Why we must travel to the future to realise Native American relevance in the present
‘Delivery From Earth’ is the screenplay that won filmmaker Michael Becker first place, and consequently the budget for a small production, when entered into the Lockheed Martin and the New Mexico Film Foundation film contest. A loose brief, the competition posed the question, “What is the excitement of Human Space Exploration? And where do we go now?”
Becker’s film answered. Presenting a beautifully told story that seamlessly marries together the furious, futuristic expansion into space, with the steadfast, unchanging belief system of Native American Indians. The film portrays a young Navajo boy, eagerly awaiting the historic news broadcast: a baby born on Mars. From his makeshift space station, crafted from tarpaulin, oil drum and tent, the boy looks out over what could be the red rock of the Martian landscape, but is really just the Four Corners of New Mexico. It’s the first of many parallels that make this work so poignant.
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The Navajo Nation is the largest U.S. Indian tribe with a population of over 298,000. Their homeland reservation covers 27,000 square miles and boundaries extend from north-western New Mexico into north-eastern Arizona and south-eastern Utah. Despite the relative freedom of today, the Navajo Nation have suffered appalling persecution. Invaded by the Spanish and then by the US (emerging in the mid-1800s as a nation driven to expand its territory), the Navajo people have lost and regained sacred land many times over.
The traditional homelands of the Navajo (or Diné, meaning ‘the people’) is marked by four sacred mountains: Mt. Blanca to the east, Mt. Taylor to the south, San Francisco Peak to the west and Mt Hesperus to the north near Durango, Colorado, thus creating Navajoland. According to tribal stories, the Navajo emerged from the lower worlds to this region, which they call Dinétah, or ‘among the People’.
The Diné believe there are two classes of beings: the Earth People and the Holy People. Over centuries, stories passed from one generation to the next, tell of how the Holy People taught the Diné how to live in the right way. They were taught through ritual how to live in harmony with Mother Earth, Father Sky and the many other elements; humans, animals, plants, insects. And today, many of these practices remain integral to the way in which Indigenous communities navigate the world.
It’s likely, that to the millions of us living outside of the Navajo people, with little knowledge of their culture, that these ancient practices pale in significance compared with rituals of a Western modern-day life: work commitments, family life, social engagements. In the whirlwind of our existence, the practices of Dinè may feel to us irrelevant, redundant, pointless even. Yet in this film, Becker makes the great equaliser that is space travel, the unifier between our world and theirs. By imagining the Navajo people at the centre of an enormous feat for humanity, the Western spectator sees with clarity, Native American relevance in the future, as they struggle today for relevance in the present.
The Shawnee proverb, “we are all one child, spinning under Mother Sky” is carried like a melody throughout the scenes. As the narrative stretches across the immense void between New Mexico and Mars, the proverb too journeys the distance. As the story unfolds, it is a painful realisation that the Native American relevance must be dramatically removed from our real lives for us to grasp the powerful message. Country, creed or colour, aren’t we all under one sky? For the Navajo Nation, just like many Indigenous groups, oneness is intrinsic to their belief system: oneness to each other, to the earth, to the spirits, space and sky. And isn’t it such cruel irony that the Eurocentric view has always sought to disrupt that, to draw a line of otherness and of marked separation.
This film is thought provoking: if we landed on Mars tomorrow, what belief system would spur a population of care and kindness to the planet and its people? Who would intrude and who would not interrupt? Who would extract from the environment and who would give back? It feels to us, the Navajo would be ideal guardians and inhabitants as the first occupiers of Mars.
About the filmmaker
A twenty-five year veteran of film and television production, Michael Becker grew up in New Mexico but left soon after college to spend twenty years working in Hollywood and Europe on movies, television shows, and commercials before returning to Santa Fe a few years ago with his wife, Laurie.
A self-described “space nut” since his early teens, one of the most memorable images of the Space Age has been that of people gathered around their television screens worldwide viewing the latest triumphs of NASA, from the Apollo missions to the moon and back, to the Space Shuttle and the Mars rover landings. “Space was once the great equaliser,” said Becker. “The world stopped when there was a rocket or shuttle launch, and in crafting this film, I tried to consider what is the moment that would create that kind of interest in space exploration again?”
Becker, who is not Native American, is quick to point out that as an outsider to that community, he found it important to partner with those who had better insight into the Native American world. Working with George Burdeau, the first Native American to be elected to the Director’s Guild of America, and utilising his connection within the community, the cast and concept became well informed and aligned to Native influence and tradition.
 Source: https://www.newmexico.org/places-to-visit/native-culture/navajo-nation/  Source: https://www.discovernavajo.com/navajo-culture.aspx#:~:text=In%20most%20Navajo%20rituals%20there,ceremonies%20to%20help%20cure%20patients  Source: https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/navajo/long-walk/long-walk.cshtml