BRASILIA (Reuters) – Indigenous people, health workers and those aged 75 years and older will be at the front of the line to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Brazil’s Health Ministry said on Tuesday as it unveiled a four-stage preliminary plan for national immunization.
People aged 60 to 74 will be vaccinated in the second stage, and those with prior health conditions such as heart or kidney disease would be covered in a third stage.
The final stage, before making a vaccine available to the wider population, would include teachers, security personnel and first responders, along with prison staff and inmates, the Health Ministry said. The four stages would cover 109.5 million people out Brazil’s total population of 212 million.
The ministry said in a statement that the plan would be finalized once it was clear what vaccines were available.
A senior Health Ministry official said on Tuesday that the ideal candidate for Brazil would be a less costly one-dose vaccine that can be transported and stored at temperatures between 2 degrees and 8 degrees Celsius (36-46 degrees Fahrenheit).
Among the vaccines Brazil is considering for eventual purchase, the only single-dose vaccine is under development by Johnson & Johnson’s Belgian pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen. The European Medicines Agency on Tuesday said it had started a real-time review of J&J’s vaccine candidate after preliminary results showed that the shot triggered the production of antibodies and immune cells against the virus.
The ministry said it has so far guaranteed access to 142.9 million doses of vaccines against COVID-19, of which 100.4 million doses are under an agreement with AstraZeneca PLC, and another 14.5 million through the Covax Facility co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi – the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
The ministry said it was in the process of buying 300 million syringes and needles in Brazil and another 40 million abroad.
Brazil has registered nearly 6.4 million cases of the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen past 173,000 — the world’s third-biggest outbreak after the United States and India.
The Health Ministry on Tuesday reported 50,909 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the highest daily case number since early September, along with 697 new COVID-19 deaths.
The country’s state governors and opposition politicians have been pressing the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to draw up a national immunization plan.
For thousands of years, Indigenous communities have been caretakers of the environment, protecting their lands, respecting wildlife and utilizing traditional knowledge passed down through generations.
Today, they continue to safeguard some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Almost 50% of the world’s land mass (minus Antarctica) is occupied, owned or managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities, with roughly 40% of those landscapes labeled as protected or ecologically sound. And though Indigenous peoples comprise only around 6% of the global population, they protect 80% of biodiversity left in the world. Preserving biodiversity is also key to turning around the climate crisis, as these areas are major carbon sinks.
At the same time, many Indigenous communities – especially those in isolated regions – continue to face threats like disease outbreaks, poverty, environmental injustices and human rights violations. Some rural populations may even be facing extinction: one 2016 study followed eight Indigenous groups living in isolated areas in South America over the course of a decade, and found only one group to be growing, while the rest were small and sparsely populated.
“As go our peoples, so goes the planet,” says Nemonte Nenquimo, a leader in the Waorani community in Ecuador and founding member of Indigenous-led nonprofit organization the Ceibo Alliance. “The climate depends on the survival of our cultures and our territories.”
Growing up in the rainforests of Ecuador, Nenquimo deeply respects the flora- and fauna-rich land. Waorani territory spans 2.5m acres and is home to 800 species of animals and birds, many of which are endangered. The forest also acts like a natural pharmacy, producing plants with medicinal properties that can treat everything from wounds to snake bites. One Waorani discovery called curare, a plant extract traditionally used to make poison darts, was developed into a muscle relaxant now popularly used in anesthesia.
Beyond being one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, the Amazon rainforest generates more than 20% of the world’s oxygen. Tropical forests also help slow climate change by acting as giant carbon sinks that absorb and store excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Right now, trees in these forests store roughly 250 billion tons of carbon, although capacity is decreasing as rainforests are continuously depleted, notes a March 2020 study.
Yet, for many years, the Waorani people have had to fight against destructive activities like oil drilling, deforestation and industrial-scale agriculture.
“Our brothers and sisters living in isolation have made the decision to live in the way of their ancestors, but the world is closing in on them,” says Nenquimo. And now, the coronavirus pandemic is threatening the livelihood of Indigenous communities like her own. “The global economy continues to drive poachers, loggers and land grabbers deep into our territories, putting our peoples at risk.”
