'Beans' Is an Essential Watch About the Oka Crisis

Starring Kiawentiio, Rainbow Dickerson, Joel Montgrand, Violah Beauvais

BY Sara ClementsPublished Nov 4, 2021

A convoy of Mohawk women and children are separated from their husbands and fathers as they evacuate their reserve for what they believe is safety. Instead, they are met by the malice of their white neighbours, who spew racism and pelt their cars with rocks. This was Tracey Deer's own experience as a 12-year-old girl living in the middle of the Oka Crisis. In 1990, the Mohawk people from the Kanesatake reserve in Quebec started an uprising to protect their land from a golf course expansion, leading to a tense 78-day standoff between them, police and military. Focusing the story on a young girl to reflect her own experience, Deer and co-writer Meredith Vuchnich have written a coming-of-age film about children who are forced to grow up too fast in the face of an important, shocking and heavy part in Canada's history.

A white headmistress of a prestigious academy struggles to pronounce an Indigenous girl's name. It's Tekehentahkhwa. "Or you can call me Beans," the girl says. The film opens with the titular Beans (Kiawentiio, who also composed and performs a song on the soundtrack) dreaming of her future. She wants to be successful, and being accepted into this academy is one step closer to achieving that. However, as it happens with most of us, the ideas for her future are being pulled in different directions by the contrasting views of what her mother Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) and her father Kania'Tariio (Joel Montgrand) believe is best for her. Luckily, she has her sister Ruby (Violah Beauvais) to lend constant support. Soon, though, conversations of her future are put on pause and her summer vacation is turned upside down when the members of her reserve begin a turbulent fight for their land and their rights.

For a brief moment, we forget the film is set during the Oka Crisis, as Beans and Ruby take a walk in the woods, cinematographer Marie Davignon emphasizing the beauty of the land that is being threatened. Beans and Ruby find a sacred burial ground littered with golf balls. You see them remove the balls, bury them and begin to lay flowers in their place. But this moment of tranquillity is interrupted by reality: the sound of smoke bombs and gunshots. The lives of these young girls, their family and neighbours, turn into ones full of chaos and fear in an instant. It's upsetting and terrifying to watch them, especially Beans and Ruby, navigate this kind of danger, unpredictability and hostility. And especially in environments that they used to be welcomed in.

The actors deliver performances that embody the trauma of the past. And in the midst of all this terror, Kiawentiio also has the challenge of blocking all of that out in various moments to simply be a girl on the cusp of womanhood. Her story isn't just one of trauma but also of coming of age, as she figures out what she likes and what she dislikes, as she struggles to fit in with new friends, and starts thinking about boys. Beans is figuring out the kind of person she wants to be during all this, and this event leads her to go from a sweet, happy girl to one full of pain and anger. She's coming into her own skin, and that skin must be tough as steel.

Beans incorporates real news footage, showing us the barricades built by the Mohawk people to protect their land, and also by the police and the army to cut the "Indian problem" off from the world. As the words of newsmen and onlookers from neighbouring towns add their two cents on the events, there's a separation felt by the viewer. When watching the news through a white lens or reading about it in a textbook in school, we are not privy to the full scope of this event. But thanks to Deer's film, we feel the weight and impact of the Oka Crisis on the Mohawk people who were there. On the side of the barricade that is her childhood, Deer shows Beans and Ruby cheer as they bike freely on an empty road on their land. There's freedom in that joy, but it's not one that can be long-term — the fight still continues.
(Mongrel Media)

Latest Coverage