A conflict over planting wild rice on a lake shared by the Curve Lake First Nation reserve and cottage owners comes to a boil in a new documentary from playwright Drew Hayden Taylor.

Once upon a time there were Cowboys and Indians. Now it’s COTTAGERS & INDIANS. In a new documentary inspired by his hit play of the same title, Indigenous playwright, Drew Hayden Taylor, dives into both sides of an argument that is threatening to explode. COTTAGERS & INDIANS premieres as part of flagship documentary series CBC Docs POV, Saturday, July 4, 2020, at 8 p.m. (9 AT, 9:30 NT) on CBC and the free CBC Gem streaming service.

Pigeon Lake, 90 minutes northeast of Toronto, is the site of the dispute between many cottage owners and the residents of Curve Lake First Nation, which lines its shores. Curve Lake First Nation resident, James Whetung, wants to grow and harvest wild rice on Pigeon Lake, and argues it is a right of food sovereignty, while hundreds of residents and cottagers want to maintain the lake for recreational use, and believe Mr. Whetung is breaking the law. Stuck in the middle is  writer and filmmaker Drew Hayden Taylor, who is from the Curve Lake First Nations reserve, born to an Ojibway mother and white father.

“Every story has two sides. I was stunned by how Manoomin (the Ojibway word for wild rice), which in my culture we call ‘The Good Seed,’ could lead to such a tense fight,” says Taylor. For guidance, Taylor journeys to three iconic reserves: Shoal Lake 40, suffering the effects of an aqueduct dug to supply Winnipeg with tap water, but not to return clean water to the reserve which has been on a boil water advisory since the ‘80s; Sauble Beach, a tourist haven on contested Ontario land; and Osoyoos, B.C., a thriving reserve who partners with settlers on their own terms.

An Anishinaabe playwright and humorist, Taylor deliberately plays on the phrase cowboys and indians in this exploration of the challenges of reconciliation, and themes of decolonization. The film delves into the tension between resolving centuries of injustice, and the desire to move forward peacefully.

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