Five Grassroots Organizations Elevating Frontline Voices

Spring 2021 Report Back

posted by Charlotte Cevallos Biren

As RAN and many other organizations think through how to incorporate equity and inclusion into all facets of our work, it is more clear than ever we need to make room for elevating the voices of Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) community members. Often shouldering the impact and long-term effects of extractive industries and deforestation, BIPOC communities are on the frontlines of pipeline fights, mining projects, toxic leakages, and more. These realities tend to be obscured by mainstream media, and even if they are covered, they seldom feature the voices and stories of BIPOC people. 

RAN’s Community Action Grants (CAG) Program has received an increasing amount of requests from current and new grantees to support local communications and media initiatives. As we advance our commitments to racial justice and our partners on the frontlines, we believe it is critical to elevate stories and voices from the frontlines. There are many doing the important capacity building within their communities and teaching youth and others how to leverage technology and media skills to elevate their important yet underrepresented perspectives.

Meet five of our CAG grantees who are working to amplify the stories and voices of their community struggles:

Asociacion de Raíces Indígenas Amazónicas Peruanas (ARIAP)

Asociacion de Raíces Indígenas Amazónicas Peruanas (ARIAP) was founded in 2017 by and for Indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon. ARIAP’s “Axenon Ikanwe” (“let’s learn together” in the Shipibo-Konibo language) radio program has been a critical tool in unifying the 130 Shipibo-Konibo communities and promoting Indigenous language revitalization. The three Shipibo-Konibo radio hosts have been crucial in reporting on events of major relevance such as corporations’ aims to initiate oil drilling which otherwise would not be reported in the media, while also discussing a wide range of topics such as the latest local, national and world news, life advice, comedic stories, traditional narratives, and conversations about the Shipibo-Konibo language itself.

During the pandemic, the show has also been critical in sharing information and helping in efforts to try to keep people safe as the virus spread widely through their communities. Axenon Ikanwe’s simultaneous broadcasting on Facebook Live helps maintain cultural connections across the world. The show has been operating for three years to date, with nearly 1,000 unique broadcasts and very successful results, including reaching Shipibo-Konibo youth through the most popular media outlet in the region: the radio. Learn more about their work here.

Giniw Collective

Giniw Collective is a grassroots, frontlines effort that is Indigenous women, 2-spirit-led to protect Anishinaabe territory from the destruction of Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline project. Giniw Collective leads bold, nonviolent direct actions, along with initiatives like the Indigenous Media Makers #Stop Line 3 project. This project is a collaboration between Giniw Collective, the Yes Men, & Deep Soup Media, responding to a need identified by Indigenous water protectors on the frontlines for training and tools to help them engage in media and storytelling work regarding their urgent efforts resisting the Line 3 pipeline.

Each supported frontline organization will receive a professional camcorder and necessary accessories, a social media production kit, a subscription to editing software, and support from the collaborating organizations for Indigenous storytellers to gain and share technical skills and narrative strategies. In Minnesota, Indigenous people, tribes, organizations, and collectives throughout the state are leading the fight to stop the Line 3 pipeline, a climate disaster in the making, and supporting media making and storytelling by those on the ground who have the most at stake is critical as they continue their efforts. Learn more about the Indigenous Media Makers #StopLine3 project here. 

RISE St James

RISE St James is a faith-based grassroots organization formed to advocate for racial and environmental justice in St. James, Louisiana. RISE St. James has been involved in the opposition of the Taiwan-based Formosa Petrochemical Corporation’s $9.4 billion chemical manufacturing complex located in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Formosa itself has engaged in a major PR push around the planned expansion that has been supported by government officials as well. RISE St. James has found that many residents have bought into the myth that there is no alternative to petrochemicals for the economic future of their community, despite the fact that so many people and their families have suffered health impacts already.

For the past several months, the company’s PR team has been distributing boxes of food to St. James residents. RISE St. James mounted a counter-campaign linking Formosa’s PR handouts to cancer, destroyed home values, respiratory problems, and more flooding. Armed with this information, RISE St. James believes more community members will join the campaign to stop the Formosa Chemical Complex. RISE St. James is undertaking this project to reach and educate a wider audience of residents through a multi-platform media campaign about the harmful impact of the proposed Formosa project and to build new skills amongst current members in strategic messaging and outreach that increases organizational membership and civic participation. To see the impactful media coming from RISE St. James, click here.


Roots & Routes IC / Selvas Producciones

Roots & Routes IC, an organization dedicated to collaborating with on-the-ground communities to facilitate sharing knowledge between diverse cultures en route to responsibly stewarding a flourishing living world, embarked on a documentary project with the Indigenous Awá community of Guádualito and the Afro-descendant community of La Chiquita living in the last remaining stands of tropical Chocó rainforest along the Ecuadorian-Colombian border. These communities have faced many challenges in recent years, including lacking access to drinking water because their shared natural watershed, La Chiquita River that forms part of the Santiago-Cayapas River Basin, is contaminated by large palm oil plantations directly linked to drug trafficking and illegal armed groups. Although these two communities filed a lawsuit and received a decision in favor of their case, they are still fighting to get real outcomes based on the judge’s decisions.

Photo credit: Juli Hazlewood, Executive Director of Roots & Routes IC

To raise the profile of this struggle, a documentary project has developed that is a part of a unique audio-visual collaboration between ancestral communities in the western Coastal Chocó rainforest and the Amazon. A key partner in the project is Selvas Producciones, an Indigenous audiovisual communications team committed to visibilizing the Sarayaku peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon in peaceful resistance against extractive projects. Through this collaboration, there have been three Film School Workshops held with the Guádualito and La Chiquita communities and much of the filming is completed. The project partners are currently working to update the documentary with a cell phone workshop led by well-known Ecuadorian social documentary filmmaker, Pocho Alvarez, for ten community youth. The youth will use their cellphones to film day-to-day ethnographic material of life during Covid-19, which, demonstrated by the lack of government support and response in the region, is another example of how  these communities are marginalized. Through this process these youth will contribute to the film and develop skills for future storytelling work. To see the trailer to the documentary, Hope & Struggle in the Ecuadorian Choco Rainforest, click here.

The Hakhu Fundacion Amazonia

The Hakhu Fundacion Amazonia began after the Indigenous women’s mobilization in 2016 where more than 500 women marched calling for protection of their territories and rights. Hakhu, which means ‘let’s go’ in Kichwa, was formed by community leaders with a goal to create sustainable sources of income to provide an alternative to extractive and destructive industries.

The other core program that Hakhu has developed in addition to the sustainable income projects is to foster a creative voice for Indigenous people through developing storytelling and filmmaking skills. A key aspect of this is Kallary Amazon Labs (Kallary means ‘Stories’ in Kichwa), a comprehensive filmmaking retreat and workshop where artists from Amazonian Indigenous communities come together creatively, share their individual experiences with trauma and resistance, heal collectively and use their inspiration to create visual stories. The retreat and filmmaking workshop seeks to empower Indigenous women and youth to have control over Indigenous narratives and to promote the role of women and youth as propagators of ancestral knowledge, stories and culture to Amazon communities and the rest of the world. Participants have released powerful audiovisuals promoting awareness and calling for resistance against mining projects. See videos here