, Californians for Renewable Energy. CAre asked if I would consult to help the organization prepare a legal complaint v. the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and six of the first 10 Utility-Scale renewable energy plants in California."

Plaintiffs Alfredo Figueroa (Chemehuevi/Yaqui), Reverend Ron Van Fleet (Mojave Hereditary Chief), and Phillip Smith (Chemehuevi), became the subjects of the film.

Lundahl's camera follows these Native Elders (Figueroa worked alongside Cesar Chavez and with the UFW, United Farm Workers), and all, including Quechan elder Preston Arrow-Weed, are known as "Ward Valley Veterans" for their actions in stopping the construction of a nuclear dump site along the Colorado River at Ward Valley.

"Who Are My People?" is a work of history chronicling a generation of Indigenous leaders who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s; now elders, they fight what is perhaps their last battle.

As we see in the film, these elders have quite a bit of fight left in them. Two of the projects that impact tribal lands come to an inglorious end for developers before the camera's lens. 

For more information about "Who Are My People?" visit For more information about filmmaker Robert Lundahl and RL | A visit


Robert Lundahl

Robert Lundahl & Associates
Skype: robertlundahlfilms


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