Saturday, July 2 2022

By Liam McConnell

Published on June 6, 2022 at 7:43 p.m.

Canadian Best Picture winner ‘Beans’ kicks off Whitby’s DRIFF Drive ins. – Via EMA Films

The Durham Regional International Film Festival (DRIFF) is bringing its series of drive-in screenings to Whitby this summer to shine a light on Indigenous filmmakers.

The first broadcast of DRIFF on June 16 will feature a First Nations double feature with Beans (2020) and This ink is deep (2019). Additional screenings will follow on the third Thursday of July and August.

Beans, directed by Tracey Deer, follows teenage Tekehentahkhwa (nicknamed Beans) as her family is embroiled in the 1990 Oka Crisis, a land dispute between the local Mohawk Nation and developers seeking to build a golf course on their territory .

The Oka is the first well-documented land dispute between a First Nation and the Canadian government at the end of the 20th century. The Mohawks had called the Montreal area their home since 1673. French forces allied with the Mohawks’ rivals, the Haudenosaunee, sacked Mohawk villages in the late 1600s.

In 1721 the Mohawks settled in the area later known as “The Pines” where they lived under the rule of the Sulpician Catholic order. When British forces conquered New France in 1760, the Mohawks began to plead their case for freedom from the Sulpicians to Britain.

However, Britain and the Province of Canada ignored their demands and granted the land to the Sulpicians in 1859. Chief Joseph Onasakenrat, after years of pleading for the land, led an armed attack on the 1869 order This attack was crushed by the newly-formed Canadian government.

In 1936, the Sulpician Order sold the Mohawk land beneath them, squeezing the Nation into six square kilometers of their original 165.

In 1959, the city of Oka allowed developers to build Oka Golf Club on Mohawk territory, bordering the Pines and their cemetery in use. The Mohawks applied to the government to claim the land in 1977, but their case was rejected in 1986.

The Oka Golf Club announced in 1989 that it would expand the golf course by nine additional holes. The developers did not consult the Mohawks about this plan. However, Oka council delayed construction after protests.

The mayor of Oka, Jean Ouellette, announced the following year that Les Pins would be demolished for the golf course and a condominium building.

On March 11, 1990, the Mohawks barricaded the road to The Pines and refused all calls to dismantle it. Meanwhile, the Mohawk Warrior Society has built up an arms cache. Ouellette called in the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) in July.

The SQ sent in their emergency response team which bombarded the Mohawk barricade with tear gas and concussion grenades. This assault was met with fierce resistance and both sides spent 15 minutes shooting at each other. SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay was killed in this battle.

The small force of around 30 Mohawk defenders grew to a crowd of 600 after that first end. Following a solidarity action with land defenders, bridges were blocked and traffic in and around Montreal was virtually halted.

On August 8, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa called in the Canadian Armed Forces against Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s wishes. Meanwhile, the SQ lost control of the situation and the RCMP were called. They were not allowed to engage and many were beaten in a fierce clash with the defenders.

The CAF then rushed the barricades reducing the no man’s land between the defenders and the police from 1.5 kilometers to five meters. The Mohawks dismantled their barricades and burned some of their weapons on September 26 after a 77-day stalemate.

As people rounded up protesters, Waneek Horn-Miller, later an Olympian and lecturer, was stabbed with a bayonet near the heart. She was carried by her sister and almost died.

The violence marked the end of the crisis. Three SQ officers beat up protester Ronaldo Casalpro who later served six years in prison on various charges related to the crisis. The officers were suspended without pay but left the force when an investigation was concluded.

A total of 75 protesters and 30 officers were injured during the crisis. Two people, including Lemay, died in the conflict. The second to die as a result, Joe Armstrong, a World War II veteran and community elder, died of a heart attack brought on by the stress of the seizure a day after leaving Oka on September 2.

Ultimately, the federal government purchased the disputed lands from Oka.

Like Horn-Miller, Deer was also a young teenager during the Crisis and channeled her experience into Beans. Her directorial feature was universally acclaimed by critics and won Best Picture at the Canadian Screen Awards. On that same 2021 show, Deer herself received the John Dunning Award for Best First Feature for her efforts.

And they were Herculean efforts, Deer described the seven-year writing process behind Beans in a conversation with Asia Youngman for DRIFF.

“I was 12 when I experienced the Oka crisis. Even back then, my dream was to one day tell the story from a child’s perspective and how I experienced it…” she said.

“It was the scariest project for me to immerse myself in what was the most traumatic time of my life…” She continued, “It was a long process – it was difficult – but in the end, it was a big healing for me to finally post this story and feel seen.

For DRIFF, Deer selected Youngman’s documentary short, This ink is deep, for a Beans front projection. The short film explores indigenous tattoo artists who revive ancestral traditions destroyed by colonization and forced assimilation.

“Through the film, we learn about practices once thought lost forever and how their rebirth reflects a reawakening of Indigenous identity,” said DRIFF.

Both films will screen at the Town of Whitby Municipal Building, 575 Rossland Rd. E., on Thursday, June 16 at dusk. Tickets are $20 per car.

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