Film viewing opens discussion at McMaster

HAMILTON – A public viewing of a documentary film made by Dr. Dawn Martin Hill about the Haudenosaunee reclamation of traditional lands was shown at McMaster University last week, followed by a time of group discussion.

The film, Sewatokwa’tshera’t: The Dish with One Spoon was produced in 2008 and was shown to students and the public to open the floor up to discussion and to let more people learn about specific land claim issues the Haudenosaunee have faced — specifically when a group of people from Six Nations blocked the development of the Caledonia/Douglas Creek Estates subdivision and reclaimed Kanonhstaton (loosely translated as “the protected place”).

“Sometimes it seems like non-natives just don’t get what First Nations people have gone through to keep their land,” said Heather George, the research assistant at McMaster University who organized the showing. “This land reclamation showed how much we really care and how far we will go in a non-violent way to stand up for what’s right.”

The film, just over one hour in length, began with a brief history and overview of some of the Haudenosaunee’s cultural practices. It describes some of the original treaties that were made between the Dutch settlers and First Nations, the clan and confederacy system, when and how the first elected system came to Canada, some roles of Haudenosaunee clan mothers, and more — eventually leading up to several of the factors that played a role in the events that took place at Kanonhstaton.

Some of the those who watched the film were shocked to see the amount of police violence that was imposed upon those at the land reclamation.

“It blows my mind that this wasn’t that long ago,” said Shanna Peltier, a student at McMaster University. “It’s only been 10 years — the kind of violence and ignorance I just saw [in the documentary] is overwhelming.”

Much of the discussion after the viewing was centred around the lack of knowledge that many non-natives have when it comes to who owned and still owns the land that many settlements and communities like Caledonia reside on.

“More people need to know the history of the country they live in,” said George. “Many of the supports who came out in support of the subdivision didn’t know that the land they were building on wasn’t land that a developer could just build on because they wanted to.”

The documentary showed how community members of Six Nations and surrounding areas came and stood together, forgetting their differences, in support of one cause and Karissa John, a student from McMaster, was moved by the idea of such a large collective of support and wants to see people remember the feeling back then and keep it moving forward.

“Stuff like this [improper land dealings] still happens today. We are all dealing with things like this one way or another, if it’s not land then it’s something else,” said John. “People in the community have a lot of issues and disagreements, but look how well everyone came together to fight for this issue back then. We need to get that mentality back and continue to support each other.”

After the film’s showing, John was asked how she might respond to a non-native who felt guilty or bad for what happened to First Nations during the land reclamation and other similar events. She said that she hasn’t come across many non-natives who do feel guilty or responsible for events like that, but she would suggest that they do whatever they can get educated and help.

“I would ask them to learn Canada’s history and become more educated on the issues that many indigenous people still face,” she said. “Education is everything.”

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