The untold story of Paiute Indian water practices and history in the context of an ongoing 150-year California Water War.
PAYA: A Documentary About California Water Wars
The year 2013 marks both the centennial anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and America's longest-lived Water War. From critically-acclaimed films like Chinatown to best-selling books like Cadillac Desert, for the past 100-years, the "LA-Owens Valley Water War" narrative has centered around the viewpoint that LA went out and "stole" Owens Valley's water. But there is a greater story, an untold story that is rich in history and human achievement, a story that is as much a part of American memory as the creation of our great cities.
This film documents the history of Paiute Native Americans who constructed and managed 60-miles of intricate irrigation systems in Owens Valley for millennia long before LA secured its largest source of water through modern engineering a century ago. After the Indian War of 1863, surviving Paiute returned to the Valley from the Eastern Sierra and White Mountains to find their ancient waterworks taken over by white settlers. Today, 150-years later, the Paiute continue to fight to save their waterworks, which are remnant in the Owens Valley landscape, along with water rights the city of LA never granted. PAYA ("water" in Paiute) stands to recover both Paiute history and water rights by increasing awareness through the powerful medium of documentary film.
About the Filmmaker
Jenna Cavelle, UC Berkeley Visiting Scholar, intends to capture the full story of this incredible piece of history-in-the-making. Today, both Water Wars and the Native American movement (Idle No More) are intersecting in fascinating ways that make for a timely documentary tribute. While Cavelle's project has received notable awards, prizes, and press, it still lacks funding needed to take the film to the next level. At present, Cavelle's KickStarter fundraising campaign is aimed at raising $15,000 of seed funding. Additionally, she is seeking a partner for film rights and is continuing to form a production crew. Please view her fundraising film trailer which is followed by a 4-minute narration here on KickStarter. Also available are links to awards, prizes, and press at the bottom of this page. In the "Updates" section, you can view movie posters, still photography, film footage, and more.
Current Progress & Project Needs:
For the past year, I have worked with tribal members to create and execute a creative project aimed at restoring cultural memory associated with ancient Paiute irrigation practices. The funding I received as part of the 2012 Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize from UC Berkeley jump-started my project by securing housing on the Bishop reservation and necessary transportation to move between UC Berkeley and the three reservation sites within the Valley for one full year. This funding has also paid for costs associated with multiple workshops I've held with tribal members to obtain oral histories and Paiute archival materials such as maps and surveys of the ancient irrigation systems. However, I am still in need of additional funding to help secure various items such as video and camera equipment, a PC computer needed to use cartography software, video editing software, digitizing and printing costs associated with the website and museum exhibits, and exhibit materials such as display cases for video, photo, and archival items. With your help, I will be able to complete this project, sharing the untold story of Paiute irrigation history through a documentary film and museum exhibits. Ultimately, you have the opportunity to help me restore a critical piece of American Indian history that is in danger of being lost in the Owens Valley landscape through weathering and human neglect, and in American memory through the loss of culturally transmitted traditional knowledge.
Project Plan Narrative & Timeline:
This project commenced in late August of 2012 and will conclude in the summer of 2013 with museum exhibits at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Museum and the Paiute-Shoshone Cultural Center in Bishop, California, and the construction of a website. These museum and web exhibits will feature the documentary film, photography, and oral histories, as well as archival materials from the Bancroft Library and the Paiute-Shoshone Cultural Center. The documentary film will also be screened at various venues and entered into the film festival circuit. (Screenings and entry fees into the festival circuit may require additional fundraising efforts.)
There are three main legs to this project, all of which are on-going. The first leg uses outreach, education, and advocacy to engage the Paiute community to participate in discussion-based workshops aimed at recalling their irrigation history and informing them of current unresolved litigation regarding their water rights. Paiute elders and I co-facilitate these workshops by presenting tribal members with primary sources from the UCB Bancroft Archival Library and the Paiute Archives on the reservation including journals, photographs, oral histories, and maps documented by various surveyors, explorers, journalists, and researchers from the mid-1800s through present day. Using primary sources as a chief educational tool encourages participatory processes of self-discovery, critical thinking, and instills a sense of belonging through which Paiute members will explore and embrace their irrigation history. I document these workshops using still and motion photography. The workshops also produce participants’ writings and drawings to be featured on the website and in the exhibits.
The second leg of the project brings tribal members into the surrounding landscape to explore and map the remnants of their ancient irrigation ditch networks. Using primary source maps from A.W. Von Schmidt, Julian Steward, and USGS, we match archival sketches and narratives of the ditch networks with the remnant ditches and map them using GIS technology. These maps will provide tribal members and the greater public with digital representations of the irrigation networks. While GIS mapping, I document the tribe’s experiences with text, photography, and video for use in web media and exhibit productions. Both Legs I and II empower Paiute water stewards, advocates, and educators who will carry forth the irrigation legacy of their ancestors. Additionally, I am working with the Inyo County Superintendent of Schools, Education Services department to facilitate dialogue between the school districts and myself to incorporate Paiute-led field trips into the school system’s existing K-12 Paiute curriculum.
