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network 28/02/2020 - 01:00PM

Colonialism & Indigenous Resistance on Film

As Indigenous-organized blockades continue to disrupt the colonial status quo across Canada, many groups and individuals across the country are responding to the Wet’suwet’en call for action, support and solidarity. In an effort to respond to the values and concerns of much of its contemporary audiences, corporate and mainstream media has attempted a tone shift away from the days of reporting on Mohawk “terrorists” during the Oka crisis. Yet the news media is still a deeply colonial franchise mandated to uphold the dominant cultural narrative.

As such, the ways in which mainstream media frame blockades, sit-ins and other “illegal” actions tend to oscillate between “we care about the plight of Indigenous peoples” and “radical activists are wreaking havoc.” Media framing analysis is concerned with what is omitted or excluded from the frame, as well as the composition of what is included inside the frame. In the case of the countrywide actions in support of the Wet’suwet’en peoples’ right to sovereignty, misrepresentations and negative stereotyping of direct action activists and Indigenous leaders is only part of the problem. Outside of that frame lies the historical context of colonization, imperialism and the formation of the liberal settler nation-state known today as Canada.

With that in mind, and in service of the larger project occurring around settler-to-settler education on Indigenous history, culture and liberation, here is a handy playlist of videos to not only fill in the blanks mainstream media leaves open, but to redress many of the inaccuracies, inconsistencies and harms they regularly serve up. Most of these videos are free, while others require a small rental charge.

First up: a very short primer on autonomy, and in particular, collective autonomy as a weapon to be used against colonialism and capitalism.

Next, a brief primer on the history and context of the Unist’ot’en camp, where the voices and perspectives of Indigenous land and water protectors—those who sparked what is now nation-wide moment of defiance—are foregrounded.

Moving westward is a short film about Indigenous land defenders (with allies and accomplices) once again up against Big Oil and Gas, as well as colonial governments.

Sweeping in scope, yet focused like a laser on a local action that became a national crisis, all the while providing a deep historical context, is Alanis Obomsawin’s 1993 groundbreaking classic, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. If you haven’t seen it, there is no better time than now.

In the same year Obomsawin released one of the most important films in Canadian history, Nettie Wild released the stirring Blockade, an award-winning documentary about a fight over Indigenous land in Northern British Columbia.

Heading eastward: Just over a decade earlier Obomsawin documented the Mi’kmaq struggle over fishing rights in Restigouche, leading the Abenaki director to declare: “That documentary encapsulated the idea of films being a form of social protest for me... It started right there with that film.”

Moving back further in filmmaking time, one cannot ever overlook the fiercely political documentary You Are On Indian Land, made in an era when the National Film Board of Canada was not so stifled by litigious and bureaucratic strangleholds and director Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell was able to immediately respond to a blockade action with an NFB crew and equipment assembled in less than 24 hours.

Last but not least, and providing yet more context, The Violence of a Civilization Without Secrets reminds us of the ways in which colonial institutions not only seek violent control over people and land, but over history as well. As collaborators Zack Khalil, Adam Khalil and Jackson Polys write: “This fight unleashed a controversy with groups attempting to establish white ancestry, and with this seeking to altogether undermine the Indigenous sovereignty over land and ancestors and annul centuries of colonial violence.”

After watching some or all of these amazing films, please consider joining an action, writing a letter, making a phone call, or donating to the Wet’suwet’en Legal Fund.