Advocates like Nenquimo continue fighting to conserve their land. Teaming up with nonprofit organization Amazon Frontlines, the Ceibo Alliance is already paving the way for change after winning a historic legal battle in which the Ecuadorian government passed a ruling protecting 500,000 acres of the Amazon rainforest. Plus, they also set a legal precedent to protect an additional 7m acres from being auctioned off to oil companies.
While Indigenous communities continue to step up for the planet, they can’t do it alone. “We are all in this together. We need the world to recognize this,” says Nenquimo. “This isn’t about Indigenous peoples fighting heroically and risking our lives to protect the land. This is about us all joining together across cultures, races and classes to change the way our global system works.”
One such organization taking action is One Earth, a philanthropic initiative that aims to mobilize capital to solve the climate crisis and keep the global average temperature below 1.5°C. Co-founder and executive director Justin Winters says with every tenth of a degree the temperature rises, the closer the globe is to spinning out of control and launching into what scientists have dubbed the sixth mass extinction.
A key tenet of One Earth’s strategy to curb warming is to restore and protect 50% of all land and seas. “Many people today lack an understanding of our reliance on Earth, its vast biodiversity and ingenious, brilliantly designed systems that have evolved over millions of years to support life,” says Winters.
We have a lot to learn from those who do understand the symbiotic relationship between humans and the earth, Winters says, and we can’t protect the planet without the traditional knowledge and sustainable agriculture practices of Indigenous peoples living in these areas.
“There are leaders like Nemonte all over the world who are fighting hard to protect their lands, their waters, their families, their future – their home,” Winters says. “We have underestimated the power and importance of frontline communities and nature for far too long.”
“The Earth is our teacher, and we are listening to her,” says Nenquimo. “Because Indigenous peoples are so close to the land, we also have a lot to teach the rest of the world about respect for the Earth, and about spirituality and reciprocity.”
As a growing swell of scientific research highlights the integral role Indigenous communities play in environmental conservation, new technologies are emerging that will help to protect them and the regions they care for. One such innovation is the Global Safety Net, a “blueprint” to restore our biosphere, rebalance the global climate system and help prevent future pandemics. The two-year research effort mapped all lands of importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, and determined how these lands can be woven back together through a network of corridors, restoring 350 mega-hectares of degraded land.
“The Global Safety Net is the first ever spatially-explicit framework that highlights sites of particular importance for both biodiversity conservation and carbon storage,” says wildlife scientist Eric Dinerstein, director of Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions at RESOLVE. “It’s a dynamic tool designed to support multilateral, national and subnational land use planning efforts to save life on Earth.” With the overall goal to overcome climate change and restore the natural world, the Global Safety Net aims to prevent a sixth mass extinction event by making our ecosystems more resilient as the planet warms.
The Global Safety Net also recognizes that supporting Indigenous communities is critical to achieving these benchmarks. “We found that addressing Indigenous land claims, upholding existing land tenure rights and resourcing programs on Indigenous-managed lands could help achieve biodiversity objectives on as much as one-third of the area required by the Global Safety Net,” says Dinerstein.
Based on Dinerstein’s research, he says an additional 35% of land areas need to be protected in order to preserve the environment and stall climate change. “Stabilizing the climate and reversing biodiversity loss are interdependent; we cannot achieve one goal without accomplishing the other,” he says. “This must be done within the next decade. The level of planning and foresight needed to properly scale nature conservation requires the emergence of a worldview that embraces the notion of stewardship at a planetary scale.”
Reversing climate change is a massively complex and overwhelming task. And with the deluge of depressing headlines dominating the news cycle, it’s easy to feel hopeless about the future. “Some people question whether it’s still possible to solve the climate crisis,” Winters says. “One of the central and often overlooked solutions to climate change is protecting nature.”
Already people are taking action, and we’re seeing results. Countries are shutting down coal-fired plants. Many governments have committed to zero carbon emissions. Wind and solar power are quickly becoming some of the least expensive forms of electricity in the world.
At the same time, Indigenous peoples’ contributions to conservation are being increasingly recognized. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007, and remains one of the most comprehensive international declarations protecting Indigenous rights today. In 2016, the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. Two years later, the Green Climate Fund adopted the Indigenous Peoples Policy, which recognizes and assists fully engaging Indigenous communities in decision-making related to their land and reducing global warming. And of course, Nenquimo and her fellow advocates’ recent victory securing the protection of 500,000 acres of rainforest is a huge step forward.
