Filmmaker Tom Laffay, whose short film “Siona: Amazon’s Defender’s Under Threat” recently premiered on The New Yorker, gives a behind-the-scenes look at his long-term film project with the Siona people of Putumayo.
Three hundred and seventy million Indigenous people from more than 5,000 Indigenous communities speak more than 4,000 languages and are spread across over 90 countries. Representing just 5 percent of the world’s population, Indigenous communities protect about 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Because of widespread discrimination, Indigenous people make up 15 percent of the world’s extreme poor and are disproportionately affected by land theft, malnutrition, and internal displacement compared to other communities.
The challenges facing Indigenous communities come from centuries-long systems of oppression. Today, Indigenous people are being accused of terrorism and treason for undertaking peaceful efforts to maintain their cultural identity or traditional lands. Journalism can shed light on discriminatory practices and conflicts underpinning these challenges and many more, from root causes to examples of resilience. Quality journalism can elevate voices from Indigenous communities and should dispel stereotypes. Part of this misrepresentation is the result of a lack of Indigenous voices and stories in traditional media. A survey of members of the News Leaders Association showed that less than 0.05 percent of journalists in leading media outlets are Native American and a Nieman report found that Indigenous people represented only 0.6 percent of people portrayed in stories by the 20 most-trafficked internet news sites. The Pulitzer Center is uniquely positioned to bring these often under-reported or misreported issues and under-represented perspectives to new audiences.
These stories include High Country News years-long investigation into Indigenous land theft to benefit America’s public universities, “Nowhere to Turn,” a project uncovering the inequitable treatment of Alaska Native sexual assault survivors published by both The Associated Press and National Native News, and “Panama at the Crossroads,” an interactive multimedia project by Sol Lauría and Guido Bilbao uplifting the decades-long fight for land protection by the Gnäbe and Buglé people.