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The Women in the Sand (2017)The Women in the Sand (2017)

I watched this film after reading several books about indigenous peoples in North and South America, and then seeing that it won numerous (if local) film awards. The subtitle of the film is revealing: "A Story of Death Valley's Original People." Having vacationed in the harsh desert of Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, from Badwater that is 280 feet below sea level to Telescope Peak at 11,043 feet, I wanted to learn more. This one-hour documentary features the history of the Timbisha Shoshone people, and in particular two of its elders. Pauline Esteves is 93 years old, and a longtime activist on Native American issues. Her sister-in-law, Madeline Esteves, 84, is a traditional Timbisha basket maker. The two women tell stories about their traditional, nomadic lifestyle in Death Valley that's made up of hunting, gathering wild food, visiting sacred sites, art, and participating in ancient tribal rituals. For about 60 years now, Pauline and "Maddy" have fought all sorts of foes that would destroy their history and culture, not to mention their ancient language, in what is now Death Valley National Park—mining companies, gold prospectors, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, con men, scoundrels of all types, and even their own tribal council that is 150 miles away in Bishop. Their goal is federal recognition for the tribe, for the repatriation of their homeland, and for the continued survival of their traditional ways. Their foes are apparently unmoved, but Pauline and Maddy, as one blurb put it, are undaunted. As you might expect, the photography of this desolate place is beautiful. I watched this film on Amazon Streaming.

Dan Clendenin:

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