Homelands’ Ruxandra Guidi’s latest essay, “The Spirit of the Rillito,” has been published in the May issue of High Country News magazine, the 50-year old publication covering the American West.
The piece came out of conversations and scholarly discussions held at the Religion and Environment Story Project, a fellowship out of Boston University that trains journalists, editors and public-facing scholars interested in the intersection of the environment and religion.
“Animism, from the Latin word anima, or soul, (is) a concept as difficult to decipher as dreams, death or apparitions, and it has a problematic history,” Guidi writes. “The founder of cultural anthropology, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, first introduced the word in his 1871 book Primitive Culture, which argued that culture progressed from primitive to modern expressions. Today, Burnett Tylor’s theories, which denigrate Indigenous worldviews as childish and backward, are considered beyond anachronistic.
“But before colonization and the human-centered organized religions that accompanied it, animistic worldviews taught us to listen to the natural world, to move to its beat. For many people, these songs never stopped playing. Others are learning to listen to them anew.”
The documentary film The Territory, produced by Documist, purchased by National Geographic, and now streaming on Disney+, has added a prestigious Peabody Award to its long list of achievements. Homelands is proud to serve as fiscal sponsor for the film’s impact campaign and other activities.
The following is the write-up from the Peabody committee:
To watch The Territory is to be offered a front-row seat to one of the most pressing ecological issues of the 21st century. At the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people are fighting the encroaching deforestation that threatens not just their lives and livelihood but that of the entire globe.
Amid a lawlessness encouraged by the Bolsonaro government that emboldened Brazilian farmers and illegal settlers to destroy parts of the protected rainforest, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people have mounted a coordinated response to fight back against these attacks on land they’ve long tasked themselves with protecting. Their efforts are here captured by a documentary intent on amplifying their plight and uplifting the tireless work of activists and indigenous groups that refuse to capitulate to the capitalist violence inherent in seeing land not as something sacred but as something to be exploited for short-term gain.
With striking imagery that captures the precarity of the Amazon and the natural ravages the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people are standing up against, The Territory is a timely local filmic intervention into a pressing global concern. Director Alex Pritz, who partway through production entrusted the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people with the filmmaking equipment to continue shooting in the midst of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, rightfully understood the value in seeing his subjects as fellow collaborators.
For uplifting the voices and image-making of Indigenous communities intent on safeguarding the environmental role the Amazon forest plays in the Earth’s wellbeing, and for championing a committed vision of climate change activism that’s as urgent as it is necessary, The Territory is a Peabody Award winner.
Thirty years ago, Homelands was funded by the Ford Foundation to do a series for National Public Radio called Searching for Solutions. We were to travel the world looking for ways to grow food sustainably, develop green cities, address overpopulation, et cetera. I drew the clean energy assignment, and soon became interested in hydrogen, which burns like natural gas, except its only exhaust is water vapor. It seemed important, but the material I was finding was pretty technical, always tricky with radio.
“Why not ask Chris Brookes to collaborate with you?” suggested my Homelands colleague Cecilia Vaisman. “He even made chaos theory work for radio,” she said in awe.
We were all awed by Chris, a freelance radio producer from Newfoundland. When I first signed on to work with Cecilia and our colleague Sandy Tolan, I was a print reporter who’d never done radio, so they handed me a stack of Chris Brookes tapes, from coverage of war in El Salvador to hurdy-gurdy builders in Amsterdam to, yes, chaos theory. It wasn’t just his unerring ear and fine reporting: his writing, timing, and whimsical delivery were so imaginative, so musical, that you just had to keep listening. I recall one night when we raced to a dinner appointment while playing his latest astonishing piece, about the crash of the Georges Bank cod fishery. When we pulled into the parking ramp, even though we were late, we couldn’t move — we could barely breathe — until it was over.
Chris’s training, I later learned, was in theater: he’d studied at the Yale School of Drama, and founded a company, The Mummers Troupe, that traveled Canada for years, until a gig at the CBC introduced him to radio. I called him at his home studio in St. John’s. “Hydrogen? I know utterly nothing about it.”
“I know some.” Germany, I told him, was in the research forefront, with both Daimler Benz and BMW working on hydrogen-powered cars. “But I don’t know how to turn it into listenable audio.”
