How might young indigenous people help to reverse the climate crisis?

Youth, Climate & Indigenous Wisdom

In each short-form documentary of the One Word series, a young native person is invited to co-direct the film, while sharing a story of personal transformation related to a single untranslatable word from their ancestral language — a word offered to humanity as medicine to heal our relationship with the Earth.

Trends and Timing

There are a number of reasons which render the One Word series particularly relevant to our times:
  1. Worldview shift.   UN climate scientists have recently declared that moving from the Western worldview of domination and exploitation of nature to an indigenous worldview of co-existence and co-relation with the natural world, is imperative in reversing the climate crisis.  Why?  Because indigenous peoples have demonstrated that they are the best guardians of the wellbeing of the land, the water and the air.  As such, in August 2019, the UN scientists included ensuring native rights as one of their top recommendations for addressing climate change. 
  2. Unprecedented youth momentum.  Environmentally-engaged youth have gained unprecedented momentum and visibility at the highest levels of policy change, with attendance to the Climate Strikes in the millions in more than 185 countries.
  3. Significant education gap.  Indigenous biocultural wisdom remains undertaught in schools despite the worldview cited above to which scientists are urging us to shift. 
  4. Persistent social & environmental injustice.  stereotypes of indigenous people being primitive, and even savage, continue to permeate mainstream media and Western society. Not only does this influence public perception but it also affects policy related to land appropriation for industrial agricultural use that are escalating the climate emergency.  This persistent dehumanization weakens the indigenous relationship to the Earth that they have been so successful at caring for.  It also damages the self esteem of young indigenous people, making it more difficult for them to pass on the worldview which top climate scientists are now urging us to move towards.  An additional relevant consequences is that we are currently facing  the loss of potentially 2680 indigenous languages, along with the biocultural information these languages hold.
  5. Indigenous rising.  Indigenous youth leaders like India Logan-RileyArtemisa XakriabáLyla June, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez are gaining significant influence, against the above odds, by sharing the wisdom embedded in the indigenous worldview.


Film 1:  One Word Sawalmem

Michael "Pom" Preston is the son of Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Mount Shasta, California.  As a student of environmental studies at UC Berkeley, he was one of the only indigenous people in many of his classes.  When he attempted to share his worldview, he realized that it was almost taboo in academia. Meanwhile, Michael returned regularly to the mountain to participate in tribal ceremony as a warrior dancer and to reinforce his connection with the land and all that is sacred.  Combining his tribal heritage with his Western education, he engages in Run4Salmon, an annual 300-mile prayerful journey by foot, boat, horse and canoe to take on the US Federal Government, opposing the destructive Shasta Dam, seeking the return of the salmon to their ancestral home waters, and requesting restoration of the largest river in California, the Sacramento. 

Sawalmem is his word.  Sacred water.  


Be a Part of One Word.

Learn about opportunities to sponsor this series, host a screening, distribute the films to your audience, have us come speak at your event, share it in your classroom and more!

Let’s Connect

We would love to collaborate with you to energize environmentally-engaged youth & empower indigenous youth to overcome our climate crisis.

Director’s Statement

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 Michael, the co-director of the first film, 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 our first One Word 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 Michael's ancestral land.

In short, that I would come to make these films is natural, and in some ways inevitable.

natasha deganello giraudie  | @rosa.guayaba on instagram


Indigenous Peoples: 
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

Photography by Micro-Documentaries LLC and Pete Longworth.

Design by Todd Schulte Design


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