I am always trying to learn more about Native issues in North America. It is a topic that is close to my heart.
The other day, in class, we watched Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, a documentary by Alanis Obomsawin about a Mohawk community in Quebec who chose to stand up for their rights and protect their sacred land from being turned into a golf course. The film follows the escalation of this resistance. As I watched, I couldn’t help but notice how damaging fear and entitlement, paired with a lack of respect, can be. The Mohawk people desperately try to maintain peace and integrity, even while the Canadian army rolls onto their land with tanks, guns and barbed wire. The erosion of compassion and respect for basic humanity is probably the most disturbing element of the film- but that is also what makes it so important to watch.
The film made me cry in some parts. I’m glad it did. It should have. It forced me to open my mind in a good way, to wrestle with my own culture, and to think about what respect and courage truly mean.
The documentary includes some violent, disturbing scenes and some potentially offensive language, but it is a film that needs exposure. The violence, the language, the upsetting scenes- it all there for a reason. It is there to show truth and it is there to teach us. It should disturb us, because it actually happened. We need to remember history like this so that it doesn’t repeat itself.
I encourage you to find a space of uninterrupted time to watch the film and allow it to make you uncomfortable. Allow yourself to ask hard questions and wrestle with the answers. Allow this story to stay with you. I hope it does.
To supplement the documentary, though, I also recommend a couple of books regarding this subject. I tend to “skim read” things sometimes, but both of these books made me want to read them slowly. I wanted to absorb the words, the deeper questions they probed, and enjoy the experience of the book while also wrestling hard with the issues presented. I don’t recommend books that I don’t love, and these are two of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
1. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
This book, written by Canadian author Thomas King, opened my mind and shifted my thinking on so many levels. It’s a bit of a history of Native people in North America, but it is also a commentary on a culture that has been misunderstood and often abused. I think it should be required reading for Canadian high school students. Again, it is not a comfortable book to read. However, in my opinion, it is an essential read.
2. One Native Life– Richard Wagamese
If I wrote you a list of my top ten favourite books, this would be on it for sure. It is a memoir, beautifully written, but it is also a reflection on what it means to be human and how our culture shapes our understanding of that. Wagamese is one of my favourite Canadian authors. This book is enriching, enlightening, and thought-provoking. Highly recommend.