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Film Premiere Revisits the 1990 Oka Crisis

MONTREAL ñ Nearly 16 years ago, a small Mohawk reserve in Canada made headlines in newspapers across the continent. In May, members of the Kanehsatake community re-lived the events of the summer of 1990 in a crowded elementary school gymnasium.

On May 27, the film ìIndian Summer: The Oka Crisisî made its world premiere at the Montreal First Peoples Festival to an audience of brothers, sisters and neighbors of those on the front lines during the Oka Crisis.

ìThis is the first time that this film has been shown,î said Andre Dudemaine, director of the First Peoples Festival. ìItís a story that started and evolved in this community, so it only makes sense that it would be launched here.î

The film, which runs for 240 minutes, was made for TV and will premier this fall on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television station.

ìThis is fiction in a sense, but itís more of a historical film that tries to be an honest account of the summer of 1990,î Dudemaine said.

During the summer of 1990, the nearby town of Oka wanted land to expand a golf course and build luxury apartments. The land on which the town wanted to expand was referred to in the movie as ìthe Pines.î

The Pines was an area of land that had been disputed in a land claim. The Mohawks had been pursuing a land claim because of the history that the land possesses. The Pines include a sacred grove of pine trees that were hand-planted by Kanehsatake ancestors. The land also contained a Mohawk burial ground, and in the movie the town of Oka had plans of building a parking lot over the top of the cemetery.

ìWhat is interesting about this film is that the film can do something that the news could not do,î Dudemaine said. ìThey brought us behind the scenes and into boardrooms of the government and strategies of the Mohawk resistance.î

The Mohawks set up barricades to defend the land, but a police raid turned deadly when 31-year-old Cpl. Marcel Lemay, of Surete du Quebec, was shot and killed.

During the crisis, blockades were set up near the Kanehsatake Reserve and in support by the neighboring Mohawk Reserve of Kahnawake a blockade was set up on the Mercier Bridge, blocking one of Montrealís main bridges into the city. For more than two months, the blockades stayed up. The film captures the history and the drama of the crisis.

The film was written and directed by Gil Cardinal. Cardinal said the script took him about a year to write and about a year to film. Much of the movie was filmed on and near Kanehsatake.

ìWe cast a few of the larger roles but we didnít want to do anymore because we wanted to open it up to this community,î Cardinal said. ìMany people from the community have roles in the movie. Many of them are extras.î

The lead role of the movie is played by Alex Rice, a Mohawk from Kahnawake. Rice played the role of Elleen Gabriel. Pamela Matthews, a Cree, portrayed Denise David in the film. Matthews attended the premiere and saw the film for the first time.

ìI had a great time working on this film,î said Matthews. ìIt was great working with people from this community.î

Joseph Cross, Mohawk, played his brother, Ronald ìLasagnaî Cross, in the film. Lasagna Cross gained media attention for his role in the Oka Crisis; his images made him a hero to some and a villain to others.

ìIt was easy to play my brother,î said Cross. ìHe is in my heart.î

Lasagna Cross, who died in 1999, was battling alcohol and drugs during 1990. He had gone home to Kanehsatake to seek treatment and while at home he felt it was his duty to be a defender of the Pines.

ìI remember the day he came home and told us what was going on and what he was doing,î Cross said. ìI gave him all his [camouflage] clothes.î

Other actors in the movie include George Leach, Toni Nardi and members of the Mohawk Nation. Film producer Claudio Luca said he hopes to show the film at festivals or on other networks for people in other countries to view it. As part of the festival, the film played on the Kahnawake Reserve on May 29 and in Montreal on June 2.

ìWe are creating media that is of our aboriginal voice,î Dudemaine said. ìWe are making contributions so our voices and issues can be heard, and our land rights can be respected.î

MONTREAL ñ Nearly 16 years ago, a small Mohawk reserve in Canada made headlines in newspapers across the continent. In May, members of the Kanehsatake community re-lived the events of the summer of 1990 in a crowded elementary school gymnasium.On May 27, the film ìIndian Summer: The Oka Crisisî made its world premiere at the Montreal First Peoples Festival to an audience of brothers, sisters and neighbors of those on the front lines during the Oka Crisis.ìThis is the first time that this film has been shown,î said Andre Dudemaine, director of the First Peoples Festival. ìItís a story that started and evolved in this community, so it only makes sense that it would be launched here.îThe film, which runs for 240 minutes, was made for TV and will premier this fall on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television station.ìThis is fiction in a sense, but itís more of a historical film that tries to be an honest account of the summer of 1990,î Dudemaine said.During the summer of 1990, the nearby town of Oka wanted land to expand a golf course and build luxury apartments. The land on which the town wanted to expand was referred to in the movie as ìthe Pines.îThe Pines was an area of land that had been disputed in a land claim. The Mohawks had been pursuing a land claim because of the history that the land possesses. The Pines include a sacred grove of pine trees that were hand-planted by Kanehsatake ancestors. The land also contained a Mohawk burial ground, and in the movie the town of Oka had plans of building a parking lot over the top of the cemetery.ìWhat is interesting about this film is that the film can do something that the news could not do,î Dudemaine said. ìThey brought us behind the scenes and into boardrooms of the government and strategies of the Mohawk resistance.îThe Mohawks set up barricades to defend the land, but a police raid turned deadly when 31-year-old Cpl. Marcel Lemay, of Surete du Quebec, was shot and killed.During the crisis, blockades were set up near the Kanehsatake Reserve and in support by the neighboring Mohawk Reserve of Kahnawake a blockade was set up on the Mercier Bridge, blocking one of Montrealís main bridges into the city. For more than two months, the blockades stayed up. The film captures the history and the drama of the crisis.The film was written and directed by Gil Cardinal. Cardinal said the script took him about a year to write and about a year to film. Much of the movie was filmed on and near Kanehsatake.ìWe cast a few of the larger roles but we didnít want to do anymore because we wanted to open it up to this community,î Cardinal said. ìMany people from the community have roles in the movie. Many of them are extras.îThe lead role of the movie is played by Alex Rice, a Mohawk from Kahnawake. Rice played the role of Elleen Gabriel. Pamela Matthews, a Cree, portrayed Denise David in the film. Matthews attended the premiere and saw the film for the first time.ìI had a great time working on this film,î said Matthews. ìIt was great working with people from this community.îJoseph Cross, Mohawk, played his brother, Ronald ìLasagnaî Cross, in the film. Lasagna Cross gained media attention for his role in the Oka Crisis; his images made him a hero to some and a villain to others.ìIt was easy to play my brother,î said Cross. ìHe is in my heart.î Lasagna Cross, who died in 1999, was battling alcohol and drugs during 1990. He had gone home to Kanehsatake to seek treatment and while at home he felt it was his duty to be a defender of the Pines.ìI remember the day he came home and told us what was going on and what he was doing,î Cross said. ìI gave him all his [camouflage] clothes.îOther actors in the movie include George Leach, Toni Nardi and members of the Mohawk Nation. Film producer Claudio Luca said he hopes to show the film at festivals or on other networks for people in other countries to view it. As part of the festival, the film played on the Kahnawake Reserve on May 29 and in Montreal on June 2.ìWe are creating media that is of our aboriginal voice,î Dudemaine said. ìWe are making contributions so our voices and issues can be heard, and our land rights can be respected.î