Faculty Member Gives Natives A Voice

Master's project takes Jerry Hartman to Suriname

By: Becky St. Clair

Hartman runs the camera while the people of Suriname share their stories.

Jerry Hartman, instructor in communications at WWU, recently returned from a two-and-a-half week visit to Suriname, formerly known as Dutch Guyana, located on the northeast coast of South America.

Suriname Indigenous Health Fund is a non-governmental organization (NGO) run by friends of Hartman. In response to in-country requests for more public awareness for the plight of the interior communities of Suriname, Hartman was asked to film a documentary.

Hartman is in the process of working on his Master of Fine Arts in digital cinema through National University, and agreed to do the documentary as his thesis project.

Three assistants from Washington State accompanied Hartman to Suriname, and two friends from the capitol city of Paramaribo acted as guides, drivers, and translators.

The focus of Hartman’s documentary was the many interior peoples of Suriname and their stories. Some communities even used small video cameras to document their own stories.

“The focus that came from the communities was mostly basic human rights,” says Hartman. “They need access to clean water, land, education, and health care.”

Gold mining is causing major water quality problems such as mercury, cyanide, and siltation, and land is being taken away from the indigenous people in order to be mined for gold and other minerals, as well as for ecotourism.

One woman from the Amerindian Village of Pikin Poika went to the city hospital due to illness. When she returned, her house was burned and a fence installed to keep her off the land. The developer says the locals have nothing to complain about; they can sell baskets, key chains, jewelry, etc., and be river guides to the tourists that will come. The Amerindians, however, feel that their land was illegally taken from them, and resent being marginalized as a ‘gift shop’ for foreigners.

Hartman is currently working on editing his footage for two film projects. One will be a 10-minute film for the Organization of Indigenous Peoples in Suriname. They have asked to be able to present the film at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) that meets in New York in April. They are still seeking a sponsor to be able to make the trip.

Secondly, Hartman is putting together a full 80-minute documentary on issues facing the interior people of Suriname. He hopes this part of the project will be finished by December 2008 and then released to human rights film festivals internationally.

He has plans for the documentary to be shown on television, but has no definite venue as of yet. In addition, Hartman is fundraising to translate four different languages (Dutch, Sranan Tongo, Arawak, and Marawai) that were captured on film in Suriname.

“The trip was successful and devastating at the same time,” says Hartman. “We heard real people tell their stories of being hurt by an unstoppable age of development and globalization that benefits people like us. We kept asking ourselves, ‘What is our role in this unjust system? And what should we do about it now?’”

For more information on this project or to learn how you can help this non-profit film production, email jerry.hartman@wallawalla.edu.

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