Interviewing Nick Lunch about Participatory Video and indigenous people

If you have a look at the InsightShare website or YouTube channel you will probably notice that quite a few Participatory Video (PV) projects involve indigenous people. From the Baka people in Cameroon to the Quechua Indians in Peru. A good starting point for an interview with one of the founders and directors of InsightShare, Nick Lunch.

Basically, my first question for Nick was to explain the roots of working with indigenous people. We went back to 1990. The year that Nick decided to work one year as a teacher in Nepal in between high school and University. In retrospect a year that changed his life. Living in the village Sermathang with the Yolmo people made him realise that these people have a way of life that is very abundant, unique, and different from ours. A way of life that is very much in harmony with nature and environment. Five years later, Nick and his girlfriend went back to live in the village where they experimented for the first time with PV. After coming back to the UK, Nick set up a local charity in Oxford doing PV with young people. An exchange project was set up where local youth in Nepal and the UK communicated with each other using video messages. Initially to break down negative stereotypes about the development world as poor and in need for help. And although the exchange idea was a success, it wasn’t the strongest and most transformative part of the PV projects. As Nick explained: “The exchange idea was a nice idea … but increasingly our work with PV was not so much about exchange but more about focussing on the community issues and putting up a mirror to reflect and enabling people to think about their issues …”.

From here, it is only a small step to the first PV project Nick and (his brother) Chris did together in 1999 in Turkmenistan. The project was with pastoralists in a small village Garegul, located in the middle of the Karakorum dessert. The three family clans living in the village had been in conflict since … (who knows). For one reason or another they would not engage with each other, even though it was a tiny village in the absolute middle of nowhere where you kind of need each other to survive. The Participatory Video process has been set up to discuss an ecological issue the people in Garegul were dealing with. During the process it became clear that: “the participatory video process itself unlocked something”. “Within ten days people were working together and coming in to each other’s houses to watch the video’s” they had been making, followed by organising collective action.

At the community (internal) level the PV process became a tool to solve the problems between the different clans living in the village by enabling everyone to feel heard. The PV process also had its impact on an external level, influencing the decision makers in the region. The Regional Governor was very much impressed by the film. Having no idea that (his) people were so intelligent and had so much knowledge (about the ecological problems in the region). The film has also been shown in the capital, Ashgabat, mainly to people from (I)NGO’s and foreign embassies, that were having difficulties working constructively with communities in a participatory manner. For them it was very fascinating to see how a PV process could contribute to breaking down all kind of barriers, leading to a collaborative and participatory process. The result of this meeting has been that staff at the Embassies were moved to start a fund that supported the community-led initiative that emerged from the participatory video project to set up a collective flock of sheep as a way to strengthen the resilience of pastoralists in the desert. The offspring lambs were traded for solar panels!

Somewhere in the middle of our conversations I realised that we have been talking about Participatory Video with Indigenous groups, but I still hadn’t really figured out what was so particular about working with indigenous groups. So, why exactly does Participatory Video work so well with indigenous groups? One of the reasons is that PV fits very well with storytelling and the oral tradition that is dominant in most indigenous communities. Of course, this isn’t exclusively the case with indigenous groups. More important is the experimental way of working that is characteristic for indigenous people. Their knowledge about (local) food, plants and medicines comes from continuous learning by experience. This experimental way of learning is very much in line with the different steps that are taken in a Participatory Video process. The synthesis between a PV process and the indigenous learning by experiences is probably best expresses by Maria Flores, a Yaqui elder. After completing an InsightShare training in Northern Mexico she has only one thing to say: “PV is a process that seems to be designed for indigenous people”.

We have seen so far that the origins of InsightShare are strongly intertwined with PV projects involving indigenous groups. This has been so in the beginning and it continues to be the case. A recent and very large scale programme with indigenous groups is ‘Conversations with the Earth’, a programme focused on the voices of indigenous people on climate change all around the world. You can find a lot of beautiful stories, photos and videos on the website and in the brochure, or even check if there is an exhibition not too far from you. Before finishing this blog I would like to elaborate a bit on a story that really touches me.

It is a story from one of the ‘Conversations with the Earth’ projects in Cambridge Bay, Canada. The indigenous group, the Inuit, live in this part of Arctic Canada. It is not easy growing up as an Inuit youngster in Arctic Canada these days. Although they haven’t faced the discrimination against indigenous people as their parents and grandparents did, still a lot of them feel kind of lost between the more traditional way of living of their elders on the one hand and the more westernized (consumerist) lifestyle of their (non-Inuit) peers on the other hand. The split they are in and their feeling of ‘lostness’ is something these Inuit youngsters have to deal with every day. Shocking to see is that the Canadian Inuit have a suicide rate that is among the highest in the world (and ten times that for the rest of Canada). Research says that the effects of (past) government intervention dramatically affected kin relations, roles, and responsibilities, and romantic relationships. Suicide is embedded in these relationships. A PV process can work as a mirror and help Inuit youth to explore and celebrate their identity. It’s a collective and reinforcing way; to find out where they come from; to discover how rich their culture actually is; and to learn to show this to other people and be proud of it. The PV process with local youth in Cambridge bay resulted in the film Growing up in Cambridge Bay. During the process you see the Inuit youth reflecting on who they are and where they come from. They deliberately choose to discover their roots by focussing on things as: traditional fishing, hunting, Arctic sports, local legends and their indigenous language. In the next film they made, Building A Qajaq To The Future, you see how Inuit elders and youth work together on building a traditional sealskin kayak using traditional tools.


In contrast to Canada there are still other countries where discrimination against indigenous people continues. In Peru, for example, the Quechua Indians still face strong discrimination resulting in (e.g.) very low self-esteem. Without trying to be too pretentious PV proves to be a method that can help indigenous groups a bit to stay true to their own identity and way of living. Irma Canchumani, a Quechua Indian living in the Peruvian Highlands and worked with InsightShare as a facilitator in 2009 explains very well what the value of video can be: “we turn the gaze of the camera towards those things we value the most; for us participatory video is ‘seeing beauty’ ”. Check out Irma’s first and second film. The dream for the five next years is to establish a network of sustainable, autonomous, community-owned media hubs. The establishment of these media hubs is closely related to ‘the right to self-determination for indigenous people’. As part of that InsightShare will continue supporting indigenous facilitators to carry out PV projects within their communities, neighbouring communities and beyond.


One comment

  1. I have had the opportunity to become familiar with the participatory video technique through my professor Helen Hambly- Odame in 2006 while I was doing my MSc in Capacity development and Extension. I have been utilizing it since then. I work with peasant people in the high Andes of Peru and including gender in the research studies. These communities still suffer from discrimination and exclusion and women are in disadvantage in comparison to men. They still speak their mother tongue (Quechua), they do not have access to basic and fundamental resources like education, health services, information and agricultural inputs. They needed a tool that could integrate them, initiate dialogue and the most important confidence and trust. The video camera and the PV techniques gave them the opportunity to express their concerns, experiences and needs comfortably. We (my husband and I) have produced with the peasant people of the Highlands some videos. I only have to transmit the voice of one of the women in the study to say thank you to Chris and Nick for sharing with us your knowledge. “we never had the chance to have a video camera and say our ideas in public without feeling intimidated”

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