Kanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance

March 1989: Oka Mayor Jean Ouellette announces his municipality’s plans to build a luxury housing development and expand a private golf course into bordering lands which are part of the Mohawk Nation.

August 1989: Kanehsatake Mohawks call for a moratorium on development.

May 1990: Despite an injunction to prevent protesting, the Mohawks build a barricade.

July 5 1990: Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon starts negotiations with the Mohawk band council. Pressure to remove the barricades increases as Quebec Minister of Public Security Sam Elkas threatens government action.

July 11, 1990: Corporal Marcel Lemay is killed when 100 Surete du Quebec officers raid an area known as the Pines. Another 900 officers move into the bordering town of Oka. Mohawks build additional barricades and seize the Mercier Bridge.

National Film Board filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin is working on a documentary about a Native women’s shelter in Montreal. She drops everything and drives out to Oka. Close to the Pines, she finds a congregation of locals engaged in verbal warfare.

Obomsawin, disturbed by the events, races back to town and assembles her crew. She transfers the nfb production budget for the film about the women’s shelter in order to assemble a crew to shoot this picture. Producer Wolf Koenig and executive producer Colin Neale are supportive.

July 12, 1990: Obomsawin returns to Oka with cameraman Zoe Dirse. She is unable to get a sound recordist so she runs the Nagra herself. By this time, a police blockade has been set up a few miles before the village so Obomsawin is unable to get onto Mohawk land. She decides to shoot footage at the blockade anyway.

July 13, 1990: Obomsawin and crew get footage of the rioting residents of Chateauguay, a town near the Mercier Bridge. Journalists complain that they are unable to get inside to get the story. The police give accreditations to some. Obomsawin gets inside.

With a new cameraman, Roger Rochat, and sound person, Obomsawin is able to start recording behind the barricades. Initially, she returns to Montreal for supplies about once a week, but police give her such a hard time she eventually stays behind the lines. Obomsawin stays inside for 78 days. Rochat and soundman Raymond Marcoux stay behind the lines for 50 days.

Aug. 20, 1990: The Canadian Armed Forces replace the Surete du Quebec. Supplies, including film and sound stock, cannot be exchanged.

Aug. 28, 1990: Negotiations break down, and the army is ordered to dismantle the barricades. The Red Cross brings in emergency supplies as well as stretchers and body bags. Seventy-five residents from the village of Kahnawake evacuate and their vehicles are attacked by a waiting mob. cbc management, thinking there may be a massacre, removes all its journalists.

Sept. 1, 1990: As the army advances, the Mohawks barricade themselves into the Kanehsatake Treatment Centre. Fifty-eight Natives and 11 journalists remain behind the lines. Obomsawin has no crew members left. A video camera is somehow smuggled in. She has only one sound tape left so she tapes on 3/4′ speed.

Sept. 25: 1990: Obomsawin, knowing that the Mohawks have decided to walk out returns to Montreal.

Sept. 26, 1990: She returns with a new crew to shoot the confrontation that occurs when the warriors exit the treatment centre. She stays to interview people for two more weeks.

April 1991: The arduous cutting process begins with editor Yurij Luhovy. The first cut is 12 hours long.

June 1992: A two-hour version is finished. Obomsawin screens her work for all the people in the film.

Spring 1993: cbc’s Mark Starowicz rejects the film.

July 12, 1992: The film is aired to rave reviews on Channel 4 in England.

September 1993: Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance makes its North American premiere at the Toronto Festival of Festivals. Obomsawin continues to work on a series of short films profiling some of the Kanehsatake residents filmed during the Oka crisis.