“If you can handle the knowledge part, I can do the other.”
We met in the Frankfurt airport, got a rental car, and drove to Stuttgart. Our initial interviews were at the Max Planck Institute and a university in Ulm. Soon our heads were drowning in engineering jargon, and we had hours of useless tape. After three days, Chris was so glazed that when we saw a poster for a production of Goethe’s Faust, he said he needed a theater fix, bad. “It’s in German,” I pointed out.
“So what? I haven’t understood a thing all week.”
I accompanied him. Five long, incomprehensible acts. When Faust was being dragged down to hell in the final scene, it felt like the punishment we deserved for blowing this story. But Chris did something that wouldn’t have occurred to me: he started recording.
During the next week we toured Daimler, BMW, and drove through the Black Forest to see a hydrogen-powered house at an institute in Freiburg. That gave Chris an idea. Freiburg was near the village where Goethe’s inspiration, an alchemist named Dr. Faustus, had died when one of his experiments exploded in a cloud of sulfur fumes. We went and actually located his house, but on that quiet street there wasn’t much to record. Chris insisted on hanging around. When the town clock struck midnight, I announced I was going to bed. “I’m going to wait a little while longer,” said Chris.
To hear what his microphone found when his patience ultimately paid off, go to The Great Hydrogen Car Race. First, you should know this: The Monday after we flew home, I called him to brainstorm a script. “It’s already done,” he told me. Not only that, he was already mixing it. I was simultaneously miffed that my writing apparently wasn’t indispensable, and vastly relieved, because I had scant idea what to do with the dense material we’d gathered. He sent us a tape. We listened. We sent it to NPR, which rejected it unless we were willing to make severe cuts, because it was a half-hour long. “Not a chance,” said Sandy Tolan, our executive producer. He sent it to Marketplace. Their producers agreed it was so amazing that they blew out their entire half-hour format and ran it intact as an Earth Day special.
Chris and I also on collaborated on a story we reported together in south Texas and northeastern Mexico, Laguna Madre, and on Gaviotas, a piece I reported in Colombia for All Things Considered, which he co-wrote and edited and Sandy Tolan produced. Thanks greatly to him, it was rebroadcast both on The Best of NPR and on Living on Earth — and I’m doubly in his debt, because a few days after it first aired, a publisher offered me a book contract.
But you want to hear Chris’s own incomparable work, which you can find at Battery Radio. Rather than recommend individual pieces, because this wouldn’t end, I’ll simply say that Chris Brookes was considered such a national treasure that in 2000 he received the Order of Canada: the Canadian equivalent of knighthood. Pick any story of his and listen. You won’t stop.
On April 10, Chris died in an accidental fall at his home. He is survived by his wife, also a Newfoundland treasure, cellist and traditional fiddler Christina Smith, and mourned by all of us who will never stop hearing him in our hearts and heads, challenging us always to make it better than we thought possible.
In an article for the Sierra Club, Ruxandra Guidi looks at the connections between a 2019 massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and a history of racism in mainstream environmental movements. The Walmart killer cited the “great replacement theory” and blamed Latinos for destroying the environment. Ruxandra argues that this modern “eco-fascist” was not the first to make the claim that poor brown people were an environmental threat.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has blocked shipments of raw sugar from a top Dominican producer after finding indications of forced labor at its Caribbean plantation. The federal probe followed a two-year investigation led by Homelands’ senior producer Sandy Tolan and Haitian-Dominican journalist Euclides Cordero Nuel for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting andMother Jones.
Sugar from the Central Romana Corporation’s cane fields finds its way into major U.S. brands, including Domino and Hershey. Tolan and Cordero’s reporting won an Overseas Press Club award in 2021.
Workers describe how heavily armed bands of masked men descend on labor camps in the middle of the night and forcibly evict residents. Many of the victims are undocumented laborers from Haiti. In some cases, the night raids appear to be the company’s way of informing older workers that their services are no longer needed.
Tolan and Cordero Nuel won a 2021 Overseas Press Club Award for their reporting on alleged labor abuses by Central Romana. Their earlier reports appeared in Mother Jones and on the podcast and public radio program Reveal. In response to their reporting, the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade called for a “swift and thorough investigation” into the labor practices of Dominican sugar producers.
