Nihunavea: My Heart, My Center

Project type: Nonfiction Feature
Project status: Development
Director: Colin Rosemont
Director: Sandra Hernandez
Producer: Devlin Gandy
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Nihunavea bears witness to the complex struggles of reclaiming Native California Indian cultural heritage, spirituality, and Tribal Sovereignty. Set shortly after the Tejon Indian Tribe’s decades-long struggle for sovereignty through Federal Reaffirmation, Sandra Hernandez—an enrolled member and elected official of the Tejon Indian Tribe—forges a path through government agencies, museum institutions, & academia as she works to revitalize the Kitanemuk language, repatriate artifacts, and strengthen the foundational core of her Native identity: family & community.


Nihunavea chronicles the reclamation of Indigenous identity, knowledge, culture, and sovereignty through the lived experiences of SANDRA HERNANDEZ—a Kitanemuk woman, mother, cultural leader, and tribal council member of the Tejon Indian Tribe of Kern County in Southern California. Starting with a past that is ever-present, the story begins by illustrating how events that took place over the past 250 years still dramatically impact day-to-day life for Native Californians. From this historical perspective, we shift to the recent Federal Re-acknowledgement of the Tejon Indian Tribe’s existence in 2012. Though the tribe has always existed, the existence of their legal rights and sovereignty were denied for decades as a result of a Congressional clerical error. Through Re-acknowledgement, countless new opportunities and future possibilities have arisen for the Tejon Tribe.

This is not a historical film, but rather a film that takes as its subject the contemporary legacy of a haunting past. Whether it is Sandra practicing her language work or parsing through old archival notes or objects, or visiting a California mission for the first time, the intent is not to merely paint a representation of her life today, but moreover to trace the connection through the past that led her to that moment in the present. Through this intimate journey, we explore the intersections of present possibilities and past wrongs, wherein new opportunities for both Sandra and her tribe are realized as they renegotiate and reassert their relation to their history, their homelands, and their future.

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Meet the Filmmakers

Colin Rosemont — Director

Colin Rosemont is a writer and director with a BA in cultural anthropology from Reed College and an MA in environmental studies from the University of Oregon with an emphasis on visual arts and the environmental humanities. He recently wrote, directed, and produced the short narrative film Bound (2020), exploring the relationship between two estranged brothers in the aftermath of a traumatic accident. He is in production on a series of documentary short films, expanding upon collaborative work with professional archaeologists, Southern Californian Tribal members, and land conservationists alike. His ongoing work with the Tejon Tribe looks at the possibility and extent of collaborative, co-constitutive knowledge production of the past through the lens of an ongoing archeological excavation in the mountains of Southern California. This work is part of ongoing efforts to decolonize methodologies and re-inscribe social histories into the landscape.

Sandra Hernandez – Director

Sandra Hernandez is an enrolled member and serves on the elected council of the Tejon Indian Tribe. The Tejon Indian Tribe was federally re-affirmed in January of 2012, having previously been erroneously left off the list of federally recognized California tribes. This admitted governmental error left the Tribe without funding to provide social services for over a century. Since 2012, leadership has worked tirelessly to develop long overdue and much needed; health, wellness, cultural and educational programs that the Tribe is now able to provide to their 1000+ enrolled tribal members. Sandra is responsible for the Tribe’s cultural programs and activities. Alongside her family, Sandra has worked tirelessly, leading efforts to revitalize the Kitanemuk language, reclaim cultural heritage from museums nationwide, and strengthen her tribal community.

Devlin Gandy — Producer

Devlin Gandy is a photographer, filmmaker, archaeologist, PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, and citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. His projects with National Geographic include retracing Ernest Shackleton’s crossing of South Georgia, the Boiling River Project in the Peruvian Amazon, and ongoing VR story-telling projects focused on the intersection of Native sovereignty and public lands debate raging in the American West. His work creating a virtual reality experience of Bears Ears National Monument alongside photographer Aaron Huey earned him a Webby Award in 2019. Gandy has worked intimately with the Tejon Tribe, using his expertise with the Smithsonian Harrington notes to create an interactive database of Kitanemuk place-names and stories for the Tejon Indian Tribe. While at Cambridge, his work focuses on environmental genomics and latent aspects of NAGPRA law. He seeks to expand upon decolonizing methodologies in archaeology in hopes an Indigenous archaeology
can meaningfully support and empower Indigenous communities.

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