When it comes to making an impact yourself, there are many ways to get involved. On a local level, Dinerstein invites people to explore the Global Safety Net app, created in partnership with Google, and find important ecosystems in their local region to support. Replacing lawns with small native wildflower meadows or miniature forests are great ways to help nature, with advocates finding such forests to store up to 40 times more carbon and increase biodiversity by 100 times.
People can also practice conscious consumerism and reduce their carbon footprint by walking, biking and using public transportation, as well as cutting back on meat consumption and only buying products that are sourced sustainably. Get active on the political scene: help change legislation by signing petitions, switching banks and voting for leaders who recognize that we must preserve biodiversity if we want to make it as a species.
We must also recognize that Indigenous peoples are more than just victims in the destruction of their territories. Across the globe, Indigenous communities are quite literally our last line of defense to save the biosphere upon which we all depend. Their land stewardship, moral principles around leadership and relationship with the surrounding ecosystems is what we need to learn from and act upon. Supporting Indigenous-led organizations is especially important, as they could help drive rapid conservation of both land and sea.
Winters adds that you can volunteer or donate to initiatives working on the frontlines – like Amazon Frontlines and the Ceibo Alliance – or contribute to international environmental organizations, including the Rainforest Alliance, Rainforest Action Network and many more. Support calls to action, like the Global Deal for Nature, which calls upon world leaders to establish ambitious goals that both protect nature and restore Indigenous lands for the upcoming UN Convention of Biological Diversity. And, be sure to vote for leaders who advocate for renewable energy and preserving natural land.
“With the power of collective action fueled by optimism, we can do this,” Winters says. “It’s vital that we know it’s achievable and we are motivated to work together to create a future we want.”
Drew Hayden Taylor is an Anishnawbe playwright and humorist.
I’m not sure what exactly it is about the tail end of December, but it’s definitely not a good season for those claiming Indigenous ancestry but are unable to back it up. It was on Dec. 23, 2016, when it was revealed Joseph Boyden, Indigenous darling of the Canadian literary scene, had difficulty showing the secret Indigenous handshake.
Though there’d been rumours for a while, yesterday actress, producer, director and writer Michelle Latimer was accused of something similar. Coming off an amazingly successful year as producer and director of The Inconvenient Indian, a documentary adapted from Thomas King’s book, and creator of the CBC mini-series Trickster, based on Eden Robinson’s planned trilogy, her efforts were the culmination of several decades of hard work in the arts field.
Claiming a lineage originating in the Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi, Que., Latimer was called to task to prove it. It was the community of Kitigan Zibi itself that questioned her connection, forcing Latimer to issue a mea culpa. “I sincerely apologize for naming the community of Kitigan Zibi publicly before I had done all of the necessary work to understand the connection.” Essentially it was family lore, not necessarily family fact.
Sometimes called race-shifting or being a pretendian, claiming Indigenous ancestry without evidence to prove it is a contentious issue in our community. Many are angered by her claims. Indigenous Twitter is incensed by the news, and understandably. The days of Grey Owl picking up the feather and batting his blue eyes at the Canadian public are long gone. We bat our own eyes.
Part of this anger comes from decades of struggle to no longer be considered second-class citizens. It had taken a long time to overcome the many colonial roadblocks set up by Canada and regain control of our own destiny. Once, not that long ago, we were not considered citizens; now we are a powerful force in governments, business, arts and education.
So after all that struggle, for some, it’s now fashionable to be Indigenous. Looking back, I don’t remember there being a line up of non-Indigenous people waiting to enroll in residential schools, singing The Huron Christmas Carol. It’s in. It’s vogue.
Some time ago, I met an older woman who ran an art shop. She told me she was Indigenous, even showed me her status card. Her business card had her spirit name on it … that alone should have been a warning. After some prodding, she confessed she was white and had married into the Nation before 1986, when non-Indigenous women were granted status upon marriage. Ironically, she had divorced the man but kept the card. I guess that’s what you get the woman who has everything.
Everybody talks about white privilege. But there’s also a lesser-known version called red privilege. Funding organizations, arts groups, award establishments, etc. have specific allotments geared for the development of Indigenous talent and enterprise. It’s felt those claiming an unjustified melanin surplus take those resources away from legitimate practitioners of their craft. In the big musical-chairs game of funding, there are precious few chairs available already.
