Drowned Land is a feature documentary that shares the stories of a group of water protectors determined to preserve the lifeline of their community and end a cycle of environmental exploitation on the Kiamichi River. Recently, the state of Oklahoma signed an agreement to divert up to 85% of the water from the most ecologically diverse river in Oklahoma - the Kiamichi, located deep in the Choctaw Nation. The Kiamichi and its tributaries have a history of exploitation with disastrous consequences to the community and the environment. The construction of Sardis Dam in the Kiamichi watershed by the US Army Corps of Engineers flooded the town of Sardis and displaced its residents - all that is left is the Sardis cemetery, now an island in the middle of the lake.
Colleen Thurston is the director of Drowned Land and a Choctaw Nation citizen who has a personal tie to this story. To make room for resource exploitation and white settlement, the federal government forcibly removed the Choctaw Nation from their homelands in the southeastern United States and sent them on the harrowing Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. A century after this act of land theft and genocide, Colleen’s Choctaw grandfather was an engineer with the Corps of Engineers, who helped to design and build the dams which displaced the very people who like himself came from a history of displacement. In Drowned Land, Colleen explores the legacy of her grandfather’s work and cycle of displacement within the Choctaw Nation and the Kiamichi watershed.
The Kiamichi River is a cultural heartline and a source of subsistence for the region, and its ecological diversity is rich and unique. The river is home to three endangered species of mussels, which keep the water clean, and which only exist in the Kiamichi watershed. Already threatened by climate change and the construction of Sardis Dam, this tiny mollusk is at risk due to the proposed water diversion and additional development projects. As the community fights to save their water, invoking the Endangered Species Act to protect the river's mussels may be the last hope to conserve the ecosystem. In Drowned Land, Colleen follows the stories of those whose lives and activism offer hope in their quest to guard the “heartline” of their people.
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