As women marched in cities around the world on Saturday, January 21, the Sundance Film Festival had its own women’s march, led by Chelsea Handler in Park City, UT.
Sarain Carson-Fox, host of Viceland’s new series “Rise,” participated in the march before her own screening of episodes of the series.
When director Kimberly Pierce spoke about protecting women’s bodies — listing Muslim bodies, African-American bodies, transgender bodies and more — Carson-Fox took the opportunity to remind her to include Native Americans. As she points out, indigenous women are in dire need of our help and protection, but are often forgotten.
“Rise” chronicles several different movements of resistance by indigenous people, including the current Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Apache Stronghold protesting the handover of Oak Flat to the Rio Tinto mining company in 2015. Host Carson-Fox is a spokesperson for indigenous peoples, including Canadian First Peoples. She comes from Anishinabe heritage, north of Toronto, where there are still water crises and pipelines threatening indigenous communities.
Carson-Fox spoke with Screener the evening after the Sundance Women’s March about the issues involved — and the Viceland series, which premieres Friday, Jan. 27 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Edited for clarity and length.
Would you consider covering this continuing women’s movement for “Rise,” since it includes Native American women’s rights?
On that topic, I don’t think the march today or the march in DC had anything to do with indigenous women — and I think that that is extremely problematic. There wasn’t even a single mention of indigenous people in any of the speeches today. We’re in Ute territory, and as an indigenous person I’ve always been taught you acknowledge the land where you’re staying. I think it’s really important that we remember indigenous women, and remember how indigenous women have been caretakers of this land since time immemorial. I was actually having hard time with that.
Didn’t Kimberly Pierce include Native American women?
She did — after we yelled out in the front row, “Native Lives Matter” — that was me. I yelled that out.
Oh, so the people in the back couldn’t see the whole story!
What they said was, “Muslim women, black women, transgender women, gay women, Asian women,” and I yelled out, “Native women.” And they said, “Sorry! And Native American women.” That’s a narrative that I’m really used to. We are always a second thought. We are always the afterthought. That’s why “Rise” is so important, because “Rise” puts indigenous women first.
That’s an important issue that keeps coming up. Some men seem to feel Women’s Marches threaten their masculinity — how does one start a conversation to say no one’s taking anything away from you, we just want equality?
I think acknowledging someone else never is a threat to one’s own [power]. That’s a very colonial perspective, and I think that’s why we’ve seen the struggle that we’ve seen in North America — because there is this belief that something different than you is a threat to you. As indigenous people, I don’t think that’s there: We’ve always had this idea that we are a part of the earth, and we are a part of each other and we — at the very minimum — have to come from a place of respect. But it’s difficult.
In “Rise’s” Standing Rock episodes, protesters draw parallels to the occupations at Alcatraz and Wounded Knee. Do those parallels pertain to any Native American protest?
No, I don’t think so. I think Standing Rock is unique in a lot of ways. I think it’s problematic to describe all fights as one fight.
In the same way, I think that we as indigenous people inherently see our stories as connected. But we also, as indigenous people, acknowledge that everyone’s land comes with their own ceremony, their own fight. I think that’s what was so important at Standing Rock: That the Sioux people make that plea the center of the movement.
I think what happened was that so many people tried to come and stand — I think Standing Rock was the first time that we saw so much solidarity — which was really, really amazing, but it was also really problematic, because indigenous people still need to be at the center of the fight.
…We didn’t see that in Alcatraz. We didn’t see that in Wounded Knee. At Wounded Knee and Alcatraz, they were indigenous fights, and they really weren’t infiltrated by any other nations or non-indigenous people. So I think Standing Rock is really, really different — because it was so big and there was so much solidarity. For me, as an indigenous person and not being Sioux, it even was very hard for me to understand how to navigate that solidarity.
I think that also Alcatraz, Standing Rock and Oak Flat… I think the parallels are often that you see the same leaders going between all those fights. You see Nataanii, the son of Russell Means — all these parallels. You see the same people, and you see the next generation. Like we’ll see Wendsler [Nosie, Sr.] but Naelyn [Pike] will be the next voice, and I think that she probably will stand in many occupations. So these struggles are getting passed down, and this formula of occupation and resistance is being passed down.
Your director Michelle Latimer told us about episodes on Navajo MMA fighters, and the hip hop group Savage Family. Did you know about those subjects before the episode?
MMA: I knew about fighting in the south, but not MMA specifically. I know the violence against indigenous bodies and the violence in communities in the Southwest is rampant. We see some of the most marginalized communities and the Navajo nation also being the largest. Gallup has a very intense history of a lot of struggle and a lot of poverty, and a lot of indigenous uprising coming also from that. So I knew about all of that struggle.
[But] Savage Family blew my mind! I’m used to the extreme, I’m very open to all forms of resistance, and I definitely grew up with the idea that you should decolonize. I’ve never stood up for a national anthem, I was never allowed to — I always left the classroom — so I grew up with this idea that I’m not American, I’m not Canadian, and that I don’t adhere to those governments… I identify as an indigenous person. So Savage Family, to me, was on the extreme level of that. It caused me to question all of my standards, and all of the things that I let slip by. I really had to see how colonized I still am — and how much work I have to do, how much work we all have to do.
What other Viceland projects are you working on?
Well, “Rise” is just about to premiere, so we just finished that. I’m actually a dancer, contemporary dance, so I’ll be going back into my dance world, and then I’ll be working another TV show for APTN, Aboriginal People’s Television Network.
Last spring, Viceland produced a documentary called “Cut-Off.” We went out to Shore Lake 40, which is a community that is cut off. It’s a manmade island, their community was separated from the mainland to create an aquifer to deliver water to Winnipeg.
So we went and spent the day with Justin Trudeau and the community. I had the opportunity to ask him some questions. He’s made a lot of promises to indigenous people. He made those kinds of promises again — and to see him approve pipelines after promising to make water a priority, I find it very interesting that people are still standing up and saying that he has kept his word, because for indigenous people, he has definitely already violated all of the things he’s promised us. He got a lot of indigenous people to vote for him based on the promises he made. So I think he has another three years to turn that around, but approving those pipelines is not a step in the right direction.
What action might you be taking in the next few years to protest destructive policies?
I don’t know what protesting is, but I am definitely interested in protecting. I think that the community and the people are going to tell us where we need to go. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be the environment that dictates where we need to be: There are some places that don’t have any time to wait.
You can follow Sarain at @sarainfox. The eight-episode “Rise” airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Viceland.