To celebrate the ending of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and the launch of a new book about political documentary and art as social intervention we have chosen You Are On Indian Land (YAOIL) as our Friday Film Pick.
Produced under the National Film Board of Canada’s Challenge for Change Program in 1969 YAOIL was one of the first documentaries produced with members of the Indian Film Unit (a production unit made up of aboriginal filmmakers, cancelled some years later). The 37 minute black and white film, made by Mort Ransen and Mike Mitchell (who is currently Grand Chief of Akwesasne) is a powerful instalment of cinema verité and an incredibly important historical document that still measures up to today cinema standards.
On the eve before a protest and blockade organized by Mohawks from the St. Regis reserve in Cornwall, Ontario, Mike Mitchell and Mort Ransen convinced the National Film Board to green light an impromptu film crew and budget to make a documentary about the ensuing struggle. The next day Ransen, Mitchell (who appears in the film as one of the central characters and is arrested and put in a police car while sarcastically saying “See you in Disneyland”) and the crew headed to Cornwall where members of the Mohawk community had amassed in the wintry morning to stop cars from going over what they saw as an illegal and intrusive bridge spanning their territory.
The protesters put up signs that say “You are on Indian Land,” indicating trespassers will be arrested and fined. What then follows is a protracted stand-off with Ontario police, who eventually ignore the Mohawk’s right to assembly on their own land (as indicated in the Jay Treaty of 1794) and begin making very forceful arrests. Intense, emotionally charged and candid, this documentary serves as testament to the ongoing struggle of aboriginal peoples’ fight for justice, self-determination and to land inside the borders of Canada.
A fitting film, we think, to mark the end of a spectacle in Vancouver that destroyed habitat on First Nations land and that did little to live up to the narrative of Canada’s inclusive Multiculturalism – a games where aboriginal communities (and other non-white communities) were elided in policy and planning, and where development on ancestral lands was pushed through at great cost to habitat, culture and community.
You can watch more Challenge for Change films here, at the new playlist created in conjunction with the release of Challenge for Change: Activist Documentary at the National Film Board of Canada, edited by myself, Tom Waugh and Mike Baker and published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.