Released in 1969, this short documentary was one of the most influential and widely distributed productions made by the Indian Film Crew (IFC), the first all-Indigenous unit at the NFB. It documents a 1969 protest by the Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) of Akwesasne, a territory that straddles the Canada–U.S. border. When Canadian authorities prohibited the duty-free cross-border passage of personal purchases—a right established by the Jay Treaty of 1794—Kanien’kéhaka protesters blocked the international bridge between Ontario and New York State. Director Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell later became Grand Chief of Akwesasne. The film was formally credited to him in 2017. You Are on Indian Land screened extensively across the continent, helping to mobilize a new wave of Indigenous activism. It notably was shown at the 1970 occupation of Alcatraz.
Part of the seminal series Challenge for Change, You Are on Indian Land was one of the first films to voice the concerns of First Peoples in Canada. Filmmaker Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell, shooting in the style of direct cinema, records the blocking of the international bridge that cuts through the St. Regis Reserve. While the news media focused on altercations with the police, Mitchell showed what led to these altercations and let the Mohawks of the Reserve speak for themselves and tell their own story.Albert Ohayon
From the playlist: The 1960s: An Explosion of Creativity
This film documents the protest demonstration by Mohawk Indians of the St. Regis Reserve on the international bridge between Canada and the United States near Cornwall, Ontario. The story is told from an Indian point of view, with Mike Mitchell of the NFB’s Indian Film Crew himself a primary subject of the film. Mike narrates as well, and the Aboriginal voice is central to the storytelling. Hearing a narrator using terms like “we,” “many of us,” “our land, our people” is much more intimate and inviting than the detached, observational, anthropological narration that can only say, “the Indians...”Gil Cardinal
From the playlist: The Aboriginal Voice: the National Film Board and Aboriginal Filmmaking through the Years
You Are on Indian Land is a popular film amongst contemporary activist documentary audiences, but contributors Ezra Winton and Jason Garrison say, "that this film was made at all is accidental. Mike Mitchell, a Mohawk of the Akwesasne Reserve (then called St Regis), called George Stoney, then the executive producer of the CFC/SN program, and told him of an imminent blockade of the road connecting Canada and the United States. As [historian] Rick C. Moore notes, it was the willingness of Stoney to circumvent NFB rules that allowed him to throw together a crew in under 24 hours, just in time for the blockade. In this sense, the film is an exception within CFC/SN, which itself is an exception to the usual NFB operations – a gap within a gap that made a truly confrontational representation and documented moment of oppression possible, with government funding."Thomas Waugh, Ezra Winton, Michael Baker
From the playlist: Challenge for Change