Alanis Obomsawin & First Nations issues

Note that you can watch all NFB films that are available for viewing online for free on campus or through your Concordia VPN.

Next class we will be watching The People of the Kattawapiskak River (2012), by Alanis Obomsawin, a tour de force still making films and touring at 80+ years old. She presented this doc in Montreal recently. If you are interested in these issues I urge you to watch Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), which hits close to home for many of us.

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.

 I’m adding these from NFB to help us with understanding the intricacies of the film and the pieces we read —

Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary The People of the Kattawapiskak River exposes the housing crisis faced by 1,700 Cree in Northern Ontario, a situation that led Attawapiskat’s band chief, Theresa Spence, to ask the Canadian Red Cross for help. On October 28,2011, Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, declared a state of emergency in her community in northern Ontario. This film provides background and context for the Idle No More movement, and a slew of other issues such as the reproduction of whiteness and the ways in which some spaces in Canada do not have access to the same rights by way of spatialized racism.

First Nations Web site: contemporary issues, culture, links, maps, etc.

The Aboriginal nations of Quebec: detailed maps and economic, demographic, and cultural information, etc. for each of Quebec’s Aboriginal nations.

âpihtawikosisân: In case you’re uncertain which terms to use.


The process by which one cultural group is absorbed into another, typically dominant, culture.


Colonization may simply be defined as the establishment of a settlement on a foreign land, generally by force. It is also often used to describe the act of cultural domination.


Enfranchisement can be a means of gaining the vote, and is viewed by some as a right of citizenship. Under the Indian Act, enfranchisement meant the loss of Indian status. Indians were compelled to give up their Indian status and, accordingly, lose their treaty rights in order to become enfranchised as Canadian citizens.


A focus on Europe or its people, institutions, and cultures; assumed to mean “white” culture; often connotes an arrogant or dismissive attitude toward other cultures.

First Nation(s)

This term replaces “band” and “Indian,” which are considered by some to be outdated, and signifies the earliest cultures in Canada.


Historically, the Métis are the descendants of First Nations women, largely (but not exclusively) from the Cree, Saulteaux, Ojibwa, Dene, and Assiniboine Nations, and fur traders, largely (but not exclusively) of French, Scottish, and English ancestry. The Métis developed distinct communities based on their economic role, and it was their sense of distinctiveness that led them to develop their own political institutions and sentiment by the early 19th century. The Métis Nation today is composed of people who descend from the early Métis. Today, although they may or may not share a connection with the historic Métis Nation, a growing number of Canadians of mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry self-identify as Métis.

Non-Status Indians

Non-Status Indians are people who consider themselves Indians or members of a First Nation but who are not recognized by the federal government as Indians under the Indian Act. Non-Status Indians are not entitled to the same rights and benefits available to Status Indians.


Article II of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states: Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Aboriginal Peoples

In the Constitution Act, 1982, three Peoples are recognized as “Aboriginal”— Indians, Inuit, and Métis.


The Indian Act of 1876 states: “The term ‘reserve’ means any tract or tracts of land set apart by treaty or otherwise for the use or benefit of or granted to a particular band of Indians, of which the legal title is in the Crown, but which is unsurrendered, and includes all the trees, wood, timber, soil, stone, minerals, metals, or other valuables thereon or therein.” Occasionally, the American term “reservation” is used, but “reserve” or “Indian Reserve” is the usual terminology in Canada.


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