One Word Sawalmem is a project that uses film and media content co-created by young native people, strategic partnerships and education initiatives to empower the youth climate movement with ancestral insight and inspiration.
Michael "Pom" Preston, of the Winnmem Wintu tribe, co-directs the film in which he shares his story of personal transformation related to a single untranslatable word from his language — a word offered to humanity as medicine to heal our relationship with the Earth.
One word ripples outward, vibrating with healing power.
Sawalmem, meaning Sacred Water.
Sawalmem could help us unravel the climate crisis we’ve created…
For Winnemem Wintu young man Michael "Pom" Preston Sawalmem represents an entire worldview, a vital vision for healing the world and for healing from the legacy of the Shasta Dam that, since the 1940s, has harmed salmon and the Sacramento River and the Winnemem Wintu people of Shasta Mountain, California.
As a student of environmental studies at UC Berkeley, Michael did not feel heard. He felt he was being told that his indigenous viewpoint was irrelevant.
The time has come to listen to Michael and to the Winnemem Wintu tribe.
And to observe Sawalmem.
In violation of state law, against all scientific reason and risking contamination of Northern California’s water supply as well as “ethnocide” against the Winnemem Wintu people, a Shasta Dam raise is being fast-tracked by the Trump administration, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and Westlands Water District.
Michael’s mother Chief Caleen Sisk speaks out at every opportunity and organizes Run4Salmon, an annual 300-mile prayerful journey by foot, boat, horse and canoe.
Michael dances in tribal ceremonies on Mount Shasta to stay strong in this latest battle as a warrior for Sawalmem.
A vision of the return of the salmon to their ancestral home waters and the restoration of the largest river in California, the Sacramento.
The spiritual is political.
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MICHAEL "POM" PRESTON:
Sawalmem, "sacred water," is how the Winnemem Wintu tribe has always been in relationship with water. Coming from Northern California, where water is abundant, the tribe decided it was time to share the meaning of Sawalmem to help change the misconception of water as "resource" to water as sacred life giver. As a member of my tribe, I decided to do my part in sharing this with the world, and so I became part of making this documentary happen.
NATASHA DEGANELLO GIRAUDIE:
The path for a non-native filmmaker wanting to share indigenous stories is a delicate one. It requires extra layers of relationship building, trust, access, patience, humility, alignment and collaboration. But this story is deeply personal for me and is worth all that, and more.
My friendship with Pom, the co-director of One Word Sawalmem, and his tribe has evolved naturally and it has been their openness, their trust and their invitation to bring the camera into their most intimate circles which ultimately has enabled us to move forward on this project.
As a child growing up in Caracas, my parents often took me into the wilderness of Venezuela to meet native tribes who lived on their ancestral lands. For me, those trips were like visiting islands of sanity where people seemed to speak the language of my heart. They invited me to drink from their pristine rivers and to give thanks for the joy and privilege of doing so. That water quenched me deeply and started to heal the wound of living in a city which treated its river as a sewer.
Today I am the mother of a Californian girl, who at the age of 12, is participating in the climate strikes, has woken up at 4am to join the crew as production assistant for this film and has lived in community with the Winnemem Wintu tribe on their Run4Salmon journey. She has grown up at the mouth of the Golden Gate, right on the path of the salmon from Pom's ancestral land.
In short, that I would come to make these films is natural, and in some ways, inevitable.
Lourdes Inga, Executive Director of Indigenous Funders for Indigenous People
Sonja Swenson Rogers, Communications Director, Polynesian Voyaging Society
Daniel Bögre Udell, Executive Director of Wikitongues