You Are on Indian Land

You Are on Indian Land


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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.

This film contains scenes of violence. Viewer discretion is advised.

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

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You Are on Indian Land, Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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  • director
    Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell
  • location director
    Mort Ransen
  • producer
    George C. Stoney
  • photography
    Tony Ianzelo
  • sound
    Hans Oomes
  • editing
    Kathleen Shannon
  • associate editor
    Noel StarBlanket
  • re-recording
    George Croll
    Jean-Pierre Joutel

  • sixam

    Why don't they protest at the office of the local Member of Parliament? If they are so dissatisfied with their band council, why don't they seek election? Not voting is the worst thing you can do in a democracy. If Parliament never codified the Jay Treaty (as the narrator admits) then it has no force of law.

    sixam, 18 Feb 2014
  • Jacobs

    Thank you for having this available. My grandparents are in the film and their grandchildren and great grandchildren are still here exercising the jay treaty. That Canadian customs is no longer located on the reserve it was relocated after akwesasne didn't want them armed. After that same tract of land beng closed for over a month the Canadian government moved the customs of our land!

    Jacobs, 22 Dec 2012
  • mohawk50

    When the Natives are talking about the Indian Act they are referring to bill C31 heres a link to the ones over it in that video it was Provincial Police which has no Jurisdiction over Indian lands as per Treaty, the only peace Officers allowed on Indian Lands is Federal R.C.M.P not Provincial Police, this is how the issues and combatants per Bill C-31 (Lands and lands Reserved for Indians) they were on Native Land and why are they taking off their lands again? We talk to the proper Authority and still nothing happens, when we stick up for our rights we goto Jail why? My Great Great Grandfather was Captain John (John deserontyon) United Empire Loyalist, that helped the English fight for this land, they were granted lands for the help that he did as well as Joseph Brant , I wonder if they knew what would happen thats going on today would they have helped the White Man? I don't think so, the white man uses and Abuses the natives for hundreds of years and wonder why the Natives are upset, this is why we ahve no way of Negotiating only to protest to get our Plight out there, the Provincial Governement only sends the Police to attacka nd insult us for our right to protest peacefully.

    mohawk50, 8 Jun 2011
  • downunder

    Although I no longer reside in Canada it will always remain a part of my soul. A country that I love and my ancestors have died for. Our First Nation is just that The FIRST NATION.

    downunder, 11 Apr 2010
  • mhogan

    All Canadians should do what they can to help our First Nations with their struggle. This is a very good documentary and even more relevant today.

    mhogan, 5 Apr 2010

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