“It was awesome, and I even liked my own words,” said Leonard Atonnion Boudreau, after making his documentary debut in Resistance and Resilience: Stories and Remembrances of Our Elders.
A 45-minute highlight reel of the documentary series was screened for a packed audience in the basement of the Kahnawake Legion Branch 219 on Wednesday evening. The project was a collaboration between the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), Kanien’keháka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR), and Ottawa-based historical research firm Know History.
Project manager Gerald Taiaiake Alfred opened the event, followed by comments from Kawennanóron Lisa Phillips of KOR, MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, and project coordinator Trina Diabo.
“Our future looks very bright, but in order to move forward our future, our history is so important. Our elders have such amazing stories to tell that our youth can learn from,” said MCK grand chief Sky-Deer.
Originally the MCK had applied for a grant to carry out a larger-scale project, but when it did not receive funding, Know History stepped up to see the project through. They offered their services to the project free of charge, helping with equipment, editing, and in providing one of their researchers, Skylee Hogan-Stacey.
Alfred, Diabo, and Hogan-Stacey have been working on the documentary series for over a year and a half, conducting interviews with elders and carrying out contextual research and the tedious work of editing.
The project was conceived of as a means of cataloging history through the oral tradition and ensuring that the stories of Kahnawa’kehró:non are transferred from one generation to another.
“In previous generations, people sat around with family and told stories all the time, or sat in spaces in Kahnawake and listened to elders talk about the past, and that’s how you would learn about our history,” said Alfred.
He said that these interactions between youths and elders don’t happen enough anymore because of technology and the fast pace of modern life.
Both Diabo and Alfred spoke about the urgency to document and share elders’ stories before it’s too late, which motivated them to start with the oldest members of the community.
“We have to make sure that we record history, and a lot of the stories from the elders aren’t recorded,” said Diabo.
“We have to address that gap in the transmission of knowledge and culture and identity between our generations,” said Alfred.
For Hogan-Stacey, one of the younger members of the team, the project presented a unique opportunity to learn some of her own family history through conversations with elders who knew her grandfather and great grandfather, aunts and uncles.
Access to these narratives allowed her to draw parallels between her ancestors’ personalities and her own and afforded her a better understanding of herself.
“It also just made me feel closer to my dad. And it made me feel more connected to the area,” Hogan-Stacey added.
In the basement of the legion, Kahnawa’kehró:non of all ages listened to the stories over a buffet of traditional foods.
Many of the tales were imbued with humour, and the crowd roared with laughter each time.
The elders featured in the film spoke on a wide variety of topics: the times before the Seaway, the preservation of Kanien’kéha, the 1990 resistance, the push from Kahnawa’kehró:non to have autonomy over their education system, and everyday ways of living.
“Don’t forget to use your language in your own home, because once you forget it, it’s hard to get back,” said Kateri Beauvais in one of the clips.
In another, Joe Deom said, “The roots (in Kahnawake) are very strong. You have to come back.”
At the film’s close, elders who have passed away since the project’s completion were honoured: Ace Norton, Randy Goodleaf, Hazel Zachary, and, most recently, Billy Two Rivers.
The full-length interviews will eventually be available on KOR’s website.
“I’m really happy, and I hope it continues because there’s so many stories,” said Kaia’titáhkhe Jacobs, who was featured in the film.
With this chapter of the project such a success, the filmmakers are excited about the prospect of continuing to document Kahnawake’s history and sharing it with future generations.
“I welcome ideas on what else we can capture,” said Diabo.
“There are so many more stories, there is so much more knowledge, there are so many more elders with things to teach us,” said Alfred.