Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, Without Reservations

Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, Without Reservations

“Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance” recaps a sacred burial ground dispute.

Committed Cinema: Alanis Obomsawin shows at BAMPFA Nov. 3-6.

The most prolific filmmaker you’ve never heard of—Alanis Obomsawin—has made more than 40 documentaries since 1971. How did she escape our attention for so long? For starters, the New Hampshire-born Obomsawin was raised in Quebec, and she’s a Canadian filmmaker through and through. Furthermore, she is of Abenaki descent, and her remarkable body of work is focused on First Nations history, culture, and activism. It’s a perpetual struggle for minority perspectives to be heard and seen—even when they have the backing of the venerable Film Board of Canada, and especially when they proclaim uncomfortable truths about the power players’ prejudice and exploitation and the public’s indifference.

Committed Cinema: Alanis Obomsawin brings the filmmaker to BAMPFA for three programs spanning Nov. 3-6. Her visit begins with Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), the award-winning documentary she shot over 2½ months on the front lines and behind the scenes of the besieged 1990 Mohawk protest of a golf course’s proposed expansion on sacred burial grounds. Trick or Treaty (Nov. 4), Obomsawin’s 2014 tour de force of historical excavation and contemporary action, revisits the pivotal 1905 treaty between Canada and several indigenous tribes of northern Ontario—and the subsequent, incendiary revelation that government negotiators willfully misled the First Nations signatories. The filmmaker’s visit concludes with “Resistance and Remembrance: Three Films by Alanis Obomsawin” (Nov. 6) made between 1971 and 1986, and anchored by Incident at Restigouche (1984), which shone an unwelcome light on the government’s violent response to the refusal of the Mi’kmaq people to accept and adhere to constraints on their fishing. Long before cellphone cameras documented injustice on the fly, fearless filmmakers like Alanis Obomsawin were on the case.

Committed Cinema: Alanis Obomsawin, Nov. 3-6, BAMPFA, 2155 Center St., Berkeley, 510-642-0808, 


This report was published in the November edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Oct. 31, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.