In the third leg of the project, I work with other web designers to build TuvaijuMemory.org ("Tuvaiju" means "head irrigator" in Paiute). I teach the Paiute community how to continue designing and maintaining the site, which is currently live but under construction. The site serves as a virtual space where project outcomes can be accessed by Paiute members and the greater public. The website will feature photographs and videos of our fieldwork, downloadable maps of the ditch networks, Paiute participants’ stories and reflections, and a narrative of Paiute irrigation practices, customs, and history written by Paiute group members and edited by me and my project advisors. We will then use project outcomes to create an exhibit featuring Paiute irrigation history in the Paiute Cultural Center on the Bishop Paiute reservation. By spring of 2013, the 100-year anniversary of the completion of the LA Aqueduct, I will work with Bancroft curators to create an exhibit at UC Berkeley observing the 100-year anniversary of the aqueduct and the story of the Owens Valley-Los Angeles water war. The exhibit will describe the history of Paiute irrigation using the Bancroft primary sources collection and selected project results including maps, photographs, video clips, and oral histories. The exhibit will take place in the summer of 2013. Finally, the documentary film, which follows this project while simultaneously telling the history of Paiute irrigation, will be finalized and entered into the film festival circuit and distributed via the Internet.
Phase I (8/12 - 12/12): Outreach, Education & Literacy: Empowering Paiute Communities
Activities: Weekly discussions/outreach in Bishop, Big Pine, & Lone Pine reservations. Travel to Berkeley & Carmel to consult with advisors to narrate discussion results for use on website and by Bancroft curators for exhibit design.
Outcome: Formation of empowered, informed group of Paiute members to participate in remainder of project as to educate their communities about Paiute irrigation history and water rights issues beyond conclusion of my project.
Phase II (1/13 – 4/13): Exploring Paiute Irrigation Systems: GIS Mapping and Educational Tours
Activities: Tour ditch networks with Mr. Williams to identify ditches to be mapped. Visit select sites with group and map until Dec 20th. Break until Jan 3rd for holiday. Map from Jan 3-Feb 1. Travel to CNR’s Geospatial Innovation Facility to finalize maps using our data. February through March, begin educational tours with Inyo County Schools.
Outcome: Formation of digital maps of irrigation networks. Creation of educational tours of ditch networks to be used by the Paiute community and Inyo County Schools. Documentation of creation of maps and educational tours.
Phase III (4/13 – 8/13): Film, Website, Exhibit, & Memorial: Commemorating Paiute History
Activities: Group selects photographs, videos, maps, oral histories for website. Travel b/t Berkeley and Carmel to consult w/ advisors to finalize web content. Work with Paiute group to complete website and train them to run website using Wordpress, which requires no knowledge of HTML or web design. By May, construct irrigation exhibit in Cultural Center. Return to Berkeley by mid-June to work with Bancroft curators to finalize exhibit in Berkeley. Documentary film is edited and finalized.
Outcome: Virtual, mix-media representation of Paiute irrigation story and project journey on the website and in DVD format. Paiute Cultural Center irrigation exhibit. Ongoing commemorative tours led by OVC and Paiute group. UCB Bancroft Library exhibit. Completed documentary film.
Praise & Press:
1) The research conducted that served as the foundation for this project, titled Recovering Cultural Memory: Irrigation Systems of the Owens Valley Paiute Indians won the "2012 American Cultures Student Research Prize" from UC Berkeley.
2) This project was awarded the 2012 Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize from UC Berkeley.
3) Jenna Cavelle and this project were profiled by Breakthroughs magazine published by the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley.
4.) Results and Findings from the research that sourced this project, and the project itself informed a joint abstract and presentation co-authored by Jenna Cavelle at the Urban Jungles Conference given by the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at Stanford University. The paper was titled, Urban Jungle in Water: Place Making and Un-making, the Role of Water in Los Angeles and Owens Valley.
5) Jenna Cavelle and this project were profiled by the College of Letters & Sciences at UC Berkeley.
6) Jenna Cavelle and this project were profiled by the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management at UC Berkeley.
7) Jenna Cavelle's collaboration with Paiute elder, Harry Williams, was given mention in the Los Angeles Aqueduct 2012 Anniversary project by Cal Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
8.) Jenna Cavelle, PAYA, and the Kickstarter campaign make the front page of the local newspaper, the Inyo Register, which covers the entire Valley of 5 cities in the article Filmmaker bringing story of paya to the masses.
9.) Blogger Chris Clarke profiles Jenna Cavelle, PAYA, and the Kickstarter campaign in his blog titled Jenna Cavelle wants to correct 'Chinatown'.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Risks associated with this project are minimal but do exist and thus should be addressed. Owens Valley has extreme weather and temperature variations and this often requires swift adaptation on the part of the project. For example, if it is snowing, hailing, or raining, mapping activities may have to be postponed. Additionally, I live in a 1976 Airstream trailer on the Bishop Paiute reservation with standard (but often shaky) RV hookups. This means that often my plumbing does not work during freezing temperatures and thus imposes annoyances that may slow down day-to-day activities. At times I only have a 3 hour window when I have running water. Unforeseen expenses do arise such as tire chains to drive through snow, or like the one time I locked my keys in my truck and had to call for a lock smith while working at 8,000 feet. With each new challenge, I learn and prepare accordingly as to minimize risks and impacts on the project. Finally, it is often challenging to enter into an indigenous community that is established and has reservations about working with outsiders, especially when that outsider is a member of a non-indigenous community. In this way, I hope that both my previous work with indigenous communities will speak for me as well as the small bit of Iroquois ancestry present in my father's lineage.
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