The Leech and the Earthworm

The Leech and the Earthworm

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August 16, 2008

Named after a story about a deadly lie, The Leech and the Earthworm is a documentary film that explores western science, biotechnology and the commodification of indigenous peoples genetic property. The film was produced in 2003 by Yeast Directions and the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB).

For a little more background, here’s a review of the film by GRAIN, an international NGO that “promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people’s control over genetic resources and local knowledge.”

In the mid-1980s, scientists from a Canadian university took blood samples from more than 800 people of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation of Vancouver Island, Canada. The scientists said the blood samples would help find a cure for arthritis and the Nuu-chah-nulth people were willing to help. But the scientists never returned with their results and a few years later the Nuu-chah-nulth people discovered the blood was in England being used for other experiments, without their knowledge or authorisation.

This unfortunate but not uncommon case of biopiracy is the opening scene in The Leech and the Earthworm, a documentary film produced by Debra Harry, Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB) and one of the world’s foremost critical voices on biotechnology. From the Nuu-chah-nulth biopiracy case, the film plunges into complex questions of intellectual property rights and biotechnology, bringing indigenous leaders from the Philippines, North America, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Lolvatmagemu (Vanuatu) to unpack these difficult concepts and explain what they mean according to the world views of indigenous peoples.

The underlying message is that biotechnology is nothing but an extension of colonialism – a new fundamentalism promising another round of salvation, as it unleashes more domination and destruction. Blunt words are said about “benefit sharing” and the perils for indigenous peoples of joining the intellectual property game. Through the experiences of Maoris struggling to stop research into genetic engineering in Aotearoa, the film sends a powerful message about the need for indigenous peoples to shift the focus of resistance away from reacting to the arguments of the biotech promoters. Instead, they should be reclaiming their own arguments and finding their own ways to restore the health of their communities.

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