13 Water Protectors : Guarding the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument
The ancient lands and waters of Northern New Mexico are under threat. The people, cultures and wildlife who live here are facing the dangerous tides of greed and desire to disintegrate federal protections that stand in the way of exploitation for corporate profit. There is nothing left to sacrifice. This is a battle that has brought everyone in this area to their feet. The next seven generations and the ecosystem that sustains life in the Rio Grande Valley depends on bold and courageous water protectors standing in solidarity right now.
For centuries and even millennia, the communities of people living in the Rio Grande Valley have demonstrated their tenacity for survival. The people of the Pueblos who have been living here for a thousand years and more, the Hispanic culture who made the long voyage and trek from Spain four hundred years ago, and all the modern immigrants, vagabonds, artists, builders, healers, musicians, athletes, educators, politicians and religious leaders are no strangers to threats. Over the past decade they have banded together again, this time to rally all the way to the White House to have their shared landscape protected as the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. The victory mood was jubilant in 2013 as they held a celebration of the new federally protected status. The Taos Mesa Brewery even brewed up a hand-hand crafted beer christened “the “Rio Grande del Norte National Monument Pale Ale” and sent a case of their finest to President Obama. Peter Walker was there to shoot a video which profiles a handful of the passionate organizers who made the federal designation possible.
And then, a few short years later…
The winds of power shifted.
This summer of 2017, the current administration is considering eradicating many, if not all, of the National Monuments that were created after 1996. Public input has gone missing. In June, the community hearing in the Rio Grande Del Norte Monument was suddenly and unexpectedly cancelled and people did not get to voice their solidarity to the Interior Secretary doing the review. In response, Water Protectors are now organizing themselves to stand up as guardians of the Rio Grande Del Norte Monument and this time their allies are wide and deep with a heightened sense of conviction. Senator Martin Heinrich was asked if he thought the current administration would attempt to eradicate the protective status. His response was a rally cry for all, “Over my dead body.”
This project team will be present to capture the 13 Water Protectors standing up for their sacred lands and water using high impact HDR style photography which will be used as cannon fodder for anyone else who is facing similar destructive forces and needs a boost of courage.
The stakes are high in this region of enormous natural diversity. Few places in Western North America rival the enormous plant and animal diversity found along the middle and upper Rio Grande, adjacent mesas, and the mountains within ten miles or so of the river. In fact, over 700 species of wild plants have been recorded from Bandalier National Monument alone. The reasons for this are straight-foward. Elevations in the Rio Grande corridor range from five thousand to more than ten thousand feet. The topography contrasts sharply from flat valley bottoms and mesa tops to steep-walled canyons and slops, and contains many different geologic substrates and soil type. These variables translate into a wide range of moisture and temperature patterns, and in natures such climactic variables is the key to determine what grows where.
Prehistoric Indians were the custodians of a once vast piñon and juniper “orchard” that provided them with materials for food, fuel, buildings, tools and medicine. And perhaps the greatest hallmark of human time in this area going back 8,000 years was the so-called megafauna that had dominated the land for many millennnia. In our area the giant mammals included herding beasts such as mammoths, horses and camels as well as ground sloths, giant armadillos, saber-toothed cats, oversized bears and a number of other genera.
Fast forward 8,000 years to 2017 and you would be delighted to know the Rio Grande corridor continues to be the home to a diverse and vital population of wild animals, birds, plants, and trees. In this video, Cisco Guevarra, a local River Guide company owner and a descendent of the early Spaniards to this area, speaks eloquently about the wildlife which is currently thriving under a protected monument status. This is part of a series of business profiles discussing the benefits of the federally designated protection. These stories form the backdrop to this larger “13 Water Protectors” project. They were all shot and edited by Peter Walker in collaboration with the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce and Partnership for Responsible Business.
Water is sacred in Northern New Mexico and the management agencies must allocate drinking water for desert cities like albuquerque and santa fe which has some of the highest priced water in the United States. It is so precious that it costs close to $140 per month per household for their water. The Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument is a connecting artery to a much larger watershed that millions of people to the south rely upon.
Dozens of important rivers and creeks flow into the Rio Grande and on their way down irrigate small farms through the ancient acequia system and also trickle down deep into aquifers filled with delicious water. The Chama river is an example of a vital water flow that connects below the monument and is a cultural heartland for one of the most culturally diverse regions in the country. Northern New Mexico is a unique high desert region, and miraculously has a strong water cycle that relies on snow melt in the high mountain ranges of the Sangre De Christos and the southern Colorado Rockies. It is indeed nature’s gift and the people of Northern New Mexico are guarding it with their lives for the seven generations to come.
Water Protectors are standing up, in full awareness of the threats they face, as guardians of their sacred lands and water. Leaders from the Taos Pueblo, Hispanic Environmental Educators, River Gurus, Musicians, Athletes, Hunters and Politicians are on their feet ready for action.
This story is part of a massive change in the way that the current administration is approaching protected lands in the United States. The stakes are so high that the British daily newspaper, The Guardian is producing a weekly series on the battles for our American Lands. They recently came to Northern New Mexico and laid out the story with excellent journalistic finesse;
“As interior secretary Ryan Zinke arrived in Bears Ears national monument in southeastern Utah earlier this week to calm fears over proposals to reduce or redesignate 27 national monuments across 11 states, Taos Pueblo warchief Curtis Sandoval issued a stern warning: “If they allow drilling in the canyons, they’ll set off the volcanoes.”
Sandoval was referring to the volcanic cones that lie in the steep canyons within the Rio Grande del Norte national monument, a spectacular northern New Mexico site that stretches across 242,500 acres from Taos Pueblo reservation land to beyond the Colorado line.
