Mar. 21—The Palisades, a wilderness study area located in both the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests in Idaho and Wyoming, is finally having its moment in the spotlight.
Wyoming Wilderness Association believes this ancestral, unceded territory of the Eastern Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock, Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, Absaalooké (Crow) and Oceti Sakowin (Lakota) people deserves to be properly acknowledged. By noting the history of this native landscape, the WWA hopes to further its commitment to work against the system of oppression that stripped Indigenous people of their lands.
In 2017, the WWA chose to bring this history to light through a movie, “The Palisades Project.” The finished product will debut virtually on March 26.
“I had this moment when I realized, if I make a film very simply about why the Palisades should be wilderness, there is a group of people who already agree with me that will really love the film,” WWA Associate Director Peggie dePasquale said. “And then I think there’s a lot of other people who will just kind of tune it out as wilderness propaganda, and not even give it the time of day. … what really needed to happen was a story about what the conflict was around the landscape, with a call to action.”
The resulting film explores the intersection of motorized and mechanized recreation, wilderness conservation and the conflicts that have emerged in this region of northwest Wyoming — one of the least fragmented landscapes in the Lower 48 states not designated as wilderness.
In May 2018, when dePasquale joined the WWA staff, one of the many tasks she was assigned was to produce the film, and that was also around the time the Teton County committee of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative was wrapping up discussions. Talking through the future management of the Palisades was “a very contentious process,” she recalled, and the committee could not agree what that future management would look like.
That’s one reason why, around 2019, the WWA shifted its focus, dePasquale said, from making a film about why the Palisades should be wilderness to the conflict that surrounded the landscape and management decisions in the region. By January 2020, the association had partnered with Laramie-based production company Square State Film to help get that message across.
But after two months of getting the project on track with Square State Founder Mike Vanata, the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down because it became difficult for Vanata to travel safely to Teton County. However, dePasquale said the film ended up only getting about three months behind its planned December 2020 release.
“We’re really proud that despite all of those setbacks, we persevered, and we took advantage of all of the virtual options for collaboration,” she said.
She’s bummed that the premiere had to go virtual, but she thinks the association has found a creative way to engage its online audience. Following the virtual screening, WWA will host a panel discussion with several people interviewed in the film, allowing for the virtual audience to engage with the stakeholders who enable the telling of this story.
“The point of the film is to inspire a solution and inspire differing sides to move forward,” dePasquale said. “I know that this film alone is not going to solve the issue of what should we do in protecting and managing the Palisades … but I do believe that this film is going to be the catalyst for incredible conversation. And so if we simply premiered the film and had it be a one-way channel of communication, that would not align with the purpose and greater cause of why we did this project in the first place.”
In an email, Vanata added that it was important to show the Palisades as a character of its own, so one filmmaking technique he relied on was “changeling.”
“I wanted to have moments when the human characters spoke for it, like giving it a voice,” he said. “I think the people who want to protect that area really ring true to the Palisade’s voice, which I believe is asking to remain wild. Maybe we should start listening.”
The project taught dePasquale the importance of not only giving the Palisades a voice, but giving a voice to the Indigenous people often left out of public land conversations.
“Native people are the original inhabitants and stewards of our public lands,” she said. “We have an opportunity and obligation to ensure their voices are central within the conversations we are having regarding the land that was taken from them.”
Niki Kottmann is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at [email protected] or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter at @niki_mariee.