Kanehsatake: 270 years of Resistance
by Alanis Obomsawin
About the Film
In July 1990, a dispute over a proposed golf course to be built on Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) lands in Oka, Quebec, set the stage for a historic confrontation that would grab international headlines and sear itself into the Canadian consciousness. Director Alanis Obomsawin—at times with a small crew, at times alone—spent 78 days behind Kanien’kéhaka lines filming the armed standoff between protestors, the Quebec police and the Canadian army.
Released in 1993, this landmark documentary has been seen around the world, winning over a dozen international awards and making history at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it became the first documentary ever to win the Best Canadian Feature award. Jesse Wente, Director of Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office, has called it a “watershed film in the history of First Peoples cinema.”
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
1993 | 1 h 59 min
BIG IDEAS with Film Unit: The Oka Crisis and Indigenous Resistance in Canada
Time required: 5 classes
This guide has been designed to go along with the documentary films Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, directed by the world-renowned Wabanaki film director Alanis Obomsawin. Students will learn about the importance of the Oka crisis in recent Canadian history and the need for a consultation process today with First Nations whose lands have been historically colonized and occupied by the French, British and continue today to be shaped by American and Canadian governments. The main activities of the unit include viewing the film, discussing and analyzing the Indigenous Peoples’ and the Canadian governments’ actions over the 78 days of the civil unrest in Oka. Finally, students in groups of 4 will prepare a presentation and report their 3-top prescription to the current federal government’s policies in improving relationships with Indigenous nations.
The overarching goal in this unit of exploration is to encourage students to practice historical thinking skills to be able to ethically evaluate past events to develop an educated opinion about the current events and come up with possible solutions to shape the present and future in a positive way. The Oka crisis is not an exception and similar events still happen today as was the case with barricades and resistance in recent years at the Standing Rock Protests in the United States, and pipeline protests here in Canada. History isn’t over, these similar events and conflicts continue across the continent.
BIG IDEAS with Film Inquiry Questions
These questions can be adapted into a worksheet to fill in during or after film screenings:
- Who is the filmmaker, what are they known for?
- What is this film about? What are the main messages the filmmaker wanted us to understand?
- If you could ask the filmmaker a question, what would you ask?
- What were you thinking as you finished watching the film?
- What part of the story told by the film was the most powerful or memorable? Why?
- Sometimes fiction and documentary films explore important social or political issues. Describe any specific social or political issues that affect the story. How do these issues impact the people we saw in the film?
- Documentaries can show us new ways of understanding an issue or topic in our world. Describe an aspect of the film that showed you something you hadn’t seen before, caused you to think in a new way, or helped you understand something more thoroughly than before.
- What particularly appealed to you in the cinematic presentation of the film, such as how particular scenes, images, or sounds were presented?
- For documentary films: what conventions does the filmmaker incorporate in this film? Do they use voiceover, re-enactments, archival footage, interviews?
- Are there multiple viewpoints? Do they agree or contradict each other?
- Who are the dominant voices in the documentary? Are they official sources such as government representatives, or are they experts of another kind? Or are they everyday people from the street? What is their connection to the documentary’s subject?
Questions and Connections
Key questions can be used before film screening or after, to help students see connections between their own lives and the ideas and perspectives they see in Obomsawin’s films. Select from questions and tailor them to your grade level.
- How much do you know about First Nations’ history? Do you know anything already about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada?
- Were you born in Canada? If not, where were you born? How important to you is that country’s culture, heritage, and language to you and your family?
- Do you speak more than one language? If so, do you feel more connected to another nation’s culture (and history) when you speak in that language? Do you speak that language with senior family members, such as aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents?
- Do your friends have cultural traditions and customs that are visibly and audibly different from those of your family? If so, can you elaborate? Do you participate with your friends and their families during special cultural events? If so, would you like to share some of your thoughts and experiences?
- Have you personally ever felt or experienced a loss of human rights? If so, what happened, and how did you deal with the situation?
- Imagine if somebody took you away from your family/community and you had to live and attend school in a community far away from all your family and friends. How might you feel? What would you do?
- What if you were forbidden from speaking the language you have been speaking since you were a baby? What if you were forced/ordered to learn and speak a new language?
- What types of music do you and your family listen to together? Do you make music together? Have your grandparents shared any music with you? Has your family taught you any particular songs and/or dances? Does having a musical heritage make you feel more connected to the past?