“Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance ” is a film directed by Alanis Obomsawin and a product of the National Film Board of Canada; It documents the Oka Crisis of 1990, which was a standoff between the Canadian government, people from Oka and Quebec, and the Mohawk, a Native American community (National Film Board of Canada, 1993).
The documentary shows all the events that eventually led to the crisis, tracing the historical context of colonialism, land dispossession, and discrimination affecting Canadian indigenous communities. The proposed expansion of the golf course on Mohawk land was the main issue that sparked the confrontation, as it would encroach upon a burial ground and sacred territory.
The documentary depicts the community’s determination to resist and the escalating tension through footage, interviews, and documentation done on the ground. The film portrays the courage and resilience of the Mohawk community as they form barricades, which lead to military intervention by the Canadian government. At the beginning of the standoff, the film shows the racial discourse used to portray the Mohawk people and their struggle, and it sheds light on the essentialization of indigenous communities and the pervasive stereotypes perpetuated by media and the authorities, which hinder their grievances from being heard and their self-determination aspirations.
From a decolonization point of view, the documentary highlights the colonizing undercurrents inherent in the government’s actions. The film illustrates how the desire for economic development and land exploitation perpetuates indigenous communities’ historical marginalization and oppression. A clear juxtaposition between the Mohawk people’s connection to their ancestral land, their cultural identity, and their resistance against the force of colonization is seen throughout the film. The film raises critical questions about power imbalance and the need for transformative change in addressing racialization and colonial legacies faced by indigenous communities.
With the governor’s help, the Sulpicians were able to push the Mohawks out of the land they were given by the king, as it was a very good meeting place for traders (National Film Board of Canada, 1993b). The Aboriginals were not involved in making such a crucial decision, which affected their livelihoods and cultures. The film highlights scenes like when the Sulpicians told the Mohawks to move to the mouth of the Ottawa River, not considering that the land initially belonged to them as their hunting place and that they could also perform cultural activities there. The Mohawk had no educated leader until 1853, when Joseph, at 23, was made the first chef who could understand the white man’s ways of writing and reading. The earlier generation of Mohawks is portrayed as illiterate. Their main means of communication is through chants, thus depicting a form of racialization, considering that they clearly communicated with the whites (Lempert, W., 2010). For example, spiritual leaders perform activities and chants on the barricade, whereas the soldiers do not respect that (Jiwani, 2011). Eventually, the film shows how the dialogue between the natives and the authorities parties involved leads to the natives getting back their land.
The film highlights colonizing undercurrents as the white people came into the ancestral land of the Mohawks and made the natives live under their rule, where on many occasions, they could tell them to relocate from one place to another. In the film, the white people’s government has authority over the natives to perform actions like taking and selling the natives’ resources without even consulting the locals. After Joseph is made the chief, he goes through what is going on and later confronts the father, but he is threatened that he will be locked up if he does not obey the priest’s order. All these actions depict the colonization of the Mohawks by the whites. As the Mohawks kept on fighting for their rights, they were able to come together and form a standoff. The authorities also torture the mohawks with tear gas and even beaten by soldiers. Some Mohawks community members are arrested and taken to jail due to protesting. The barricade during the standoff showed the determination and dedication of the people to get back their land.
The pursuit of profit contributes to racialization and colonization; in the film, Joseph understands how the whites were stealing resources from his native land and states that the whites were making their land poor by taking all the resources for themselves. The resources were being sold, and the money was being taken by the white governments. This is a sign of capitalism where the whites wanted more and more money from selling these resources without considering the impact of their actions on the native’s resources. The Sulpicians also ensured that the mohawks were pushed out of their land given to them by the king as they wanted it for their trading activities; this shows that they valued money more than a whole community and could do anything to be rich. The golf course is also constructed on the Mohawk’s land; the expansion of the golf course is what causes the Mohawk people to demonstrate in protest for their rights and land. The expansion of the golf course is a gesture of how capitalist the whites were that they could clear more land for a golf course expansion (#13 Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, n.d.). The Canadians took all these actions to profit from the Mohawks’ resources.
The film may inspire future decolonization. It has aspects of empowerment and solidarity. With the help of other communities like the Colombians, the Mohawks can fight the Canadian government and stand for their rights, giving them a win. The solidarity in the film shows that together, the indigenous people can achieve great things. The film documents and creates awareness of indigenous communities’ history, experiences, and struggles concerning colonization. Viewers may be encouraged to support decolonization after seeing what was done to the Mohawk people. Dialogue plays a big role in this film, as the representatives of the Mohawk communities are involved in many dialogues. The dialogues create a panel where the natives are able to air their grievances to the Canadian government. The film also encourages activism and movements as a way of fighting colonialism. Some Mohawk community members are at the forefront as activists against the Canadian authorities (#13 Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, n.d.). The other Mohawk community members have formed a movement that pushes authority as they fight for their rights. The film can encourage the viewers to form a movement or become activists to fight for something. The film also amplifies the indigenous communities’ voices because it covers how the white government had colonized and taken the mohawk’sMohawks land since the 18s; it also covers how the authorities treated the Mohawk activists and community members for their rights. This can encourage people to fight colonization in order to uphold human rights. This is a good film showing colonization’s effect on indigenous communities. It can also act as a source of motivation for activists against colonization and racialization.
Burman, J. (2016). Multicultural Feeling, Feminist Rage, Indigenous Refusal. Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies, 16(4), 361–372. https://doi.org/10.1177/1532708616638693
Jiwani, Y. (2011). Pedagogies of Hope: Counter Narratives and Anti-Disciplinary Tactics. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 33(4), 333–353. https://doi.org/10.1080/10714413.2011.597646
Lempert, W. (2010). Filmmaker, lawyer, Indian chief: The negotiation of identity in an indigenous film festival. The University of Denver.
National Film Board of Canada. (1993). Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. https://www.nfb.ca/film/kanehsatake_270_years_of_resistance/
National Film Board of Canada. (1993b). Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. https://www.nfb.ca/film/kanehsatake_270_years_of_resistance/
#13 Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. (n.d.). Documenta 14. https://www.documenta14.de/en/calendar/12433/13-kanehsatake