Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
(Oka (working title))
Language: English and French
Format: 16mm Colour
Runtime: 119 min
National Film Board of Canada
Directed by one of Canada's preeminent documentarians, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance is a comprehensive, essential review of the cataclysmic events of the summer of 1990. The film offers intense footage and, importantly, a context for the standoff between the Mohawks of Kanehsatake and the forces of the Sûreté de Québec (Quebec's provincial police) and the Canadian army. Director Alanis Obomsawin stayed behind the barricades for the full length of the siege, and provides a compelling view of one of this country's most fundamental conflicts.
It all started with a golf course. Citizens of Oka and nearby Kanehsatake, just outside of Montreal, first began playing golf on Mohawk land in the 1930s. The land was expropriated for a nine-hole golf course in 1947, but when plans were made in 1990 to expand the course to 18 holes, the Mohawk community resisted. The dispute escalated until the Sûreté de Québec were called in, and the Mohawk people from nearby Kanawake blockaded Montreal's huge Mercier Bridge in solidarity. When a Quebec police officer was killed, the army was sent in. The Mohawks were physically and verbally assaulted by the police, and both sides settled in for a long, hot summer of tension and violence.
Obomsawin brings to this work a deep understanding of the history of this conflict, showing how the Mohawk people's use of their own land has been consistently eroded over nearly 300 years. The Mohawk warriors and their supporters display the absolute conviction of people pushed beyond their limit. Asked how far she would be willing to go to defend the land, one woman says firmly, "Six feet under."
But Kanehsatake also reveals the pride and love that shaped the Mohawk resolve, the internal conflicts revealing the complexity of the issue and the support given by people who flocked to the area from all over North America. Ultimately, it cost the federal government more than $155 million to turn Kanehsatake into a war zone. Obomsawin sheds light on all the contours of that terrain, with a keen eye for what's important and a strength that comes from absolute compassion.