Supposedly there are three stipulations to being accepted into the gracious and open arms of the Indigenous community. First is self-identifying – I eat bannock therefore I am. Second is being identified by the community – I’ve seen him/her eat bannock, therefore he/she is. Third is being able to trace your roots back to a specific area or people – my aunt, back in so-and-so, makes the best bannock. There is also a fourth possibility, being adopted by a person into their nation – I will give him/her my bannock recipe. Michelle Latimer’s bannock status right now is not very encouraging.
This issue is difficult. Identity is difficult. Saying somebody isn’t who they claim to be can be difficult. Conversely, I’ve seen non-Indigenous people partner up with somebody from our side of the path, and suddenly, they’re sweating glass beads. I am frequently worried about the AAA – the Aboriginal Ancestry Assessors, those who find the authority to say who is Indigenous and who isn’t.
I’ve worked with Michelle. She was in a play of mine in Thunder Bay. I found her to be an intelligent, talented and beautiful person. She said she was Indigenous, and I believed her. She still might be Indigenous. Latimer hired a genealogist to poke through the back drawers of Canadian history and has found some evidence of ancestry dating back to the 1700s. I wish her the best of luck. I do not support the vitriol being spoken about her, but I also acknowledge too many unauthorized people have tried to take our voice. Few things are more important to an individual and a people than their identity.
I myself have dealt with similar issues. Just after the Boyden affair, I received several emailed comments questioning my heritage. For the record, I have it on good authority I am half-white, but I literally cannot prove it. Seriously. There is no documentation verifying it. My mother never put my father’s name on the birth certificate. Short of a DNA test, people just have to take my word for it.
Irving’s actions may have had something to do with his first visit to TD Garden since signing with Brooklyn in free agency last year, but the All-Star guard says he was honoring his Native American heritage and plans on carrying out the same ritual before every game this season.
“It just comes from a lot of native tribes,” Irving said following the Nets’ 113-89 win, according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “Being able to sage, just cleanse the energy, make sure that we’re all balanced. When we come into this job, we come into this place, it’s not anything that I don’t do at home that I did today. I saged last game, and I plan to sage almost every game if the opposing team will allow me to.
“But, literally, it’s more or less for us to stay connected and for us to feel great about going to work and feeling safe and provided for from our ancestors. I’m not going to bring too much of the spirituality into basketball, but yeah, it’s part of my native culture where I’m from.”
Irving’s late mother was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. In 2018, he and his older sister visited the tribe and took part in a naming ceremony.
The former No. 1 overall pick has also incorporated the Standing Rock logo onto previous versions of his signature shoe.
Nyungar woman Dr Hannah McGlade has been awarded the prestigious Churchill Fellowship to research the Indigenous Sámi Parliament model.
The Churchill Fellowship is awarded to the changemakers of society, providing opportunities to gain and exchange knowledge with global leaders.
For Dr McGlade, this opportunity will mean meeting with the Sámi Parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland later next year.
The Sámi people are Indigenous Finno-Ugric peoples from the regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland.
Dr McGlade has previously called for Indigenous representation in political affairs, and this pivotal research is expected to do just that.
With regards to Australia adopting a similar mechanism, Dr McGlade said Australia is “looking at a model already” — the much-awaited Voice to Parliament.
Dr McGlade took to LinkedIn to celebrate the announcement of the research fellowship.
“Indigenous representation and political voice is a key human rights issue, as the Productivity Commission report shows, shared decision making is essential to overcoming inequality,” she wrote.
In the meantime, Dr McGlade continues to advocate for justice reform for Aboriginal peoples; recently coordinating a Human Rights Forum on Aboriginal imprisonment at Curtin Law School.
“We wanted to commemorate the significance of Human Rights Day and to focus on the particularly pressing issue of humans rights in our state [Western Australia], and that is the incarceration of Aboriginal people,” Dr McGlade said.
“There are practices happening in prisons that are abusive, inhumane, and breach our international human rights world standards — in particular solitary confinement.”
Dr McGlade said an immediate solution for Western Australia would be to re-establish the Aboriginal Justice Committee and begin work on an Aboriginal Justice Agreement.
She is also pushing for an end to mandatory detention laws, an increase in the age of criminal responsibility from ten to 14-years-old and the abolition of Justices of the Peace in sentencing prisoners for prison offences.
For community members looking to act in solidarity, Dr McGlade strongly encouraged engagement with Reconciliation Australia.
