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45 days

37'

Quebec, 1969

Production : ONF / NFB

English

French


Politics



Synopsis


Released in 1969, this short documentary was one of the most influential and widely distributed productions made by the Indian Film Crew (IFC), the first all-Indigenous unit at the NFB. It documents a 1969 protest by the Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) of Akwesasne, a territory that straddles the Canada–U.S. border. When Canadian authorities prohibited the duty-free cross-border passage of personal purchases—a right established by the Jay Treaty of 1794—Kanien’kéhaka protesters blocked the international bridge between Ontario and New York State. Director Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell later became Grand Chief of Akwesasne. The film was formally credited to him in 2017. You Are on Indian Land screened extensively across the continent, helping to mobilize a new wave of Indigenous activism. It notably was shown at the 1970 occupation of Alcatraz.

A word from Tënk


There’s been many wrongs done in the past. And today we don’t even trust the white man… You cannot blame us for that.

These words introduce You Are on Indian Land, an important documentary in our cinematographic heritage, and one of the first to provide a platform where Indigenous people could speak out about their demands.

The key moments director Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell captured during a bridge-blocking action show everything: the resistance, tension, and solidarity in the air, the missteps and brutality from law enforcement, the influence of the media… as well as the humour, resilience and pacifism of the Kanien:keha'ka activists from Akwesasne.

“101 years of injustice and he hasn’t got 2 minutes to spare for the Indians?” calls out an activist in response to the half-amused and half-offended police officers who are stunned by the delegation’s request to meet with no other than the Prime Minister of Canada to discuss the situation. You Are on Indian Land is a shocking and necessary film, still devastatingly current now in the wake of recent revelations about residential schools. In 1969, Jean Chrétien was minister of Indian affairs and northern development, and while he denies any knowledge of the atrocities that took place in those schools, journalists have found multiple archival documents showing that the minister was aware of the abuse Indigenous children suffered. These grim disclosures speak to the atmosphere of disdain and government passivity towards Indigenous issues during the era in which You Are on Indian Land was filmed.

 

Jason Burnham
Tënk's programming assistant

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