Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 28, 2022

Legacies in Film: Zapatistas and Dineh Bennie Klain Inspiring Generations

Marcos in Comandantes

Legacies in Film: Zapatistas and Dineh Bennie Klain Inspiring Generations

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

Subcomandante Marcos tells the story of "why we walk, and "why we die to live." Dineh filmmaker Bennie Klain's films exposed racism and gave voice to the survivors of both uranium mining and John Wayne at Monument Valley.

“We have nothing and that is what causes the movement of our resistance,” says Subcomandante Marcos, in “Caminantes." The documentary tells the story of Indigenous people walking to their homes, villages, and fields.

Directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa of Spain, “Caminantes” (Walkers) includes scenes of the two-week journey of the Zapatista caravan through Mexico as Indigenous rallied for support for human rights.

Marcos said Indigenous people came forward and said, “I am not going with you, I am going beside you. Your voice will be my voice and we know you will not betray us or sell us out.”

Marcos speaks on the power of walking.

“So by walking, the rubbing of the sole of the foot, it acted as if it was a blade lifting up something underneath. We were late to realize this and understand we were not the ones lifting up the earth."

“The earth itself was looking for a reason to rise up!”

The year was 2002 and the place was Sundance Film Festival.

Dineh filmmaker Bennie Klain's “Yada Yada” premiered with “Caminantes."

The Native Forum included Duane Humeyestewa’s “Running on Indian Time,” and Darlene Naponse’s “Retrace”of Ojibway lifeways.


“Caminantes” (Walkers) salutes the Indigenous of Mexico. Elderly Indigenous and schoolteacher tell of Indian children going to school hungry or not at all because they have to work in the fields.

Girls become mothers at six or seven because they must care for younger brothers and sisters, young boys are prepared to leave for labor in the United States where many are lost forever. These are the only options Indigenous children in Michoacan are presented with.

Bennie Klain Photos Courtesy 'Return of Navajo Boy'

Dineh Filmmaker Bennie Klain at Sundance

Bennie Klain’s ‘Yada Yada’ premiered with the Zapatistas’ ‘Caminantes.'

In eight minutes, Navajo independent producer Bennie Klain exposes the racist stereotyping of a right-wing radio show host, then puts it in perspective with the news of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

During the premiere of “Yada Yada” at the Sundance Film Festival 2002, Klain said the events of September 11 serve to trivialize earlier claims to ownership of land and racial divisions.

America, he said, is in need of a global world perspective.

“When I wrote this, it was in reaction to September 11. There was a surge of patriotism that was just phenomenal.

“What the American public doesn’t realize is when the British first came over here, they were trying to escape the British identity. They took on this new identity to separate themselves from England.”

Americans then laid claim to American Indian ancestry.

Klain said, however, that there is a duality in America. For instance, when funds are cut in the federal government, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is usually first on the list to lose dollars.

Radio, the setting for his potent film, is something Klain knows. After working at KTNN from 1997 to 1999, he began his studies for a bachelor's degree in film production at the University of Texas.

Klain was at Sundance for a second time after co-producing “The Return of Navajo Boy." This film focused on the dual tragedies of uranium mining and John Wayne's filmmaking at Monument Valley. Klain presented it at Sundance in 2000.

“There is a huge support group. I feel like I’m at home here at the Sundance Festival,” Klain said during a filmmaker reception at the Yarrow Hotel.

Awaiting the arrival of his mother, Marie Walters from Tonalea, Klain said she didn’t quite understand what Sundance was about.

“I don’t think she quite understood the magnitude of being at Sundance, until I told her about Robert Redford being here.”

Chiapas Media Project

Films by Indigenous in Chiapas and Guerrero Inspire Dineh, Hopi and Dakota

When the videos stopped rolling, in the audience at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, Navajo, Hopi and Dakota said the time has come for indigenous to tell their own stories with video.

“The time has arrived to exchange machetes and machine guns for video cameras,” said world-renowned Navajo painter Shonto Begay.

“The lens tells the truth as opposed to what the government continues to fabricate,” Begay said.

The year was 2004 and it was March. Spring was coming.

In the films, Mayan women in Chiapas and Tlapaneco corn and bean farmers in Guerrero tell the stories rising from the blood of the struggle for autonomy and dignity in Mexico.

