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Onkwehón:we reclaim narrative in new series

Stills of John Satekaienton Diabo, Raven Swamp, and Karina Peterson in Little Big Community

Angie-Pepper O’Bomsawin’s latest project, a KASKO productions docuseries called Little Big Community, showcases First Nations communities across Turtle Island, and the first episode is all about Kahnawa’kehró:non. 

For O’Bomsawin, it made sense to start the series in Kahnawake – a community that she feels indebted to. She chose members of the community that she looks up to, adding that this was a difficult task in a place like Kahnawake. 

“They don’t take care of each other on the outside the way we do… and here, we’re in a community where you can drive down the road on any given day, and anything you need, somebody will hand it to you, even if it’s their last one,” said O’Bomsawin. 

The show premieres on APTN next Tuesday, May 9, at 9 p.m., during which a screening will be held for the community at the Kahnawake Brewing Company. 

Little Big Community profiles Indigenous people who are working to better their communities and forge new narratives – an effort that O’Bomsawin has devoted her life to. “My career is all about changing the image of Indigenous people on screen,” said O’Bomsawin. “I never took shows that fed into stereotypes.” 

She takes issue with the emphasis on tragedy in mainstream depictions of Onkwehón:we and wants to show that despite the ongoing effects of colonialism, there are people working hard to heal themselves and their communities. 

O’Bomsawin and her collaborator Angélique Richer, who co-founded KASKO productions, came up with the idea for the show during the early days of the pandemic, but due to delays in development, they didn’t begin shooting until pandemic restrictions were waning. 

“This is the first one that I’ve written, directed, and produced so all my heart’s in this one,” said O’Bomsawin. 

“I’ve always taken a public stance on our community’s need for food security and food sovereignty and advocated for traditional planting practices as a means to address these issues in terms of the holistic well-being of Kahnawa’kehró:non,” said Raven Swamp, the greenhouse teacher at Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa.

In the episode, Swamp cooks a traditional recipe alongside her father, Donald Swamp, and leads a group of students on a foraging field trip where they harvest wild onions. Swamp explains how food security is integral to sovereignty, allowing the community to have autonomy over their health and minimize reliance on settler society. 

Also featured in the episode is John Satekaienton Diabo, who, alongside Derek Stacey, manages Kahnawake Crossfit, a place for people to work on themselves free of judgment, Diabo said. 

“It’s not just about how much you can bench press; it’s about getting somebody to believe that they are strong enough,” said Diabo. While his work may be focused on physical health, Diabo said that he sees crossfit as a “vessel” for mental and spiritual wellness, too. 

“I think community is what our specialty is,” said Diabo, adding that when something negative happens in Kahnawake, or to Onkwehón:we more broadly, he can expect to find his community in the gym, using exercise as an outlet and supporting one another. 

The show has been greenlit for a second season before it even premiered – a rarity in the industry. “We don’t even have ratings yet and I’m shooting the third episode of the second season at the end of this month,” said O’Bomsawin. 

According to her, viewers can look forward to the show going stateside in season two, with profiles of Indigenous communities in Hawaii, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, to name a few. The show will also take on a new format, featuring just two people per episode as opposed to three – a decision that O’Bomsawin feels will allow her team to honour and dig deeper into the participants’ stories. 

O’Bomsawin wants to change how non-Indigenous people see Onkwehón:we, but she also believes that representation can change how Onkwehón:we see themselves. 

“For so long we haven’t been in control of our narrative, so to give people the opportunity to sit and take control of their narrative, that’s a gift that I’m humbled by every single day,” said O’Bomsawin.

For youth worker Karina Peterson, the opportunity to tell her story was transformative and empowering. “‘I’m an introverted type of person, naturally,” said Peterson. “So to have cameras come into my home, it felt uncomfortable, but at the same time, I knew I needed to do this.”

Peterson said what helped her overcome this challenge was that she knew O’Bomsawin from the Kahnawake Crossfit, where Peterson has run both the teen program and the women’s program. 

“The experience of filming and answering the questions and being vulnerable was super emotional and full of heart – not just for me, but for the crew as well,” said Peterson, recalling a moment on set when she and the crew all found themselves crying. 

“It’s important for people to see the other side of what our communities are doing,” she said. “It’s about creating awareness and finally getting Indigenous communities shown in a positive light, because we’re full of that.”

Nicky Taylor
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