Maritza Félix is the recipient of the 2022 Cecilia Vaisman Award from Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Félix is a freelance journalist, producer and writer in Arizona. She is the founder of Conecta Arizona, a news-you-can-use service in Spanish that connects people in Arizona and Sonora primarily through WhatsApp and social media. She is the cofounder, co-producer and co-host of Comadres al Aire and the executive producer and host of Cruzando Líneas.
The Vaisman award honors an individual working in audio or video journalism who works every day to shed light on the various issues affecting Hispanic and Latinx communities inside and outside the United States and is an active member of the NAHJ. It is given jointly by NAJH and Medill and includes a $5,000 cash prize. The award is named for Medill faculty member Cecilia Vaisman who died in 2015.
“The work that Maritza has done in the Latinx community to fight misinformation about the pandemic has undoubtedly saved lives, and the relationships that she is building in her community have helped to strengthen their trust in journalism,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “For these reasons and more, I am delighted to honor her with the 2022 Cecilia Vaisman Award.”
Félix’s nomination was reviewed and selected by a jury of Medill and NAHJ representatives, including members of the NAHJ Chicago chapter. The award criteria was determined by the jury.
“Border journalists who work in Spanish fight against the odds to show that our narratives, our voices and our accents matter,” said Félix. “Non-traditional, community-inspired journalism takes time, perseverance and a genuine commitment to two-way communication. This award helps to shine a light on what we have achieved at Conecta Arizona. At a time when public confidence in the news media is eroding, we have built a community that trusts us to bring them honest and reliable information. Our community knows that we listen and respond to their needs and concerns, whether it’s in our daily cafecito on WhatsApp, or our weekly radio call-in show. We don’t assume what our audience needs, they tell us. We don’t shy away from controversial topics, we uphold the highest standards of journalism ethics and excellence, and we treat everyone with respect. We are a Spanish-language news and information service for Spanish-speakers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. I’m so proud of the journalism we do con acento y con talento.”
Félix’s work has been published in major newspapers in Mexico and other countries and broadcast on Univision and Telemundo. She is an independent journalist whose work appears in The Nation, The Hechinger Report, Organización Editorial Mexicana, Channel 4 in the U.K., Feet in 2 Worlds, Slate, The Americano, Proyecto Puente, Uniradio Noticias, Telemax, and Prensa Arizona. She hosted the documentary “Mysteries of Faith” for Discovery Channel and contributed as producer to “The Wall,” a worldwide investigative documentary for Rondo Media in the UK. She has worked as special project producer for Al Jazeera and was the investigative producer for award-winning special reports for Channel 4 in U.K.
“As a trailblazing NAHJ member and palabra. contributor, we are thrilled to announce Maritza L. Félix as the 2022 Vaisman award recipient,” said NAHJ National President Yvette Cabrera. “Maritza shares the same tenacious spirit and innovative approach that Cecilia had for multifaceted storytelling that reflects our community’s diversity.”
In 2011 Félix was named one of 40 under 40 Arizona Hispanic Leaders by Chicanos Por La Causa in recognition of her influential work in the state. Félix has won five Emmys and is the recipient of the inaugural award for Best Chronicle Written in the US by Nuevas Plumas. She also has won multiple awards from the Arizona Press Club. In 2012 and 2013 the Phoenix New Times named Félix Best Spanish-Language Journalist in Arizona.
Félix’s work will be highlighted during an award ceremony hosted by Medill on Monday, October 3, 5:30-6:30 CT, in partnership with NAHJ.
The Territory, an immersive documentary that chronicles the efforts of a small Indigenous group in Brazil to defend its land against encroachment by peasant farmers, opens on August 19 at cinemas in New York, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Seattle, Austin, Vancouver, and Toronto. It will screen in more than 100 cities around the world beginning August 26.
Homelands Productions served as fiscal sponsor, helping the filmmakers raise grant money to provide cameras and training to members of the Uru-eu-wau-wau group. Footage shot by the Uru-eu-wau-wau was crucial to the film’s narrative, and the training and equipment have enabled the group to continue to document its situation and share its story with policy makers and the public.