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network 03/09/2015 - 10:00AM

Alanis Obomsawin’s KANEHSATAKE: 270 YEARS OF RESISTENCE (1993) and the 25th Anniversary of the Oka Standoff

In the summer of 1990, the Kanehsatake Mohawks barricaded the highway outside Oka, Québec, to demonstrate against commercial plans to transform part of their forested territory into a golf course. Their 78-day clash with Canadian police and military forces not only stopped the planned developments, but also foregrounded the differences between national media coverage of indigenous activism and self-produced filmic representations of the same issues.

Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin’s KANEHSATAKE: 270 YEARS OF RESISTENCE (1993) records the Oka Standoff from the protester’s perspective with cameras smuggled across the police line. Her film is an invaluable counter-narrative of the protest that stands in stark contrast to the version covered in the mainstream media, transforming the filmmaker’s work into an act of defiant self-representation. Obomsawin remains an unstoppable force in aboriginal art and activist media, having made dozens of films since KANEHSATAKE with a constant focus on Canada’s First Peoples, including two other films that completed a trilogy around the Oka incident. Ms. Obomsawin currently has two films coming out at the NFB and two more in production, and Cinema Politica is proud to carry many works by of one of Canada’s most important—and political—filmmakers.

Unfortunately, the public narratives of poverty and illegal resource development in Canadian indigenous territories often remain in the control of mainstream media, where both state and corporate entities steadily uphold the status quo of neocolonialism. Many of the recent struggles faced by Canada’s First Nations, from the Attawapiskat housing crisis to the invasive and destructive Nothern Gateway pipeline invite misleading presentations of Indigenous Canadians as helpless and hapless, or as petty obstructionists, if their stories are made public at all. One can only speculate on how the recently released Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s report on the rampant child abuse within the residential school system will manifest within the party politics of the 2015 Canadian Federal Election.

Cinema Politica remains committed to screening films about and by under-represented communities, and we are proud that KANEHSATAKE still screens vigorously within our network. Our newest sidebar program, First Peoples First Screens (to be launched in the Fall of 2015) will help to disseminate and present dozens of films by Indigenous Canadian artists across Canada and around the world.

We offer our sincere admiration of - and solidarity with - the brave people of Kanehsatake and our Indigenous collaborators across Turtle Island and around the world. Be it in the style of Obomsawain’s guerilla journalism, poetic renderings of traditional cultures, hard-hitting anti-colonial exposés or the wider Indigenous-produced rhetorics that link self-determination to self-representation, Cinema Politica is inspired by the last 25 years of aboriginal art and activism and we look forward to the next twenty-five.