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concordia 26/10/2018 - 11:00AM

A Night of Indigenous Past, Present and Future with Cinema Politica Concordia


Images: Stills from YOU ARE ON INDIAN LAND by Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell (top) ÔTÊNAW by Conor McNally (left) and ENHIOR’HEN:NE (TOMORROW) by Roxann Whitebean (right).

The theatre was packed on Monday, the 22nd of October as students and the public gathered for a special evening with Cinema Politica Concordia. The audience was brought together around the screening of three Indigenous films spanning several decades of Indigenous-led decolonization efforts. Projection of the films was followed by a rousing discussion with Elder and activist Kahentinetha Horn, who is featured in YOU ARE ON INDIAN LAND, and who was joined by special guests Frank Horn and their cousin as well as director of ÔTÊNAW Conor McNally. Roxann Whitebean, director of ENHIOR’HEN:NE (TOMORROW) who was also on stage, making it a night not to be missed!

The evening started with the screening of Whitebean’s short film ENHIOR’HEN:NE (TOMORROW), which is part of the larger Documentary Futurism program launched by Cinema Politica in September 2018. The film was followed by ÔTÊNAW, a poetic and innovative film directed by Conor McNally, documenting the oral storytelling of Dwayne Donald, an educator from Treaty 6, Edmonton, Alberta.

As an overarching theme, the three films were all preoccupied with the past, present and future of Indigenous issues and struggles. In ENHIOR’HEN:NE (TOMORROW), Whitebean is concerned with the future Indigenous children will grow up to see. She reminds us that it is important to listen to the children and how they envision their future. With the impacts of climate change only worsening, one little girl in the film reminds us that we have to protect the Earth, while another child says, “we want to try to make humanity great again”. These words did not fall on deaf ears and resonated long after the film credits rolled.

ÔTÊNAW presented the multilayered histories of Indigenous peoples’ presence both within and around amiskwacîwâskahikan, or what has come to be known as the city of Edmonton. The film highlights the fact that in order to understand Indigenous issues and Indigeneity today, one must first understand how the past informs the present. During the discussion that followed the screenings, the audience was reminded that all of us have to recognize oppression in order for things to change. And to recognize oppression, we must first learn about it to then learn from it.

The last film to be shown was the remastered version of the classic documentary YOU ARE ON INDIAN LAND, a film by Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell. The kinetically charged documentary depicts the conflict between the local police and a demonstration by Mohawks of the St. Regis Reserve in December of 1968. In the film, the camera is highly involved in the action and almost becomes a weapon on the activists’ side. It is no surprise then, that this crucial documentary has become one of the most influential and widely distributed productions made by the Indian Film Crew (IFC), the first all-Indigenous unit at the NFB.

During the protest depicted in the film, Kahentinetha Horn and her brother, along with hundreds of other protesters, are joined by their cousin, who had jogged 18 hours all the way from Kahnawake to take part in the protest - only to find himself thrown in jail. Out of all the protesters, Kahentinetha was the only one charged (for allegedly beating up all 23 police officers on site!), and she subsequently fought legal battles for decades after.

During the discussion, Kahentinetha reflected on the continuing struggles of Indigenous peoples almost 50 years after the events of the film took place. She says the important message carried by the film is that it affirms the rights of Indigenous people to their land. Her brother, Frank Horn, emphasized the fact that all people are sovereign and have the right not to be oppressed. “When Indigenous people around North America see this film”, said Frank Horn, “it shows them that their people will not be pushed around”. The speakers were met with roaring applause – perhaps an indication that support for Indigenous rights has increased. Yet, there is still so much work to do in ongoing decolonizing efforts.


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