‘Keeping it Sacred’ movie is example of beautiful full circle

A boy rides his bike down a dirt road. He’s looking to meet with friends and for answers for how to help his dad quit smoking. Friends join his quest seeking knowledge from elders about how tobacco can be sacred yet harmful. They discover pieces of their cultural heritage that help differentiate sacred and commercial tobacco.

“Keeping it Sacred” is a film created by youth members of PeaceJam, a Southern Ute Boys & Girls Club service-learning-initiative program. On June 11, they will be recognized by the Southern Ute Tribal Council with an Indian Health Service award for their hard work on the film, combating secondhand smoke and promoting healthy living.

The young people also will be requesting from the council that it extend clean-air provisions to tribal properties under the SunUte Community Center’s supervision, said PeaceJam coordinator Crystal Garnanez. This would bring the project full circle, as last spring, San Juan Basin Health Department staff members educated these students about secondhand smoke, its harmful effects and the importance of changing social norms with adults modeling healthy behaviors. Seeing a tobacco-prevention ad done by the Boys & Girls Club in Durango inspired the PeaceJam young people to create their own.

Celebrating Healthy Communities, a program of the health department, provided funding while the 15 youths developed the story and worked as film crew and actors. Supported by her immediate supervisors of the Southern Ute Tribal Police Department, Garnanez helped direct, storyboard and recruit musicians. Mariel Balbuena, a former health department staff member, provided education and worked tirelessly with the team. Balbuena “did sound and lights, made food and drove us around,” said Garnanez. “She did everything.”

Filmed last August, the project turned out longer and more involved than expected. “Keeping it Sacred” transformed from an ad to a short film that has received much attention, including recognition from the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services.

“Not only does your film carry an important message about the dangers of recreational, nonceremonial tobacco use, it has already helped to bring about important change,” said Regional Director Marguerite Salazar.

In fact, last fall, the film helped convince the Southern Ute Tribal Council to pass a 100 foot smoke-free perimeter at the SunUte Community Center entrance.

Salazar continued: “This department is committed to helping Americans move past some of the habits and lifestyle choices that make us unhealthy – especially the recreational use of tobacco. It is refreshing to hear such an enlightened view on the issue from young people.”

“Keeping it Sacred” debuted at the Durango Film Festival in March. This presented the young people with an opportunity to participate in a film panel while providing Garnanez her proudest moment in this journey. Though nervous, students were able to say what they got out of the project. One said that his grandmother quit smoking; another expressed gratitude that people learned about sacred tobacco; one was excited about being involved with filmmaking; and several youths were excited that a smoke-free resolution passed after years of hard work.

“It’s really great to see our kids film their ideas and the elders teaching the kids on sacred tobacco use, and then the kids teaching Tribal Council and fellow kids on their stance on secondhand smoke and keeping tobacco sacred,” Garnanez said.

It’s yet one more beautiful full circle.

Jane Looney is communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.