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Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance

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    Abstract: This essay discusses how the film Kanehsatake deals with the European conquest of North America and its legacy. We see the themes of resistance and activism, as the documentary shows us the stand-off at OKA. The essay then ties in the notion of oppression of in our society of other groups.

    Kanehsatake is a film which deals with the European conquest of North America and its legacy. We see the themes of resistance and activism, as the documentary shows us the stand-off at OKA. We see, in genuine terms, the legacy of the genocide perpetrated against the Indians. It is a story of perpetrators and victims. We witness a real event, because the documentary portrays the attempt of whites to take Mohawk territory at OKA in Quebec. This is a story, therefore, of brutalization and violence against the Native people, as well as about their resistance. It clearly reflects that the causes of this injustice reside in attitudes, as well as in institutions.

    Kanehsatake is a very provocative film, and Canadians should watch it, since they will see how important it is for the Natives to engage in activism and resistance for their rights. Canadians can learn that Oka was not just a little fight over plans to build a golf course on land the Mohawks held sacred. No, it was far deeper than that. It was about a 270-year crisis that had its origins in the European invasion and in broken treaties. There was an entire historical legacy to this problem, and that is why the Natives were engaged in activism and resistance. They simply had no choice but to resist their oppressors.

    As the documentary shows us what is going on behind the barricades, we are able to go behind the scenes and enter the psychology of the resistors. In this documentary, women are clearly in charge a large amount of the time, and, in one scene, they discuss the importance of forming a line, since they see themselves as responsible for defending the earth.

    In this documentary, therefore, we see many traditional and spiritual beliefs of the Natives, and we come to understand why they are engaged in fighting for their culture. It is clearly shown that the Natives were the victims of white barbarism.

    Overall, we see an intriguing portrayal of the Mohawk community and what it did during the Oka crisis. It becomes clear that this development was rooted in the reality that Mohawk land rights dated back to 1535, when France claimed the site of present-day Montreal which had been the Mohawk village of Hochelaga. This is why the Mohawk people engage in resistance, because they must use their communal spirit to stand firm against their oppressors. Indeed, it becomes clear that there have been three centuries of friction between Europeans and the aboriginal peoples of Canada over one little piece of the country. This is what the 1990 Oka crisis in Quebec was all about.

    In showing us the legacy of the European conquest of the Native peoples, the documentary is able to illuminate the overall injustice that was perpetrated against Native populations. Because of the European discovery, Natives lost their land and culture. The documentary's focus on the circumstances revolving around Oka crystallizes the accumulated pain of white oppression. Overall, this is real history.

    Thus, it becomes clear why tensions broke out when developers tried to expand a private golf course into the Pines. This was, after all, part of the Mohawk Nation's land. The Mohawks had to fight for their sovereignty. After a police officer was killed in a raid to expel the Mohawks from the Pines, the situation spiraled out of control.

    Overall, therefore, Kanehsatake gives us a sense of history. It makes it clear that something profoundly violent and unjust happened to Native populations. It allows Indian men and women to speak for themselves. The documentary gives us a portrait of the people behind the barricades, providing insight into the Mohawks' determination to protect their land.

    This documentary fits into the whole theme and reality of resistance and activism in general. Joanne Morreale deals with this subject in her article “Xena: Warrior Princess as Feminist Camp.” Here we see the theme of resistance in the context of gender. While in Kanehsatake, we see how there was oppression in the context of race, in this article we see the problem of patriarchy and how women have been oppressed by certain gender roles. Nonetheless, the author shows how in the program “Xena: Warrior Princess” there is a certain feminist message, because certain patriarchal ideologies are undermined. The author sees Xena as being part of the “feminist camp” because it subverts “female stereotypes.” (Morreale, p.204) In this aspect, therefore, we see how resistance also operates in the realm of gender. Overall, the author notes that “we are shown the absurdity of women’s status as spectacle.” (Morreale, p. 207) Thus, Xena can be seen as a feminist text.

    Lynda Hart also discusses oppression as it exists within the context of gender roles. In her article, “Surpassing the Word: Aileen Wuornos,” she deals with the case of a prostitute that is on death row for killing seven men who tried to rape and kill her. We see that Wuornos is seen as the perpetrator, whereas she was just defending herself from male violence, which the author shows is rooted in the patriarchal system itself. Wuornos is being victimized because she defended her own life against would-be attackers. The writer notes that, “One of the `rules’ that Wuornos does not understand is that prostitutes in a patriarchy are both necessary and utterly dispensable.” (Hart, p.142) In some ways, we see that the rape of this prostitute is actually rooted in the rape that patriarchy itself inflicts on women everyday. Wuornos is being punished for defending herself. Interesting? Our academic writing service provides a lot of quality and useful content.

    Alexandra Juhasz, meanwhile, deals with oppression that exists in the context of sexual orientation. In her article, “WAVE in the Media Environment: Camcorder Activism and the Making of HIV TV,” she shows how the camcorder can be used to illustrate the details of gay peoples’ lives that mainstream television tries to push into invisibility. Thus, just as the film Kahensatake gives us the ingredients of the Native struggle, this article by Hart shows the lives of gay men who suffer from HIV. Juhasz points out that “HIV TV is a direct recording of the feelings, knowledge, and concerns of a very significant community of people affected by AIDS.” (Juhasz, p.148) In this way, gay people can allow society to show their activism and resistance against a heterosexual and patriarchal social order that stigmatizes homosexuality.

    Overall, in the documentary under examination, as well as the three readings, we see how activism and resistance occurs on the realms of race, sexuality and gender. All of these realities intersect along certain lines. Thus, we begin to understand that certain social constructions reinforce systems of oppression. In this context, it is important to keep in mind that identities are formed not only by politics, but also by the intersection of racial, sexual and gendered boundaries.

    We begin to understand that Natives, homosexuals and women are parts of groups that have had to counteract the socially imposed stereotypes perpetuated by the white dominant power structure. The struggle over identity, therefore, entails efforts directed toward gaining recognition by others. It is important to understand that to shape an identity also means to assign a certain social meaning. That is why these articles and the documentary try to get viewers to understand that certain marginalized groups exist and also have their own reality.

    It is only by eradicating the process of identity construction, therefore, that will enable certain groups to free themselves, since their experiences are linked in that they are oppressed by the social order. These groups need to open a discourse which is outside the parameters of the language constructed by elites. In this way they can shape their own identity. That is exactly what the texts discussed in this essay do.


    • Hart, Lynda. “Surpassing the Word: Aileen Wuornos,” in Fatal Women: Lesbian Sexuality and the Mark of Aggression, 1994, Princeton U.P., 135-154.
    • Juhasz, Alexandra. “WAVE in the Media Environment: Camcorder Activism and the Making of HIV TV,” Camera Obscura, January 1992, Indiana U.P., (135-150)
    • Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. Film.
    • Morreale, Joanne. “Xena: Warrior Princess as Feminist Camp,” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 32, No.2 1999. (79-86) 8

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