Publsihed October 1, 2017
By Valerie Reynoso
“You Are on Indian Land
” is a film by Michael Kanentakeran Mitchell which depicts confrontation between police and a demonstration by Mohawks of the St. Regis Reserve on the bridge between Canada and the US near Ontario in 1969. The Mohawks expressed their grievances to the police in regards to how the US-Canada border and Canadian state have a negative impact on their communities and displace indigenous people for their own benefit. The Mohawk protestors also stated that the laws imposed by the police were in direct violation of the Jay Treaty of 1794, which gave them the right to duty-free passage of personal purchases across the border.
“You Are on Indian Land” illustrates the impact colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy has on indigenous people, cultures and land which is often romanticized and shoved under the carpet in the Western world. The Mohawk are descended from Native people whose land was stolen from them by white colonizers; these same colonizers committed a mass genocide of indigenous people, enforced capitalism, patriarchy and white male dominance on their societies, forced the remainder into reserves and forced them to assimilate into whiteness at gunpoint. Due to the private property essential to capitalism along with white supremacy and imperialism, Canadian land was no longer regarded as belonging to native people aside from the reserves in the eyes of Western law. Canada is a settler-colonial nation founded on the massacre, decimation, and erasure of indigenous people at the hands of white colonizers. The Mohawk demonstrators carry the trauma and struggles of their ancestors imposed by imperialism and Western dominance, which is why it hurts them so much to be treated like foreigners and criminals, by the true foreigners and criminals that are the Westerners, in what was originally their land.
The Mohawk demonstrated to fight for their land albeit the repercussions that came as a result of doing so—such as the police arresting them, smashing their car windows, and threatening them with police brutality.
Vast majority of Western media is portrayed through the white gaze and white, colonialist perception of non-white peoples, cultures, and history in which these people were marginalized and massacred by Westerners. Western media oftentimes dismisses or erases the experiences, perspectives and sentiments of marginalized people as it does not fit the white narrative Western media represents.
“You Are on Indian Land” serves as a reality check to majority of those who regularly consume Western media that they live on colonized land and that white people were not and are not the original inhabitants nor founders of this land. The film also showed indigenous struggle and emotion, which is important to see and sympathize with so they can know native people still exist and that they have every right to be angry at the oppressions imposed on them by white supremacy and capitalism.
Valerie Reynoso is an artist, activist and journalist of Taino descent from the Dominican Republic.