This May, the ArtPlace blog is exploring healing: specifically, people and projects who are engaging arts and culture to help communities reintegrate and rebuild after histories of trauma, injustice, and in-fighting.

The inspiration for this month’s theme came from the Navajo and Hopi filmmaker Angelo Baca, who is also Cultural Resources Coordinator for the conservation organization Utah Diné Bikéyah and a PhD candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at New York University.

In 2016, Baca released the documentary film Shash Jaa’: Bears Ears, which introduces the story of the five Native American tribes who banded together—putting aside histories of disputes, bitterness, and distrust—in the fight to save their Utah homeland by making it a national monument.

Last week, Baca co-presented the workshop “Healing Through Self-Determination and Cultural Revitalization” at the ArtPlace 2019 Annual Summit in Jackson, Mississippi. In February, at the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit West (CPLS West) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he was interviewed by Andrea Orlando, Community Director for the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking.

In the resulting podcast, “Creative Placemaking Preservation of Sacred Indigenous Land,” Baca describes the formation of the tribal coalition his film highlights, and speaks to its role in community healing—and legislative victory—in the Bears Ears region:

“Really, three Navajo filmmakers made this possible [Baca, Shonie Delarosa, and Teresa Montoya]. We were just covering the very beginning of what was starting to happen with Bears Ears; that was the early stages of the five-tribe coalition: trying to make a monument push with the Obama administration, to its ultimate success in 2016.

“So of course it was capturing a moment in time where all these great connections were being formed; all these tribes were actually working together; sitting side by side. I’d never seen that before. I’d lived there my entire life. And I was blown away. I was completely surprised. Not just because the story was forming right before my eyes, but when we sat in the room, you actually felt the power of people’s passion and their love for the land and for each other. That they knew there was no way forward except together. It was a matter of necessity, but it was also a change in the emotional and mental interaction. That had never been something I’d felt as palpable as during the time that we were shooting. ... I thought that was one of the most beautiful times I’d ever seen, with our nations coming together like that.”

Baca screened Shash Jaa’: Bears Ears at CPLS West. You can listen to his opening remarks and closing Q & A.

To learn more about Bears Ears and the community-led advocacy effort to preserve it, read Baca’s op-ed in The New York Times. His closing lines especially resonate with us at ArtPlace: “This message, we hope, will get through to every person who has ever experienced the power and the gift of a place: ‘Bears Ears speaks. Listen.’”