Mohawk Girls @ RIDM

Over the 62 minutes of this 2005 film by director Tracey Deer, we get an up close and personal view of the lives of three teenage girls. They are a section of the Montreal/Quebec population we don’t often see onscreen. They three girls are from Kahnawake and are all Mohawk. Mohawks are isolated from the rest of society.

mohawk girlsWe hear right from the mouths of Amy, Lauren and Felicia what they think about being Mohawk, what it is like to grow up on the reserve and their hopes for the future. It is poignant and moving at times; their lives are not easy. The film follows them around for two years out of their lives.

It is especially interesting because Tracey is herself Mohawk and these girls are going through what she went through previously. She has an understanding about the culture and the girls’ identity issues and that comes through in the film. We also get snippets of home videos from Deer’s life.

These home videos are especially interesting. They show Deer struggling to make a life for herself outside of the reserve. Her going to high school in Montreal. Her wondering if trying to make it outside of her band made her less Mohawk. The three girls are now facing the same decision that Tracey went through. Should they leave and risk losing their rights as Mohawks? A huge decision for many reasons. They are all proud of being Mohawk, but are interested in sampling what life off the reserve has to offer them.

We learn that though Kahanawake is a self-sufficient community it can be an isolating one. They want to protect the bloodlines and being pure bred Mohawk is of vital importance. If you are not full Mohawk then you cannot vote or own land. The prejudice is prevalent and can be very damaging. Also, the issue of language is brought up. Besides their own language Mohawks only speak English, which within Francophone or minimally bilingual Quebec this isolates them even more.

All this allows us to have some understanding of what it means to grow up in Kahnawake, on a reserve. Also, what it means to be First Nations or First People during the 21st century. A must watch for everyone – white, Mohawk, female, male, etc. You will not walk away from the documentary without learning something. Seemingly made up of three simple stories that unfold as quite complex.

It is so completely honest. Understanding and yet not biased. Personal and sympathetic. Films with these types of qualities are not often made. Beautiful in content and composition. A film that tries to build bridges between a largely mysterious population to those on the outside. Most whites only have a superficial knowledge of aboriginal people and culture. The documentary will help with understanding, us being able to relate and develop compassion for the difficulties they are living.

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