On January 29, Cinema Politica Concordia screened half a dozen Indigenous-made short films about Indigenous communities around Turtle Island (North America). These screenings are part of First Voices Week, an annual Indigenous-led initiative to acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous peoples from around Tiotia:ke (Montreal). The screening was followed by a short question and answer period with Haudenosaunee filmmaker Katsitsionni Fox.
The screened films focused on portraying Indigenous women and their experiences. The night began with Nuuca by Michelle Latimer, which elaborated on the relation between violence committed against Indigenous women and the exploitation of land by resource extraction industries near the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. The film oscillates between scenes of picturesque beauty and disturbing images of crude oil extraction sites. A powerful voice-over provided by a young Indigenous woman exposes some of the horrors — abuse, rape, and murder — that are commonly committed against the women in her community. She states, “just as the land is being used, these women are being used.”
The Mandan, Hidatas and Arikara tribes (the MHA Nation) of the Fort Berthold Reservation are located near a major fracking site — the Bakken oil patch. Unlike other nations, the MHA Nation have found prosperity in the oil industry. However, the growing industry in the area attracts male workers who perpetrate violence against Indigenous women on a regular basis. Latimer exposes the systemic and systematic abuse of Indigenous women in this thought-provoking and heart shattering film.
The Violation of a Civilization Without Secrets
In 1996, a prehistoric skull was accidentaly discovered on the banks of the Columbia River, in Kennewick, Washington. This discovery gave Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil and Jackson Poly, directors of the movie The Violation of a Civilization Without Secrets, the chance to expose the ways Indigenous oral histories have historically been disregarded as proof because they do not meet Western systems of evidence, Western epistemologies.
The Umatilla tribe of the Columbia Basin argued that the skull belonged to their ancestor, referencing a long tradition of oral history that traces their ancestors to the region, and demanded the return of the remains for reburial under the federal Native Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Nevertheless, forensic anthropologists, such as Douglas Owsley, contested their claims, arguing that the Kennewick Man (the name of the skull they discovered) could not possibly be an ancestor of the Umatilla people due to the inconsistencies between the bone structures of the 9,000-year-old skull and present day Umatilla.
The Kennewick Man, was only buried in 2017 according to Umatilla customs after advanced DNA sequencing technologies were able to confirm Indigenous oral history. The three filmmakers shine a light on the treatment of Indigenous oral history in this brief but alarming documentary.
Ohero-Kon : Under the Husk
Katsitsionni Fox shifted the attention back to Indigenous women and their experiences with culture, femininity, and adulthood in her heartfelt and moving short film, Ohero-Kon: Under the Husk.
Kaienkwinehtha and Kasennakohe are childhood friends from traditional families living in Akwesasne, a Mohawk Nation territory that straddles the Canada-U.S. border. The two partake in four-year rites of passage ceremony called Ohero-Kon that has been revived in their community. The ceremony is meant to challenge them spiritually, emotionally, and physically, shaping them into the women they will become.
Fox offers a refreshing perspective that depicts the power and agency of Indigenous women. Rather than depicting Indigenous women as victims of violence and systemic abuse (which are issues that Indigenous women still experience), Ohero-Kon leaves the audience excited for the colourful future of these two young women.