But his warning may be more metaphorical than literal. The region, with its long history of land and water disputes, is gearing up for another battle between conservatives who fear the federal government will push ranchers and businesses off the land, and environmentalists who suspect a giveaway to corporate interests.”
To many here, Zinke’s review is the first step in turning over monuments to become open federal land – which could in turn be transferred to state trust lands required to generate income for the state, often through mining and drilling for gas and oil.
There is broad agreement among the tribal councils representing the reservations and pueblos in the Rio Grande valley, among them Zuni, Navajo, Santo Domingo and Mescalero Apache, that the Del Norte and Organ Mountain monument designations must be maintained. To do otherwise would be to gut a rare advance in trust and co-operation.
“The government still owes the tribal peoples,” Sandoval said. “They have responsibilities they haven’t fulfilled. No matter what they say, it’s our responsibility to protect Del Norte and we have to tell President Trump he has a responsibility to protect it too.”
But the suspicion is that land protection is not what the administration has in mind. “We believe their plan is to get oil and minerals out of the ground,” Sandoval said. “But this is our land. We were never moved from here. We were raised to protect it and protect everything that lives here.”
“We wanted our water and land protected and that’s the declaration President Obama signed,” said Esther Garcia, the former mayor of Questa, a mining town north of Taos. “If we don’t protect what we have, my people and the pueblo peoples, we’re going to become non-existent. We have a deep connection to this land and to the water but the federal government doesn’t understand our culture and heritage.”
Garcia, an 11th-generation Hispanic, said that the monument designation had sharply boosted the number of visitors to the area, many who came to experience its natural beauty, which includes herds of elk and bighorn sheep, cougar, mountain lions, river otters and black bear.
“If they reverse the monument declaration it will be hard for our community because it brought economic development,” Garcia says. “With the BLM, we get a seat at the table when decisions are being made. If it goes back to the state, we don’t know what may happen.”
If opposition here gathers into a broad alliance here, it will not be the first time; nearby Española was site of the Pueblo Uprising against the Spanish in 1680. In this era, Spanish descendants and native Americans will act in concert. “We have a long history of the Hispanic culture and the native culture getting along here,” says Sandoval. -from the Guardian article
Details of how we aim to tackle the story in a way that makes an impact
We will be setting up 13 shoots. Each one will feature a different water protector in a specially chosen spot somewhere in the Rio Grande Del Norte Monument. Some of the shoots will feature a solo water protector. Someone who stands guard as a lone sentry for that moment to express a singular purpose of solidarity with the wild. And many of the shoots will include a water protector with his or her community. For example we will have one of the 13 shoots be a team of river guides guarding the canyons with paddles and throw bags in hand.
Another shoot will be the Taos Pueblo Hip Hop group, Po-10-cee, playing protective music in the cliffs overlooking the gorge. And the Mandragon family will certainly be featured who have hunted, fished and prospered in the Rio Grande Corridor for over 300 years. We will also be inviting members of the tribal councils representing the reservations and pueblos in the Rio Grande valley, among them Taos Pueblo, Zuni, Navajo, Santo Domingo and Mescalero Apache.
And of course federal protection of these lands would not be possible without the likes of Senator Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, the U.S. Representative for New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district. They will both have their moments in the wild standing as political guardians. These images will be provided to them for use in their own battles in both the political halls of New Mexico and Washington D.C. Senator Heinrich has already been tweeting out the videos that we made to follow up on the success of the monument status on local businesses. Too top it off, all good water protection teams need fire fighters standing up for the health of the forests and ecosystems.
We all know that stories can be boring without conflict. And the threats are certainly looming in this story! They include; billionaire interests, foreign companies and investors, the dismantling of hard won protections and the selling of land and water to the highest bidder. Much more information can be found on the site of the Rio Grande Del Norte Coalition.
The final 13 images will be distributed in many forms; fine-art prints, live gallery art opening, web galleries, posters, calendar and water protector t-shirts! There will also be additional stories that goes with each water protector including; audio narratives, behind the scenes photos and video, aerial footage, timelapses, animation and motion graphics including parallax 2.5d technique to allow the viewer to move through the image.
Here is a test demonstration of the parallax motion from the Colorado Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
This is a team effort! With the objective of taking 13 water protector images, and each image including a team of protectors, we may be working with up to fifty total participants in the series. Our Lead production team includes; Peter Walker, Enrico Trujillo, Jamie Tedesco and Jason Moscortolo. Peter will be the primary photographer and director of this project. Enrico is the web, graphic design and motion graphics guru. He is also an oil painter and will be lending his eye. Jamie Tedesco will be shooting behind the scenes and zapping our social media engagement campaign. Jason will be creating and mixing an original musical score. We will also have a team of Media Art students from the UNM Taos program. Including Lorenzo Lopez doing fantastical animations, possibly even a animated series of the same name “13 Water Protectors” and four behind the scene photographers and videographers including; Isaiah Galante, Sydney Romero, Jeffery Gossner and Yesenia Peyrera.
There is no doubt that the entire world took notice when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe launched and epic movement to stand up for the rights of sacred land and water. This project, 13 Water Protectors: Guarding the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, is inspired by the growing movements of people gathering together and standing up to power, and claiming their courage to protect that which is sacred. And in particular, the community of Taos, New Mexico has drawn much strength from the people who gathered at Standing Rock. And also from the millions of people around the world who stand in solidarity with Indigenous Rights, Human Rights, and the protection of the Bio-Regions which sustain us all. In this vein, Trevor Hall produced an amazing music video as a call to protect the sacred. You will notice the warrior spirit in this beautifully crafted piece that we hope to mirror in our project.
These waters, lands and fragile eco-systems really do deserve our protection!