Kanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance

On a July day in 1990, a confrontation propelled Native issues in Kanehsatake and the village of Oka, Quebec, into the international spotlight. Director Alanis Obomsawin spent 78 nerve-wracking days and nights filming the armed stand-off between the Mohawks, the Quebec police and the Canadian army. This powerful documentary takes you right into the action of an age-old Aboriginal struggle. The result is a portrait of the people behind the barricades.
Manifesto Point # 1: The original project idea and goals come from the community partner. Kanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance is arguably Alanis Obomsawin's most important film, documenting the military 1990 siege of a Mohawk reserve near Oka, Quebec, and its causes. I chose this film here because the celebrated Abenaki filmmaker told me recently: "For me a real documentary is when you are really listening to somebody. They are the ones that tell you what the story is. Not you." Alanis said these words in the short the film I made about her, called Dream Magic (2008). I actually first saw Alanis in person behind the barricades at the Oka Crisis, back in 1990. She was there with her camera, and with army helicopters and madness swirling all around, she was an apparition of hope. I was a student journalist, furious with the disparity unfolding between the reality I saw before me, and the mainstream media's skewed interpretations of it. But because of Alanis, I was also witnessing the power of documentary firsthand. It is Alanis who first showed me almost two decades ago how collaborative the process can — and should — be. And from whom to draw inspiration.

From the playlist : Manifesto for Interventionist Media - because Art is a Hammer

I was in my car when the shooting occurred, on my way to another film shoot. I changed directions right away. I was working on something else that I completely dropped and raced to capture the stand-off on film. People outside of Canada were shocked when they saw this movie. They couldn't imagine that something like this was taking place here. The only negative reaction came when the film was released in French in Quebec.

From the playlist : Alanis Obomsawin Retrospective

Grade 10 - 12

Civics/Citizenship / Human Rights

Aboriginal Studies / History/Politics

Aboriginal Studies / Identity/Society

Educational purpose:

Begin with a discussion of why the Aboriginal people feel so strongly about the need to protect their land. Discuss whether the government over-reacted by calling in the army. Could this dispute have been settled by any other means? Who would you consider “the bad guys” in this confrontation? Has this film challenged your views concerning Native issues in Canada? Were all parties involved represented fairly in this film? This film deals with mature subject matter .

Maureen Rossong, Halifax Regional Municipality, NS



Discuss this film
Please sign in to add your comment
Not a member ? Click here


  • KrashCoarse


      “I shared a link to this film and a friend noted that subtitles and audio description available for the French version, but not the English one. Any chance we could get them? This film needs more exposure :)”

    15 Apr 2011
  • Kevin


      “As with much of first nations' history, I was ashamed to see the persistance of the greed brought by the European visitors in Columbus's time. The foreign power holders continue the assimilation process (cultural and racial). Canada has not honoured all of its agreements with its first nations allies. In the face of such pressures, many first nations throughout the 'new world continents' have managed survival. They are to be admired for their courage.”

    17 Mar 2011
  • mtricks


      “I remember one of the commentators on CBC interviewing a bystander who said "We're all natives now. If they can do this here they can do it anywhere." Twenty years later they did the same to the citizens of Toronto at the G20.”

    3 Jan 2011
  • Gman


      “This is documentary filmmaking at its best.”

    11 Jul 2010
  • 0hawkeyes0


      “Wow... Its a treasure to have this film accessible. a tool which we can draw strength from to open up all the possibilities for a brighter future for everything on this planet,”

    5 Feb 2010
    1 person likes this | Like

On the NFB.ca blog  rss