An unsettling sight took form in the Pines in Kanesatake last Friday, when a film production company piled out of vehicles and began disrupting the grounds sacred to the community.
“I was really disturbed by the fact that there was a grave dug,” said Onkwehón:we rights activist and representative of the People of the Longhouse, Ellen Gabriel.
“Especially with this coming at a time when, at no fault of their own, we are all really sensitive about these things, with the children being found in unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada.”
Individuals working with the Quebec production company Muse Entertainment, and Left Bank Pictures, a production studio based in the United Kingdom, were also spotted climbing trees and applying chalk on bark.
They arrived in the territory with the intent of spending two days shooting scenes for the upcoming television adaptation of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series of novels, also known as Three Pines.
The arrival of the film crew created turmoil among the community members who had not been called upon or advised that a television series was preparing to be filmed.
“It’s not right that we don’t get consulted or have any fundamental involvement in these types of agreements. We’re always seen as an afterthought,” said elected chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK), Teiawenniserate Tomlinson.
Kanehsata’kehró:non were quick to intervene and request an explanation from the film crew.
According to Tomlinson, there was a genuine sense of confusion among the individuals present, who he said stated that they were not aware permission from Kanehsata’kehró:non was required.
“They operated within the legal construct of what they believed to be in place,” said Tomlinson. “In fact, it’s not their fault that colonization has left us in this state of disarray.”
He added that people were all the more moved by the realization of what had occurred as the series directly tackles topics of issues faced by Onkwehón:we, including the missing and murdered women, girls and two-spirit crisis.
A discussion between Kanehsata’kehró:non and executives of both companies promptly ensued.
“We came to a mutual agreement that this was going to be something that they could do safely in the community,” explained Gabriel.
In exchange for the production’s respectful use of the land, a donation was made toward Kanehsatake’s Mohawk Language Custodian Association, which operates the local Kanien’kéha language program.
“We also discussed a special credit that will be given to our people and our territory to have allowed this production to take place within our boundaries,” noted Tomlinson. “Although this is a more symbolic gesture, I think it goes a long way towards showing respect.”
The agreement was also sealed through a tobacco burning ceremony that took place at sunrise on Monday.
The amount going toward the community’s efforts to preserve and revitalize the language hasn’t yet been disclosed, but the MCK community representative ensured that it was a generous contribution.
The Eastern Door reached out to Left Bank Pictures but no comment was provided in time for publishing.
While the incident could have been avoided, Tomlinson and Gabriel underlined that the resolution was nevertheless achieved through working together for the collective interest of the community.
“It’s a breath of fresh air and a step in the right direction when all aspects of our community can work together,” said Tomlinson. “It shows how we gain a lot more traction and achieve more positive results when we work in the same direction.”
For long-time Kanehsatake resident Al Harrington, witnessing this type of collaborative approach was a first.
“It can be done if you have the right leadership and the right people that share the common direction of a goal for the community – traditional people and not,” said Harrington.
As she reflected on Friday’s joint efforts, Gabriel shared a vision for more concrete involvement for the Longhouse and all community members.
“We hope things will change and that this goes to show another example of how to decolonize relationships with everybody,” said Gabriel.
“We need to develop a protocol that’s implemented in our community because there’s so many film crews that come into Kanesatake and they only go to Oka or the band council. It’s time to change and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Throughout it all, she expressed that no obstacle should prevent Kanehsata’kehró:non from working for the well-being of all.
“This has nothing to do with politics, this has to do with our rights to the land and others respecting our rights.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door