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Mohawk Girls: Confessions of teenage drama queens

Confessions of teenage drama queens

Deer: Girl with a vision

Mohawk doc about growing up native shocks, in a good way

Mohawk Girls, Tracey Deer’s film about three teenage girls growing up in Kahnawake, is pretty striking – and it shouldn’t be. But the fact is, rarely do we hear anything on the evening news about native kids that doesn’t involve solvent abuse or high suicide rates. Deer’s documentary, in which she intersperses interviews with three vibrant young ladies from across the Mercier Bridge with video footage from her own adolescence, shows the ups and downs of growing up native in the shadow of the big city.

"Most people, it’s not necessarily that they have misconceptions," says Deer, "it’s that they have no clue. Even though Kahnawake is so close to Montreal – as a lot of reserves are close to [big cities] – the gap is really big, between our community and the rest of the wider world."

Deer had two main goals for Mohawk Girls: "I wanted to start a dialogue in my own community. The other thing was to show other Canadians what it is like to be a young native person. Hopefully a non-native audience will be able to relate to these young girls. Why shouldn’t people be able to relate? There are many things that make us unique, but we also have a lot in common with everyone else."

One nasty reality particular to young native girls is other people’s stereotyped ideas about what you’re capable of – especially if, like Deer (and Lauren, another girl profiled in the doc), you choose to go to high school outside the community.

"Low expectations and misconceptions are definitely part of the problem. Nobody expects very much out of us. Mostly, from [my peers in high school] I would just hear, ‘Isn’t it about time for you to mate? When are you going to get pregnant? Isn’t that what you people do?’ There was never any idea that I could become a doctor or a lawyer alongside them. And the teachers, even, would never encourage me. It was always, ‘Oh, don’t worry, you girls are never good at sciences, so don’t waste time [in advanced courses], you’ll just be disappointed.’ The worst thing is, I think they were just trying to be helpful!"

The end result was that Deer became even more determined to prove them wrong. Though the filmmaker admits to many conflicting feelings about her Mohawk identity and her desire to "make it in the outside world," Deer – who is now 28 and lives in Mile End – can rest assured that Mohawk Girls has found an audience. The film has played at festivals across the country, as well as on TV, and, this week, is receiving a theatrical run at Cinéma du Parc.

"People are really reacting to it," says Deer. "Also, the girls have gotten so much feedback, people think they are so brave to speak their minds. I think people who come to the film are curious and want to know more. What I can say is that I’ve never had someone come up to me and say, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly how I thought it was [to grow up native]."

Mohawk Girls

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  • by Martin Dansky - April 13, 2006, 6:45 pm

    Recently I had the pleasure of partaking in a short film where native students were taken advantage of my clergy teachers. Native children in other films are seen as glue sniffers and their parents as permanent alcoholics. I learned that a number of films had already been made showing the downside of native societies in Quebec, not necessarily on the south shore. So much attention has been down on their going to drugs, never being able to make in the big world that most of us have developed misconceptions about natives being unable to compete with their white colleagues. Isn’t it time to pull the plug on this perennial negativity?
    Now advertising Mohawk plight is the first step, then concerned citizens should make an effort and bridge the ties between the reserve and the city. It’s time to permanently remove the associaition we have of Kahanwake as just a place to pick up cheap smokes and where teenage girls do nothing more than get pregnant. More opportunities should be made available to Mohawk children so that the bubble isolating form the city in their view is removed.

  • by Mark St Pierre - April 14, 2006, 1:47 am

    I’ve always viewed Kahnawake with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation, having grown up just across the water in La Salle. I guess the infamous Mercier Bridge barricade only served to heighten these two conflicting emotions. Mohawk Girls then offers up, at least for myself, a window into life in a community that has always felt apart, marginalised, and to some degree, forgotten. I’d be very curious to see as to how these Mohawk teens deal with your typical adolesecent adversity as well as the external naievte of people such as myself about the native experience…

  • by Pedro Eggers - April 15, 2006, 2:06 pm

    It doesn’t matter what label we slip them under because to a great many of us they’re just an afterthought, in fact, I’d even go so far as to say that to a lot of us they don’t matter. Offended? You should be. But before you flame me with your righteous indignation, ask yourself this–how well do you know the indiginous race that was here before the European colonists came by and drove them to extinction? How often do you think about them? Does their plight as a dying race stir you to action, to get to know them as more than a footnote in the white man’s history pages? No, if you’re like most, you take the Native People for granted and only really give them some deeper consideration when places like Kahnawake achieve a certain level of media notoriety or when a crisply done up doc like Tracey Deer’s “Mohawk Girls” surfaces. Deny it if you want but the polls and human nature don’t lie.
    Tracey Deer’s “Mohawk Girls” may not have the glitzy appeal of “Thank You for Not Smoking” or the Hollywood gravitas of “3 Needles” but that doesn’t mean it’s something we should ignore. Despite the numbers Native people and Native history are all around us, they’re just obscured by all the noise and static of North American culture. Tracey Deer deserves our respect for having the vision and determination to shine a light where almost no one thinks to because they don’t see the need. Trust me, a need exists and Deer has the strenght of character to see it through despite knowing that there isn’t that strong of a market for what she’s trying to preach. It’s a white man’s world and Native projects and concerns tend to get squashed, let alone projects focusing on young Mohawk girls coming into their own. If this doc tells us anything it’s that we don’t know anything about anything…especially about Mohawk life, Mohawk people and Mohawk dreams.

  • by Julie Miller - April 16, 2006, 5:05 pm

    It was good to see this on APTN tv not too long ago. The Aboriginal People’s Television Network is a good place to start if one wants to learn about native people, their struggles, and their culture.
    There is an excellent program airing now, called Moccasin Flats, which depicts the trials and tribulations of a native community in Regina. It doesn’t shy away from the troubles that the young people there struggle with, such as drugs and alcohol, but more importantly, it highlights positive role models within the community as well. It is a fictionalized drama but is a completely native undertaking, with a large native cast.
    Elders are very important in that community and try to help the young people recognize how important their heritage is. The biggest problem is lack of hope and alienation from their roots. Once they decide to learn about their culture and partake of special ceremonies, the young people can begin to heal themselves.
    The first few seasons depicted harsh storylines, such as drugs and prostitution. In its third season now, one of the main characters has gotten off drugs and prostitution and works in a community centre trying to help other girls like herself. She has also begun to embrace her own heritage, with the help of an elder, and has become a stronger person.
    The program also depicts native cops, record producers, and community workers. It can seem like a soap opera at times, but is redeemed by intelligent writing and sympathetic characters (it also has some great rap sung by one of the main characters). Most importantly, it shines a light on a little-known community that non-native viewers might enjoy learning about.

  • by Margarita Alala - April 21, 2006, 11:07 pm

    I believe that Mohawk Girls’s purpose was to open our minds as Canadians and help us understand the complexity of the Amerindian’s place in our society. Very few of us know what what really is happening in the reserves and how the Natives percieve the outside community. Mohawk Girls did a great job explaining those points, but also proving that we are all humans, and that we share the same fears and ambitions. I would strongly recommend this documentary to anyone willing to invest 58 minutes into learning more about a culture with which we share a territory, but we know so little about. The documentary is well set and the confessions of the Mohawk community are sincere. This movie also touched me because it starred girls around my age in which I could identify.

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