Inspired by true events, "Beans" is about a Mohawk girl on the cusp of adolescence who must grow up fast and become her own kind of warrior during the armed stand-off known as 'The 1990 Oka Crisis'.
"Beans" is the coming-of-age story of a Mohawk girl named Tekehentahkhwa, (Kiawentiio) who more often goes by her quirky nickname, 'Beans'. She's a loving big sister to her constant sidekick, Ruby (Violah Beauvais), as they play in the woods and carefully avoid the rough and tough kids of their neighbourhood on 'The Mohawk Reserve' of 'Kahnawàke, Quebec'. Her father, Kania'Tariio (Joel Montgrand), rides her hard because he worries her sensitivity is a dangerous weakness. But her mother, Lily (Rainbow Dickerson), has great aspirations for her and is an even bigger force to be reckoned with. They don't agree on whether she should leave the reserve for high school, and 'Beans' isn't brave enough to speak up for what she wants. This debate is pushed to the side when a peaceful protest at a neighbouring reserve turns into an armed stand-off to protect a burial ground from being desecrated for a golf course expansion. 'Beans' community quickly joins the battle in what becomes known as 'The Oka Crisis'. Overnight, her community is cut off from the outside world. 'Beans' seeks out the toughest girl she knows, April (Paulina Alexis), to transform into the brave 'Mohawk' warrior that she needs to be to survive. She gains acceptance with the cool clique, but that doesn't prepare her for the racism and violence she confronts as the conflict escalates. Unable to cope, she descends into a dark, rage-filled existence focused on revenge. It's not until her reckless actions put everyone she cares about into peril that she wakes up to what's really important in her fragile world.
It's about a 12 years old girl who lives through an armed stand-off between her people and 'The Quebec' and 'Canadian' governments known as 'The Oka Crisis'. 'The Mohawk Nation Of Kanesatake And 'Kahnawàke' stand up to a formidable bully and won. "Beans" wants audiences to experience the complex reality of being an 'Indigenous' person through the heartbreaking and disturbing experiences of racism, hate and exclusion and the toll it can take. The best way to accomplish this is through an innocent child's point-of-view, during the highly charged, divisive summer of 'The Oka Crisis'. The film is inspired by true events because it's the story of a fictional family placed in actual historical events. The emotional journey of the heroine stretches from early adolescence into young adulthood. Details that are true to her life; she's born and raised in 'Kahnawàke', her younger sister is her best friend, her mother is a powerhouse, she resorted to self-harm to suppress her feelings and toughen up, she's in the caravan that's attacked and stoned by a mob, she's a sexual assault survivor, she left the reserve for high school, she has big dreams for her future, and she didn't let fear stop her from standing up for what she believes in. She takes on this challenge with gusto, courage, professionalism and grace and gifts her positive energy to her fellow castmates and crew every single day. This film is a celebration of her incredible talent and dedication. She's proof that when the young people are given the platform, they show us how brightly they can shine. Even though the story is very much a 'Mohawk' story, the characters represent multiple 'Nations'. Therefore, it's very meaningful to have two young 'Mohawk' girls embody 'The Mohawk' sisters at the heart of the film. There are key moments in the story that take place on 'The Mercier Bridge' and it's very difficult to receive provincial permission to close a bridge for filming. The other span is constantly packed with traffic, and unfortunately, there are some racial slurs yelled at 'The Mohawk' extras, which is a sad reminder of how much hasn't changed in 30 years.
