Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance

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This post was written by Aisling Chin-Yee and it also appears on the Work For All website.

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance by acclaimed filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin is about what came to be known as the “Oka Crisis” in the early 90s in Quebec. This is the 6th film the Hate Racism? Watch these Films campaign, and we thought an amazing historical follow up to Nadia Myre’s As I Am.

The town of Oka wanted to add 9 holes to an existing golf course, which would use traditional Mohawk land that included a burial ground. The crisis became an internationally known conflict of epic proportions that involved the police and then the Canadian Army. Protests appear on both sides, from the Mohawk communities of Kahnawake and Kanehsatake and the neighbouring Non-Aboriginal communities of Chateauguay and Oka. Anger exemplifies their differences, and the idea of a peaceful resolution seems unlikely.

The Mohawk community stood united to preserve their land, and called out to other First Nations to join them in solidarity, which they did. Demonstrations took place across the country, and leaders from other nations and provinces came to speak in solidarity with the Mohawks of Kahnesatake. A historical event that became about more than the golf course, but about respect and preservation of a community defending what was rightfully theirs. Director Alanis Obomsawin spent 78 days behind the barricades filming the movement, living in trench-like conditions to document the Mohawks’ struggle to defend their land.

Obomsawin gives the conflict historical context and offers an in-depth look at the centuries of systemic mistreatment and broken promises made to the Mohawk community about the land they own. That resulted in a stand-off between the community and the police, and became an issue that the Non-Aboriginal people of Canada could not ignore. The “Oka Crisis” brought together many, in support of the Mohawks’ cause, and pushed away those who couldn’t see the significance of this land to the Mohawk community of Kanehsatake.

Alanis Obomsawin describes what it was like to film during the conflict that took place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for months.