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Marcel Brousseau, “You Are On Indian Film”

Jan 30, 2019, 12:00 pm1:30 pm

“You Are on Indian Film: Reading Mohawk Documentaries as Treaty Literature.”

Marcel Brousseau Wednesday January 30 12-1:30pm

North American Indian treaties, it has been said, are a “political anomaly.” As legal and historical documents, Indian treaties “exhibit irregular, incongruous, or even contradictory elements” indicative of the unique contexts and circumstances by which different Tribal and settler governments entered into negotiation. As described by legal scholar Robert A. Williams (Lumbee), treaties impose “a system of colonizing law” onto Indian polities while simultaneously “serving as a positive, purposive force in tribalism’s persistence.” Recognizing the positive power of treaties requires, in Williams’ analysis, accounting for “the legal visions [Indigenous] people have developed in response to the white man’s Indian law.” In this talk, I follow Williams’ logic in order to examine how members of the Mohawk community of Akwesasne have used documentary film, with support from the National Film Board of Canada, to address both historic and contemporary disagreements between the Mohawk community and Canadian and U.S. settler communities. When viewed as “legal visions,” to apply Williams’ phrase, the documentary films made at Akwesasne indicate that the Mohawk community’s efforts to assert its rights and lifeways are historically continuous, technologically adaptive, and deeply conscious of the “shared legal world” of the postcolonial Americas. I argue that, in response to contemporary challenges to Indigenous sovereignty by the Canadian government, the documentaries function as “reiterations” of treaty literature, albeit in the new medium of film, that “affirm the sovereign capacity of Indian tribes to engage in bilateral government relations, to exercise power and control over their lands and resources, and to maintain their internal forms of self-government free of outside influence.”


Marcel Brousseau is a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Oregon. From 2015 to 2017 he served as a Carlos E. Castañeda Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT Austin. He earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His publications include essays about Kiowa literary and digital mapping, about the poetics of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, and about the symbolism of bridges and tunnels on the U.S.-Mexico borderline.

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