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New film honors Indigenous stories of the Grand Canyon

A dark haired woman stands on the rim of the Grand Canyon with uplifted arms
Deidra Peaches
Courtesy of Grand Canyon Trust
Coleen Kaska, a former Havasupai Tribal Council member, at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

This Sunday is the 104th anniversary of the founding of Grand Canyon National Park. But Indigenous peoples have called the Grand Canyon home for thousands of years before the park came into being. A new short film honors their stories. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with Diné filmmaker Deidra Peaches about the documentary, which isavailable online and will play at the South Rim visitor center.

Tell me how you approached telling this story as a filmmaker, it looks like you really went to the Canyon and did interviews right there on the rim or by the river.

It started with piecing together interviews first, so interviewing everyone, and everyone that was in the documentary they chose the location where they felt comfortable being interviewed. The concept of the documentary is pretty much personifying the Canyon itself, as a character. Having that presence, and everyone taking the grandeur of that presence of the canyon, taking that into their own perspective. The mean outcome of the documentary was having the Canyon itself be represented in a way it hasn’t been before. Just because a lot of other films are very Eurocentric, “John Wesley Powell went down the canyon, he was the first guy,” I remember hearing that as a kid growing up in Flagstaff. It was an opportunity to change the narrative, and have it more Indigenized.

Tell me more about that. Why is it important to you? What do you think has been missing from the story all this time?

That It’s extremely important to have Native voices when dealing with anything. As far as these lands here before, these lands that are here now, these are all Indigenous lands. Native people have been here time immemorial. They’ve gotten food, had children, they lived a fulfilled life prior to contact. A lot of Western Eurocentric thinking is that life didn’t start until there was colonization. Which is absolutely false. We know that. We know as Indigenous people that our epistemologies, we have connections to the land, and all of that should take reverence and the understanding where we are in this universe.

I think I read that this film is going to play at the Grand Canyon National Park?

Yeah, it’s exciting. The film is going to be played at the visitor’s center at the national park, and this is momentous because it hasn’t been done before, as far as there being a documentary sharing the perspective of Indigenous people.

What do you hope visitors to the Grand Canyon will take away when they watch it?

I hope they take away the fact that this land is holy to Indigenous people, that when you approach the Grand Canyon, don’t throw rocks down the canyon, don’t yell in the canyon. Treat it as you would, in the Western sense, like a church, treat it as something that’s sacred, something you don’t impose yourself upon. Just be respectful.

Deidra Peaches, thank you so much for speaking with me.

Thank you, Melissa.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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