By Maddie Hellwig
The Athena Cinema’s Fall Sustainability series kicked off on Sept. 9 with “The Condor and the Eagle,” directed by Clement and Sophie Guerra. It follows different Native American environmental activists on their journeys of connecting with other tribes and world leaders, all in an effort to preserve the environment and their homes from damaging oil companies.
The film’s title is rooted in the ancient Native American saying, “When the Eagle of the North and the Condor of the South fly together, Indigenous peoples will unite the human family.”
This unification is demonstrated when Indigenous leaders from the Amazon, Vancouver and Oklahoma come together to protect the environment and the people who live in it by forming alliances in South America, North America and Europe.
Later on in the film, the audience learns that oil companies told Indigenous communities that their community will improve if they allow them to come and extract oil. However, as time goes on, the film shows the adverse effects, like air and water pollution that could lead to illness, that extracting oil had on its environment and community.
One of the main protagonists of the film, a young environmental activist named Yudith Nieto from Houston remarked in the documentary that she thought it was “normal to be sick” when she was growing up because of how often she and her friends were sick due to the oil extraction happening in her community.
In addition, a large portion of the film focused on Houston as Nieto and other environmental activists petitioned at a city council meeting. They demanded that there should be no tax break for the Valero Energy company and their Eastside refinery, which was extracting oil in Manchester, the community where Nieto grew up. Ultimately, the Houston City Council ended up approving a $17 million tax break for Valero’s Eastside refinery.
The film also follows another Indigenous activist, Bryan Parras, and his travels to many Native American communities that have been negatively impacted by oil extraction. He traveled to some Indigenous communities in South America and learned about how oil companies had dumped petroleum in the Tigre River in Peru.
One of the Native leaders told Parras that the river was black, and the people in the community would scoop the oil off of the river and drink the water under it because they didn’t understand the oil’s harmful effects.
Parras traveled to another Indigenous community whose water had been infected by oil extraction, yet the people who lived there still had to drink and fish from the river.
The film also notes the environmental racism at play in oil extraction. Environmental racism is defined by the institutional rules and regulations, policies and governmental or corporate decisions that purposely target specific communities for locally undesirable land uses and lax enforcement of environmental and zoning laws.
There are many well-documented cases that show that communities of color, as well as low-income communities, are most affected by these industries and the lack of regulations on these industries. The film shows many instances of Native American communities being harmed by oil companies coming in and extracting oil with little regulation.
An environmental activist named Melina Laboucan-Massimo is another focus of the film, as she works to resist the Keystone XL pipeline and the transport of oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of Texas. The Keystone XL pipeline would send crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta to be processed much quicker than it had previously been transported.
However, this pipeline would be harmful to the environment because the oil from tar sands is thicker, more acidic and more corrosive, thus increasing the likelihood of the pipeline leaking. Additionally, these leaks are hard to detect, and this crude oil is much more difficult to clean up than conventional crude oil.
The film also shows other ways that the Indigenous communities of the Americas have come together to fight against oil companies. In Ecuador, multiple Kichwa communities united as one in a lawsuit against Chevron, an oil company that had contaminated their water and land.
However, despite the judge ruling against Chevron and rendering an $18 billion settlement, which was later reduced to only $9.5 billion, Chevron still was not held accountable and forced to pay because they moved their operations to Canada.
This film showcases the difference that communities can make in protecting the environment when they band together. These Native environmental activists care so deeply for the planet and they have dedicated their lives to advocate for the land we all share.