Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  57 minutes
Date:  2014
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available
Interactive transcript available


Curator imageDavid N. M.Mbora, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, Whittier College

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Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss

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From the rainforests of Papua New Guinea to Canada’s tar sands, Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss exposes industrial threats to native peoples’ health, livelihood, and cultural survival.

Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss

David N.M. Mbora, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, Whittier College

Why I selected this film
I chose this film because it makes an important point about the high cost that native peoples have to pay to provide the industrial raw materials and fossil fuel energy that drive the economies of industrialized countries. The high costs, in the form of lost livelihoods and nasty health effects on the indigenous people, are often invisible to the residents of industrialized countries. In addition, the film highlights important grassroots efforts by the indigenous peoples to hold governments and industry accountable. Such environmental activism, I believe, is important because it empowers local peoples to pursue environmental justice.

Teacher's guide    
Please see the teacher's guide for maps, background information and suggested subjects, questions and activities.

From the rainforests of Papua New Guinea to Canada’s tar sands, Profit and Loss exposes the industrial threats to native peoples’ health, livelihoods, and cultural survival. In PNG, a Chinese government–owned nickel mine violently relocated villagers to a taboo sacred mountain, because it makes an important point about the high cost that native peoples have to pay to provide the industrial raw materials and fossil fuel energy that drive the economies of industrialized countries. The built a new pipeline and refinery on contested clan land, and is dumping mining waste into the sea. In Alberta, First Nations people suffer from rare cancers as their traditional hunting grounds are strip-mined to unearth the world’s third-largest oil reserve. Indigenous peoples tell their own stories—and confront us with the ethical consequences of our culture of consumption.  —Excerpted from the Standing on Sacred Ground website

The environmental justice focus of the film
This film highlights how environmental contamination can affect people, particularly indigenous communities, who are fighting for clean, healthy, and safe environments for their families and children. While non-Native American residents fled their homes after the attempts to clean up the Tar Creek site failed, members of the Quapaw Tribe who were forcibly relocated to the area in the first place remain, and they continue to be exposed to dangerous pollution from the lead and zinc mines. The film draws attention to the long history of marginalization and willful neglect that Native Americans have experienced at the hands of the U.S. government and corporate extractive industries—abuses that continue today


"The striking parallels between the Chinese [in] Papua New Guinea and the Canadian...oil sands project are brought out well and poignantly in this film." Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, Department of Anthropology, Georgetown University


"Professors of ecology, indigenous cultures, and public administration would all find incredible use in Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss. This educational documentary is a must-have for any classroom teaching environmental justice."  J. Zimmerman for Video Librarian 10 April 2013 Four Stars ****

We live in a modern era of land speculation and resource profiteering. Separated by two continents and even more water, two indigenous groups resist the ceaseless expansion of extractive industry within their communities. The arrival of a Chinese mining company and the construction of a sprawling nickel mining and processing facility in Eastern Papua New Guinea creates unrest and endless issues for the natives living there.

Forced to live on the taboo lands of their sacred mountain, the local people face constant disrespect from their government and the Chinese mining company as their graveyards and sacred sites are desecrated without any punishment or admission of fault.

In Canada, first nations people gather to protest the destruction and pollution of their hunting and fishing grounds near Canada’s tar sands. Though some will say the drilling and transport of black gold will bring jobs to the area, science shows that cancer and other health risks await those who eat or drink the contaminated water, fish, and wildlife that accompany oil extraction.

Anyone well-versed in ecological scholarship will know that our society’s constant consumption often means that someone elsewhere pays a price for our relative prosperity. Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss allows a variety of people involved to speak their minds about the issues of pollution, environmental racism, and the extractive industry’s seemingly endless ability to destroy what is precious and irreplaceable for the sake of short-term profit.

The style of this documentary is dry and journalistic, but the footage and message displayed are valuable for anyone learning about environmental justice and indigenous activism. Standing on Sacred Ground is presented in two nearly 30-minute segments, making this documentary an outstanding choice for educators with short class periods. This documentary makes two excellent cases of why people are so fervent in their pursuit of environmental justice. Highly Recommended.

Where does this title belong on public library shelves?

Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss would make an outstanding addition to environmental and indigenous rights documentary collections.

What type of college instructors would use this film?

Professors of ecology, indigenous cultures, and public administration would all find incredible use in Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss. This educational documentary is a must-have for any classroom teaching environmental justice.

How does this film contribute to a discussion of environmental or climate justice, and/or to environmental literacy?

Standing on Sacred Ground does an outstanding job connecting disparate indigenous environmental activism across the globe. Those studying indigenous resistance will be most interested in this title.


Best Documentary Feature, American Indian Film Festival Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival, John DeGraaf Lifetime Environmental Filmmaking Award to Christopher McLeod Mill Valley Film Festival Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital screening at Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian Columbus International Film+Video Festival


Main credits

McLeod, Christopher (film director)
McLeod, Christopher (film producer)
Huang, Jennifer (film producer)
Huang, Jennifer (screenwriter)
Greene, Graham (narrator)

Other credits

Edited by Marta Wohl; director of photography, Andrew Black; composer, Jon Herbst.

Distributor credits

Christopher McLeod and Jennifer Huang

Christopher McLeod

Docuseek subjects

Environmental Justice
Asian Studies
Anthropology and Archaeology
Politics and Political Science
North American Studies
Environmental Health
Forests and Rainforests
Americas, The
Agriculture and Food
Mining Sector
Citizenship, Social Movements and Activism
Human Rights
Race and Racism
Global / International Studies
Indigenous Studies
Conservation and Protection
Habitat Destruction
Toxic Waste
Family Issues
South Asia
United States
Habitat Restoration
Environmental Geography
Religion and Spirituality

Distributor subjects

Asian Studies
Climate Change
Conflict Resolution
Conservation Biology
Social Responsibility
Environmental Anthropology
Environmental Education
Environmental Geography
Environmental Justice
Environmental Planning
Environmental Policy
Global Issues
Grasslands and Prairies
Habitat Loss
Health and Health Care
Human Rights
Indigenous Studies
Internationl Studies
North American Studies
Papa New Guinea
Public Health
Toxic Chemicals
Toxic Waste
United States
Youth and Family


Alberta tar sands, Canada, Chinese nickel mine, Clayton Thomas-Muller, "Profit and Loss", Bullfrog Films, cultural survival, culture of consumption, dumping mine waste in sea, industrial threats, livelihood, loss of health, loss of land, loss of water, mining, native peoples' health, oil industry, oil reserves, Oren Lyons,Papua New Guinea, pipeline, rare cancers, refinery, relocating villagers, Satish Kumar, stripmining traditional hunting grounds, taboo sacred mountain, Winona LaDuke, Athabasca Lake, Athabasca River, Boreal Forest, China, clusters of fatal and non-fatal illnesses, deep-sea tailings disposal, downstream, fishing, Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, indigenous rights, Northern Gateway, Oil sands, settlement ponds, XL pipeline, Australia, Basamuk Bay, Bosmun village, Kurumbukari plateau and village, Mindere village, Papua New Guinea, Rai Coast, Ramu River; "Standing on Sacred Ground"; Global Environmental Justice

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