04 Mar This Land ~ Reframing Conservation Conversations
For many, it’s hard to imagine or even believe that they are owners of public land. In a nation defined by the displacement of native people and an economy originally built on the backs of slaves stolen from another continent, it’s safe to say that America has a very complicated history when it comes to understanding exactly who this land belongs to. A new short film directed by Whit Hasset and Chelsea Jolly follows a journey of discovery across a disputed territory at risk of being taken out of the public domain. (Photo by Michael A. Estrada)
Featuring adventure athlete and filmmaker Faith Briggs the documentary This Land tracks a 150-mile trail run through three national monuments targeted for downsizing by the Trump Administration. A mixed-race woman originally from Brooklyn, New York, Briggs embraces the natural heritage of a vast western landscape she now aims to protect. Claiming both the privilege and obligations of ownership as a U.S. citizen, she comes to grips with a newfound identity as an advocate for environmental conservation.“I see myself as proof of concept that someone who grew up loving to play outside, but in no way identified as a conservationist can joyfully follow a trajectory where they realize conversations about land resources in our country are essential,” she wrote via email. “And that their participation, and the participation of the communities that they represent, are also essential.”
W ith fellow athletes Jen Castillo and Addie Thompson, Briggs makes her way through the national monuments at Cascade-Siskiyou, Grand Staircase Escalante and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. Exercising their rights as citizens they traverse this public land in defiance of the notion that they don’t belong there. And in so doing they affirm their presence not only as visitors to these wild spaces but as actively engaged defenders.
“The ability to be a public land owner and to live in a place where we have made a decision that certain lands are for everyone, whether you live really close to them or whether they are across the country, they’re there for you.” Briggs says in the film. “For me that’s really special. I think that we belong to this place and we are its caretakers.”Beautifully illustrated with sweeping views of this rugged yet still fragile landscape the film makes the point that common citizens have a say in how this land is managed and preserved. It’s not just up to elected officials and captains of industry to dictate the manner in which these natural resources are used. Rather it is the voice of the people from every walk of life who must decide what this land will look like for generations yet to come.
“For me conversation breaks down to mean clean air, clean water and access to green spaces,” Briggs said. “If we can reframe conservation conversations to be talking about healthy communities, well then we all see our voices are essential and that we have to be represented in decision making spaces.”
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