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Club Native

Canada’s “Indian Act” of 1876 was a law much despised by aboriginal people, who saw it as (among other things) an effort to negate their traditional identities through forced assimilation. In 1985 the Canadian Parliament passed Bill C-31, an amendment including provisions to end discrimination against native women who were reclassified according to their husband’s identity if they married outside their band. Putting this issue under the jurisdiction of the tribes has not solved the problem, as shown in this documentary directed by Tracey Deer, who was born on the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake near Montreal. Her film follows four women of different circumstances who are forced to fight to assert their identities as Mohawks (Kanien’kehá:ka in their self-appellation).

Club Native is at its best as it follows these women through their daily lives, making the issue seem as unjust as a council of Cheektowagans trying to deny a resident a vote because she married an Italian guy. The arguments for maintaining aboriginal bloodlines are heard but perhaps not entirely given their due.

Deer can’t help but be sidetracked by the story of the 1990 crisis in which a dispute between the residents of Kanesatake and the neighboring town of Oka, Quebec, which wanted to build a golf course on their burial grounds, led to a three-month standoff with the Canadian military. (It’s a subject that deserves an entire documentary of its own.)

It’s hard to fault a documentary on such a visceral subject for being too emotional, but Deer gets too deep into the personal lives of two of her subjects (one of them her sister), and time that could better be spent exploring these issues in more depth is lost to home movie footage and worshipful portraits of the more obviously charismatic subjects. Still, Club Native casts a valuable spotlight on an ugly issue with no obvious resolution.

—m. faust

Club Native will be presented in next Thursday (February 25) at the Market Arcade as part of the International Women’s Film Festival. Also on the bill is the short film “The Shirt,” an ironic narrative/performance chronicling of the effects of colonialism on native people in North America.

Watch the trailer for Club Native

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