The Red Road to DC | Te Maia Wiki
The Red Road is a concept shared among Indigenous communities and is used to describe a right path of living. Although often used to connote the journey of sobriety, The Red Road more broadly refers to a right way of living in harmony with the earth and the relatives we share it with. In this article from Te Maia Wiki, she describes her experience traversing cross country from the pacific northwest to Washington D.C. with a 25-foot totem pole carved by the Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation. The Red Road to D.C. raised awareness of the industrial threat to sacred sites and nurtured prayers in ceremony for protection along the way.
Te Maia Wiki is a descendant of Yurok and Tolowa people, from Northern California, and Māori people, the Indigenous people of New Zealand. Te Maia is an Indigenous youth leader who is committed to using digital media to tell stories that promote social, economic, and political equity. Over the summer, she had the opportunity to document the journey of a Totem Pole sent from the Lummi Nation in Washington State to the Biden-Harris administration and the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.
Even as a 15 year old, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t surrounded by family or community people coming together to work to make the community better. As a double-Indigenous girl (my mom is a Yurok from northern California and my dad is Maori from New Zealand), there were always reasons for our family and community to organize to promote the health, well-being and existence of our people and way of life.
This summer, between sophomore and junior years of high school, I was given the opportunity to step outside of my own family and community to apply the values and skills I’ve been raised with, to bring light to the frontlines of Indigenous environmental justice issues across the nation as a media fellow with Wingspan Media, sponsored by Save California Salmon.
Save California Salmon, a non-profit based in Northern California dedicated to restoring river flows and salmon habitats, offered an internship program to support youth organizers dedicated to environmental justice. I applied, and while this gave me the opportunity to interview my tribal leaders on water rights, Wingspan Media Productions also offered the opportunity to join the Red Road to DC journey with them as a media fellow. When I say, “them,” I mean, Nikki Caputo and Mo Hollis. Three years ago, when I was in eighth grade, I worked on a series of anti-vaping, and pro-sacred tobacco use Public Service Announcements (PSA). Since then, I’ve had the pleasure to work with Wingspan Media on different media projects and PSAs.
This led to a summer on the Red Road Journey to DC. House of Tears Carvers, from the Lummi Nation, carved a 250-foot long totem pole, and brought it into Indigenous communities leading organized demonstrations against environmental injustices on the way from Washington state, to the American Indian Smithsonian in Washington, DC. As people from across the country united to pray, the totem pole brought media attention to the ways in which Indigenous wisdom and sovereignty could restore the health of this planet. Our team of three was responsible for all things media: managing the livestreams for each event, curating photo galleries, and producing videos highlighting each sacred site. Our long days started with setting up the tech at venues early in the morning, and then taking turns managing the livestream, editing, and conducting interviews. As soon as each event ended, we packed up the technology into our mobile production unit, (i.e. the minivan), and set off on an, often, 12 hour road trip while one adult would drive, the other would edit, and a certain someone would sleep in the front seat. Sometimes our days ended late in a hotel room. Other times, we ended in a parking lot with minutes to spare before the next event started.
To say the experience was transformative for me is an understatement. I will forever be inspired by the bravery, wisdom and strategy of Indigenous leaders I met along the journey, including Winona LuDuke at White Earth Minnesota days after she was released from jail to rejoin the Line Three frontlines. I was honored to meet, and spend time with Faith Spotted Eagle, an instrumental Indigenous figure involved in Braveheart Society and Great-Grandmother Mary Lyons, a significant Ojibwe elder and spiritual advisor. I had the opportunity to photograph Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland as she received the Totem at the National Mall in Washington D.C. I met countless activists, tribal leaders, grandmothers, moms, youth leaders, and genuinely authentic human beings all dedicated to ensuring the voices of Indigenous people are heard and amplified in order to heal the planet for everyone. Regardless of what happens to me in my life, I will always be Indigenous- that comes first. Wingspan prioritized, and honored that.
Even though I value the technical production skills and aspects, like the “we’re in the middle of a flash flood and need to get hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment packed” moments, the most significant lesson I learned was the power of indigneous sovereignty. At each event I saw people from all walks of life, abilities, and roles come together for a common cause. I recorded, and documented grander moments – from speeches by elected officials and tribal leaders – but my favorites were the small, quiet moments. For example, when I first drove into Shell City Camp, the frontlines of Line 3, I remember the energy feeling like I passed through a force field, because of how significant the energy shift was compared to the fields in rural Minnesota surrounding it. At first, I thought the energy came from the grandness of the movement; the abundance of organizers and allies. But, what caught my eye was the way “Honor the Earth,” was hand-written on the compost bins with peace signs and hearts, or the, “Welcome Lummi Family,” signs. Behind a camera, I had the privilege to capture the, “minor miracles,” and I learned that without the small moments – the everyday people coming together – the big moments didn’t mean anything. All along the journey, there were connections made with the work to Save California Salmon and to restore the Klamath River. Seeking out to capture beautiful moments has given me the ability to see how organizing draws people together and how media can add critical texture and energy to advance big issues.
The Totem’s arrival in DC was important symbolism – a gift and a reminder that Indigenous people are present and we’re loud and we’re not taking the destruction of our world sitting down. But my own journey was powerful because I learned that underlying all this is the power of people to come together for a common cause to bring hope to change. The more we can amplify the voices of these everyday leaders on the frontlines of today’s movements, the more we can bring to light the hope to create real solutions to heal our planet and I was honored to play a small role in promoting that good this summer. That is the lesson I’m taking forward with me.
Save California Salmon’s Youth Water Protector’s work is part of their Advocacy and Water Protection in Native California curriculum projects. The curriculum and more information is at https://www.californiasalmon.org/. You can watch the most recent youth water protectors webinar and learn about how you can help at https://www.youtube.com/c/SaveCaliforniaSalmon.
You can learn more about Red Road to DC at redroadtodc.org or at their Youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3x5qDKhap0q9mlLtpIsFvQ.
Wingspan Media is more than a production company. We’re media advocates – full spectrum media makers specializing in campaigns, capacity-building, consultation, engineering, graphic design, photography, production & training – 360 DEGREE MEDIA. Learn more at https://www.wingspanmedia.net/.