When humans lighten our footprints on the planet, the Earth heals itself. This healing happens more readily when we adhere to a practice of reciprocity with the land, in which we tend to the land while only taking from it what we need—as opposed to the extractive practices of settler culture. When living in reciprocity with the lands we live on, water and air become clearer, animals reclaim territory and the land becomes healthier.
The simple yet profound value of reciprocity inspires a wondering that remains urgent: How can each of us learn from Indigenous ways of being in relationship with the land and understanding more about our cultures?
This is the inspiration for Reciprocity Project, a collaborative effort between Nia Tero, a global nonprofit uplifting Indigenous land sovereignty through policy and storytelling, and Upstander Project, which uplifts silenced narratives through film and education, in association with REI Co-op Studios. Reciprocity Project is a series of short films made by Indigenous filmmaking teams in different communities, each exploring the question: What does reciprocity mean to you?
The project is rooted in the knowledge that Indigenous peoples and communities have been in good relationship with—and speaking the language of—this land since the beginning of time. Diverse Indigenous value systems offer a path forward.
One of our goals with Reciprocity Project is to continually build on and assess our own accountability practices with community, and to strive to eliminate extractive or exploitative practices. The documentary film industry has an ongoing colonial legacy of taking advantage of community members as “consultants,” bringing them in toward the end of a project in order to legitimize it, rather than engaging them early on in the creation and production process. In an attempt to repair some of that history, we sought to create films with and for Indigenous communities. From the start, each Reciprocity Project filmmaker worked with someone within their own community—not as a “consultant,” but as a substantive and essential partner, grounding the film in authenticity, communal knowledge and mutual respect.
Additionally, the Indigenous communities documented in these homeland-centered stories were also their first audience: Only after sharing the films with the communities did we move forward in seeking broader distribution and recognition. This, too, is a form of reciprocity.
Reciprocity Project isn’t simply a set of short films: It is part of a larger paradigm shift. In addition to the films, Reciprocity Project includes a rich media ecosystem of learning materials, discussion questions, filmmaker roundtable videos, photos, podcasts and more, available at Reciprocity.org. This is part of an ongoing education for those with whom these vibrant, medicinal stories resonate—people who may not be Indigenous, but who care deeply about the environment and seek to contribute to its healing. Reciprocity Project is for all of us.
These films share an urgent message: The time to act to heal the planet is now.
Listening to our elders, appreciating and incorporating their knowledge, and helping to spark learning among the young people in our communities are ways to open space for fresh ideas and ways forward. The Reciprocity Project films might also inspire you to listen—really listen—to the land, air, water and animals around you. Educate yourself and others about the history of the land you are on, the space you occupy and the Indigenous People who are on that land today.
What is your land telling you? How is it caring for you and how can you care for it? And as we listen to and learn from the work of these Indigenous creators, may we all ask ourselves the question: What kind of ancestor do I want to be?
We are grateful to the peoples who welcomed these productions into their homes, communities, and lives.