Dr McGlade is set to undertake her research of Sámi Parliaments in 2021, pending COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The Electoral College formally chose Joe Biden on Monday as the nation’s next president, giving him a solid electoral majority of 306 votes and confirming his victory in last month’s election.
At least eight Native people across three states cast electoral votes in favor of Biden.
In Arizona, three of the state’s 11 electors were Native: Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr.
In Washington state, two of the state’s 12 electors were Native. Native American Caucus Chair Julie Johnson, Lummi Nation, and Native American Caucus member Patsy Whitefoot, Yakama Nation, cast votes.
In New Mexico, one of the state’s five electors is affiliated with Laguna and Acoma Pueblos. The name of the elector was being withheld due to security concerns, the state’s Democratic Party confirmed.
Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans Tribal Council, cast an electoral vote in Wisconsin.
The state-by-state voting took on added importance this year because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede he had lost.
Heightened security was in place in some states as electors met on the day established by federal law. Electors cast paper ballots in gatherings with masks, social distancing and other virus precautions the order of the day.
The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside.
The Electoral College was the product of compromise during the drafting of the Constitution between those who favored electing the president by popular vote and those who opposed giving the people the power to directly choose their leader.
Each state gets a number of electors equal to its total number of seats in Congress: two senators plus however many members the state has in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C., has three votes, under a constitutional amendment that was ratified in 1961. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, states award all of their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state.
The bargain struck by the nation’s founders has produced five elections in which the president did not win the popular vote. Trump was the most recent example in 2016.
Also in the 2016 election, Faith Spotted Eagle, Yankton, made history when she received Electoral College votes for president. Robert Satiacum Jr., Puyallup, cast his vote for Spotted Eagle and a vote for Winona LaDuke to be vice president.
The Supreme Court later found states can require presidential electors to back their states’ popular vote winner in the Electoral College.
Independent UN human rights experts expressed serious concern on Friday over the arrest and charges brought against an indigenous leader, for peacefully protesting a political rally held last July at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, located on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation.
Nicholas Tilsen, human rights defender of the Oglala-Lakȟóta Sioux Nation and president of the indigenous-led NDN Collective, is due in court on 18 December, charged with four felonies and three misdemeanours after he and others blocked a road leading to a fireworks celebration event, led by President Donald Trump, which was held on 4 July at the South Dakota site in the Black Hills region.
“Obviously we cannot pre-judge the outcome of the case against Nicholas Tilsen, but we are seriously concerned about his arrest and the charges brought against him in connection with the exercise of his rights as an indigenous person, particularly the right to assembly”, the five UN Special Rapporteurs said.
The independent experts called on the US “to ensure that Mr. Tilsen’s due process rights are respected during the criminal prosecution and recall the obligation to ensure equal protection of the law without discrimination”.
They also voiced alarm over “allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement agents against indigenous defenders, and recent reports of surveillance and intimidation by local police officers following the arrests”.
The 38-year-old was one of 15 peaceful protesters arrested in connection with the political rally – organized without the consent of the indigenous peoples concerned – to celebrate US Independence Day.
Rushmore hosts colossal sculptures of former presidents carved into the side of the mountain.
“I’ve worked hard to make a better way for our people. These trumped-up charges aren’t just against me, they’re against our people…designed to derail our movements. But we stand on the right side of history and we know our ancestors stand with us”, Mr. Tilsen tweeted in August.
Mr. Trump’s rally in South Dakota, one of the states worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, was held without the consent of the Great Sioux Nation.
It attracted some 7,500 people who did not wear masks or practice social distancing, according to a news release from the UN human rights office (OHCHR).
“It is absolutely essential that the authorities do more to support and protect indigenous communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic”, the experts stressed.
“We also call on authorities to initiate dialogue with the Great Sioux Nation for the resolution of treaty violations”.
The experts who raised their concerns were José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism; and Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
The UArctic Board has formally approved Diane Hirshberg (University of Alaska Anchorage) as Vice-President Academic and Kirsi Latola (University of Oulu) as Vice-President Networks. Additionally, current UArctic Vice-President Research Arja Rautio (University of Oulu) was named as chair of the new Academic Advisory Board.
In her new role as Vice-President Academic, Diane Hirshberg plans include “highlighting some of the exceptional academic programming being done across UArctic and identify best practices for offering academic opportunities, supporting the efforts of the Læra Institute to expand Circumpolar Studies programs and courses, and increasing the number of academic offerings across multiple modalities such as short in-person intensives and summer schools, online course exchanges, and joint degree programs across institutions.”