The three videos screened told the stories of emerging self-government in Chiapas, the music of the heart of traditional Mayans, and the creation of indigenous Community Police in Guerrero halting murders, assaults, and rapes.

Alexandra Halkin, the coordinator of the Chiapas Media Project, said videomakers are now producing a documentary about two indigenous women gang-raped by the Mexican military in Guerrero.

“What is important is that we are documenting it,” Halkin said. “It happens every day, every week, every month.”  Young indigenous women are raped in front of their families by the military.

Halkin told hundreds of students, activists and professors in the university library that the Zapatistas have been the most documented indigenous people in the world, in print, film and audio.

There is, however, an enormous difference in the story when told by the people themselves.

“The communities never portray themselves as victims. They portray themselves as survivors.

The videos in Chiapas and Guerrero emerge, not from an independent videomaker’s vision, but from the collective vision of the indigenous community.

“Guerrero is more violent than Chiapas,” Halkin said of the oppressive and unrestrained military, judicial police and drug trafficking. Guerrero is the number one exporter of heroin.

Indigenous are the victims of constant homicides, assaults and rapes. When the Tlapaneco and Mixteco began to organize in the Costa Chica and Montana regions, they were robbed, beaten, raped and murdered.

The Mexican government, however, considers the indigenous Community Police illegal. “The government has tried to shut them down,” Halkin said.

The Chiapas video “Caracoles, New Paths of Resistance,” celebrates the birth of the Zapatistas’ new self-governance, filmed in Oventik in August 2003. It shares the message of “building a new world with accomplices all over the world.”

With traditional music and scenes of an indigenous women’s basketball game, the Mayan-made video includes the announcement that alcohol will be banned and vehicles searched for drugs, weapons, and contraband in the new Zapatista self-government.

In the video, Zapatista comandantes urge fighting without surrender in the struggle for dignity and justice.

Comandante Fidelia speaks of respect for women. “This is going to be compulsory.”

Comandante Tacho tells of the suffering of the people. While prices rise, coffee and corn farmers are paid less and mocked for their work. Controlled by high-interest rates, he said, “They have held us captive with cruelty.”

The video ends with a plea for the hearts of the people and a reminder that the eyes of the world are watching.

“Son de Tierra, Song of the Earth,” video shares the traditional guitar, harp and gourd rattle. The elders make a plea to keep traditional music alive. It is told in the Tzotzil and Tzeltal languages.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Dine’/Dakota activist and musician Hunter Redday after the video screenings.

Redday said the connection between indigenous movements in the United States, Canada and Latin countries has been ongoing in the struggle.

“Not many people know that the underground people have been collaborating between Big Mountain and Chiapas.”

Lilian Hill, Hopi from Kykotsmovi, said the videos sound out the strong voices of indigenous women.

“Seeing indigenous women in Chiapas having that voice is very powerful,” Hill said.

Roberto Nutlouis, Navajo from Pinon and cofounder of Navajo and Hopi youths Black Mesa Water Coalition, said it was empowering to see people with so little means in Chiapas and Guerrero making such an impact.

Nutlouis said even though the government’s attempts to oppress the people, indigenous people are rising up in self-determination and self-governance.

Klee Benally, Navajo, told the audience that in Flagstaff indigenous people have organized the Save the Peaks Campaign to protect San Francisco Peaks, held sacred by 13 Indian tribes, from a plan to use recycled water for ski snowmaking.

“There are indigenous struggles going on here right now.”

During these years, the Mexican Congress deflated the indigenous rights bill and removed key language about indigenous land ownership.

The low-intensity war in Chiapas is ongoing with paramilitary recklessly killing whoever they please.

Chiapas Media Project

Marcos: "To live, we died"

“Caminantes” reveals music as a part of historical memory, carrying the memory of how to listen, the stories of the seasons, the magic of victories.

In closing, rebel poet Marcos explains why the Zapatistas have worn ski masks since the movement for Mayan village autonomy and dignity became public in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas in 1994.

“To make them see us we had to cover our faces. To make them give us a name, we had to deny our names.

“We carry the present to have a future, and to live, we died.”

Read more about 'Return of Navajo Boy' and surviving uranium mining and John Wayne at Monument Valley

'Return of Navajo Boy' Bennie Klain voicing secrets

Watch the film 'Caminantes' on YouTube (Michoacan, 55 minutes)

Copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News. May not be republished without written permission.

No comments: