You Are on Indian Land

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You Are on Indian Land
Directed by Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell
Produced by George C. Stoney
Cinematography Tony Ianzelo
Edited by Kathleen Shannon
Noel Starblanket
Release date
Running time
36 min 48 s
Country Canada

You Are on Indian Land is a 1969 documentary film directed by Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell about the 1969 Akwesasne border crossing dispute and the confrontation between police and Mohawk of the St. Regis Reservation on a bridge between Canada and the United States, which stands on Mohawk land near Cornwall, Ontario.

By blocking traffic from the bridge, the Mohawk sought to call attention to their grievance that they were prohibited by Canadian authorities from duty-free passage of personal purchases across the border. They claimed this right as part of their right of free passage across the border, as established by the 1794 Jay Treaty between Great Britain and the United States after the latter gained independence in the American Revolutionary War.[1] The film portrayed the rising activism of the Mohawk and demands for self-determination, which has continued.


You Are on Indian Land was produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) as part of its Challenge for Change series, with Mitchell a member of the fledgling Indian Film Crew for First Nations filmmaking. Knowing that negotiations were faltering and that Mohawks here planning to block the bridge, Mitchell asked George C. Stoney, the Challenge for Change executive producer, for an NFB film crew. Stoney moved quickly to pull a film team together. Director Mort Ransen agreed to work on the project after learning that no First Nations directors were available, saying that he would assist Mitchell.[1][2][3]

For Mitchell, who would go on to become a long-serving Grand Chief of Akwesasne, the experience of making You Are on Indian Land blurred the lines between filmmaking and politics:

I was filming the meetings, but I was also asking questions and giving my own views, and I soon became identified as one of the spokesmen [for the community]; they asked that I be part of the delegation that was going to Ottawa. So I was really playing both sides at the time.

— Tracey, [3]

Crediting changes[edit]

In 2016, an encounter between Ransen and NFB English Program Executive Director Michelle van Beusekom at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival led to series of discussions that would see the NFB officially recredit the film with Mitchell as director, in accordance with Ransen's longtime wishes. Additionally, Indian Film Crew member Noel Starblanket would be added as assistant editor for his work alongside editor Kathleen Shannon, the future founder of Studio D.[3] Regarding the crediting issue, Mitchell said:

I didn’t really think one way or another about it because, technically, I was a student. My feeling was, they [the NFB] are calling the shots. So I’m just glad we got the film made.... Mort [Ransen], who had his name attached as the director, always said that it was not his film, that it was mine. I really think that it was his saying that, for years, that helped them make this decision now.

— Tracey, [3]


Afterward, Mitchell worked with the NFB for several more years before leaving filmmaking. He was elected to the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne in 1982. Two years later, he was first elected as its Grand Chief—an office he would repeatedly hold, beginning in 1984 until his most recent reelection in 2012.[2][4]


  1. ^ a b "You Are on Indian Land". Curator's comments. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2 December 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Honarpisheh, Farbod. "You Are On Indian Land". In Jerry White. The Cinema of Canada. London: Wallflower Press. pp. 81–89. ISBN 1-904764-60-6. 
  3. ^ a b c d Tracey, Andrew (24 February 2017). "Now Reconciled: Nearly 50 years later, the director of a landmark First Nations film gets his rightful recognition". The Review. Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
  4. ^ Burnham, Kathryn (26 June 2012). "Mitchell re-elected Grand Chief". Brantford Expositor. Retrieved 4 May 2017. 

External links[edit]