Kirsi Latola has served for many years already as Director of Thematic Networks, and will continue that work as Vice-President Networks. Kirsi explains, “The expanding number of UArctic Thematic Networks and UArctic Institutes increases also the possibilities for collaboration and cooperation between the networks and we have already seen during the past few years that more thematic networks are collaborating and conducting joint activities such as projects, publications or events. I see this as an important step forward also in conducting transdisciplinary projects and engaging further with other Arctic organizations and projects. Increasing networking and cooperation both among the Thematic Networks and with other organizations and projects is one of the main aims for me in coming years.”
In How not to promote Arctic tourism: Why Finland’s Indigenous Sami say marketing their region needs to change, Eye on the Arctic journalist Eilís Quinn explores how destructive Indigenous stereotypes became embedded in Finland’s tourism industry and how the Sami are now working to undo them.
Eye on the Arctic joins four other nominees in the same category : Ha-Shilth-Sa; HuffPost Canada; PressProgress; and Victoria News.
The 2020 COPA winners will be announced online in January on a date yet to be determined. Because of COVID-19, they’ll be no in-person event this year.
Entries are reviewed by a panel of experts from various fields with prizes divided between five sections: academic, business, consumer, media, ethnic.
Established in 2009, the COPAs “bring together all the media brands and companies that are producing content online,” according to their website.
Masthead Magazines, which produces the awards, is based in Ontario, southern Canada. Masthead “is not affiliated with any trade organization or publishing lobby groups,” COPA’s website says.
Eye on the Arctic was previously awarded the silver medal at the 2019 COPA awards in the Best Investigative Article or Series category for Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change, also by Eilís Quinn.
Freeman, host of a six-part documentary series airing on the National Geographic Channel, visited the Navajo Nation to ask poignant questions about God.
His series, “The Story of God,” explores religions around the globe in a journey that seeks to “shed light on the questions that have puzzled, terrified and inspired mankind,” Nat Geo said in a statement. In his series, Freeman attempts to uncover the meaning of life, the origin of deities and similarities among the different faiths.
“Over the past few months, I’ve traveled to nearly 20 cities in seven different countries on a personal journey to find answers to the big mysteries of faith,” Freeman said in a statement. The series premiered April 3, and new episodes air every Sunday. Maysun was featured for about eight minutes during the April 17 episode, titled “Who is God?”
The 50-minute segment also included footage from Egypt and Israel, where Freeman explores monotheism, and to India, where Hindus worship millions of gods. And on the Navajo Nation, he observes the Kinaaldá, during which girls communicate with Changing Woman, one of the Navajo Holy People.
The Kinaaldá is a sacred ceremony that includes several rituals designed to ensure a girl grows into a strong and kind woman. Over the course of four days, the girl bathes, ties her hair back, runs toward the east and bakes a corn cake in an earthen pit. A medicine man performs songs that invite Changing Woman to help the girl enter womanhood. When the ceremony is complete, the girl is introduced to the deities as a woman and invited to take her place in the world.
“I think what Morgan Freeman was looking for was the way we as Navajos experience God’s different types of conversation,” said Michele Peterson, Maysun’s mother. “The songs we sing are saying the girl is coming out as a woman. Because of those songs, we are surrounded by our deities.”
Only small portions of the actual ceremony can be filmed, said Tom Chatto, a Navajo medicine man who performed Maysun’s Kinaaldá. Chatto also acted as a consultant for the film crew, determining which details of the ceremony could be shared on television.
In fact, most of the ceremony that aired on National Geographic was a reenactment, Chatto said.
“The real one, you can film parts of it,” he said. “But for the TV show, we just reenacted it. We just showed the parts that are OK for the world to see.” Even in the reenactment, there were places Freeman wasn’t allowed. Near the end of the ceremony, Peterson pulls a blanket over the door of her hogan. Freeman is left outside.
“The most important thing was to do what was appropriate,” Peterson said. “We made sure we were very respectful, and that meant closing the hogan with a blanket or telling the cameras they had to stop filming.” Freeman did witness some of the songs, the morning runs and the ceremonial cutting of the corn cake. In the segment, Freeman takes a big chunk of the cake and holds it up to his mouth.