British Columbia

Filmmaker screens Oka crisis doc at Canadian Film Day event

Alanis Obomsawin made her mark in the 90's by documenting the Oka Crisis.

Documentary was first filmed in Quebec more than 25 years ago

On March 10, 1990, a small group of Mohawks drag a fishing shack into a clearing in the pine forest and vow to stay there, after Oka Mayor Jean Ouellette said he'll proceed with a golf-course expansion onto the disputed land. (Ellen Gabriel)

Alanis Obomsawin, one of Canada's foremost Indigenous filmmakers, made her mark in the 90's by documenting the Oka Crisis.

She spent 78 nerve-wracking days and nights filming the armed stand-off between the Mohawks, the Quebec police and the Canadian army to capture the battle for territory.

"It's very important for us to document our lives and our history of all the different nations here and the languages, and the culture. All those things that have been taken away, people need to get it back for their identity and to heal all the bad." Obomsawin said.

The film, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, will be shown at the event, Beyond 150 Years: An Acknowledgment of CinematicTerritory. The event celebrates Indigenous filmmakers in advance of National Canadian Film day.

Reference for future generations

Obomsawin says she's glad she spent the energy creating these images because it allows younger generations to relive the experiences of their elders and hopefully learn valuable lessons.

"So even now it's more important to do these documents because you see our children, they're watching television, so we have to make sure we have our documents so that they can watch them," she said.

An armed warrior towers over an overturned police vehicle blocking Highway 344 through the Mohawk community of Kanesatake near Oka, Que. on July 11, 1990. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Thinking of the stories of her ancestors, she paints a picture of a reservation with no electricity lit by oil lamps. She remembers gathering with the adults to hear stories of the past.

"So there were no images, it was our imagination from hearing the words. If you had five children listening to this, you had five different films right there.

"For me as a filmmaker, the word is the most important thing."

A better future

She proudly talks of the actions young people are taking and the growing collective voice of Indigenous youth and commends their resilience as struggles over land and natural resources continue today.

"People have to find out what the truth is concerning our people and what's happened to us in the last 150 years. It's important that people should know the history, that Canadians should really know what the truth is, which is we're looking to a better future for our people."

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance plays at the Vancity Theatre on March 7 at 9 a.m. followed by a Q&A session with Alanis Obomsawin.

With files from the CBC's On The Coast

To hear the full interview listen to audio labelled Legendary Indigenous filmmaker screens Oka crisis doc at Canadian Film Day event