"Beans" is very much inspired by Tracey Deer's own coming-of-age journey. As a 12-year- old, living through 'Fhe Oka Crisis' had a profound impact on her understanding of herself and her identity as an 'Indigenous' woman. She drew both positive lessons about the importance of standing up for what you believe in and learned firsthand about the incredible resiliency of her people, but she also learned that the world is a dangerous place because of her difference. All of her work to date has centred on the goal of bridge building by fostering greater awareness, compassion and solidarity towards 'Indigenous' people so that the world doesn't have to be such a hostile place for her people, or for anyone vilified as 'Other' by the ruling majority. 'The Oka Crisis' was a 78-day (11 July-26 September 1990) armed standoff between 'Mohawk' protestors and 'Quebec' police, 'The Royal Mounted Canadian Police' and 'The Canadian Army'. It all began when the town of 'Oka, Quebec' (population 1600) decided they wanted to expand their golf course from nine holes to 18 holes, along with a condominium development. In order to do this, they would need to level an ancient forest, known on the adjacent 'Kanesatake Mohawk' reserve as 'The Pines'. In order to prevent this encroachment on their territory, 'Mohawk' residents occupied 'The Pines' in a peaceful protest. For months, they camped out to ensure that bulldozers would not topple the majestic old trees or disturb a burial ground.
On July 11th, 1990, 'The Mayor Of Oka' called in the provincial police to forcibly remove the protestors. Instead, a shootout broke out and a police officer, Marcel Lemay, was killed. The police retreated and a barricade was erected on the highway leading into 'Kanesatake'. In support, 'The Mohawks' of 'The Nearby Kahnawàke Reserve' barricaded 'The Mercier Bridge', which was used by thousands of commuters working in 'Montreal'. Unlike the protest in rural 'Kanesatake', many 'Quebecois' were now inconvenienced and angry. 'The Oka Crisis', as it was called, became nightly news. 'The Media' portrayed "The Mohawks' as terrorists, while racism against 'Indigenous' protestors flourished. On August 8th, 'Quebec Premier Robert Bourrassa' asked 'The Canadian Government' to send in the army. Tanks rolled up to the barricades and soldiers with guns patrolled the razor wire surrounding the reserves. Over $200 million in taxpayer money was spent, racial hate crimes became commonplace, and 'The Mohawk' people were denied basic human rights at the behest of the ruling governments. In the end, a resolution was reached when the federal government agreed to purchase the disputed parcel of land and sign it over to 'The Mohawks Of Kanesatake'; except 30 years later that still hasn't happened yet!. The golf course expansion was defeated, and a new wave of 'Indigenous' activism was born. This important victory empowered Indigenous people across the country to rise up, take a stand, and make their voices heard on numerous other issues since that fateful summer.
A few films discuss the subject of 'First Nations' people's resistance in 'Canada'. There are great documentaries such as the amazing Alanis Obomsawin's "Kanesatake 270 Years Of Resistance" or Michelle Latimer's "Rise". 'Canadians' did not experience that summer as they did. The media painted them as terrorists. The neighbours attacked them. The basic human rights are violated. And instead of offering protection, the provincial police and 'Canadian' army aimed their weapons at them. Sound familiar? Thirty years later, these same scenes are playing out across the television screens as people stand up for racial and social justice across 'North America'. They too are being met with violence, instead of support. The film wants 'Canadians' and audiences around the world to experience what it's like to be in the crosshairs of so much hate and anger, and the destructive impact it has on us. These kinds of experiences shatter innocence, confidence, and hope. Even though this film takes place in 1990 and shows how bad things are, these messages of intolerance, ignorance and indifference are still being heard loud and clear across this country today. We live it every day.
Like an infection, hate and anger spreads and multiplies on both sides. We must stop this cycle of violence to protect the next generation from repeating the mistakes of our past and, shamefully, our present. During that fateful, scary summer, we learned many terrible lessons; the world is dangerous, and we're considered so worthless that it's acceptable to harm us. That's a very dark reality to grow up in, and to thrive has required a very long road of healing. But the wounds of the past still haunt us. We feel invisible and unimportant, so to give voice to our experiences, thoughts, feelings, dreams and fears through character-based storytelling is a way to reclaim the worth, honour 'Indigenous' people and celebrate their resilience. 'Canadians' need to step up. The film inspires them to open their hearts and head back into their everyday lives as allies of 'Indigenous' people. We need their friendship, support and action for society to change for the better.
Written by Gregory Mann.