Skip to content

Reconstructing Modernity: Montreal’s Expo 67 and Caroline Monnet’s Film ‘Mobilize’ (2015) – Renata Critton-Papp

Link to Mobilize by Caroline Monnet: https://www.nfb.ca/film/mobilize/

Currently based in Tiohti:áke/Montreal, Caroline Monnet, an Anishinaabe and French multidisciplinary artist, explores memory and perception. The short film Mobilize collages archival video footage and sound from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) to deconstruct settler colonialism and rewrite Indigenous experiences into the twenty-first century1. Mobilize reflects upon archived histories of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Tiohti:áke/Montreal and the entirety of so-called Canada2. Commissioned in 2015 by the NFB, as a consideration of Indigenous identity in their archive, the three-minute video samples clips of Indigenous life in Turtle Island/Canada3. Through the assertion of Indigenous presence and resilience in Mobilize, Monnet locates indigenized pedagogy in the narrative of modernity on Turtle Island/Canada.

Monnet sets Mobilize to “Uja,” a song by Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq, and edits it in time with Tagaq’s strong, breathy rhythm4. The film’s footage provides clips of traditional ways of life, industrialization, and the modern world that range from the Northern Territories to the city of Tiohti:áke/Montreal. The people and places displayed in the film show a transformation from snowy forest and pristine rivers to steel skyscraper beams and typewriters with Inuktitut syllabics. These documentations include the crafting of snowshoes and their imprints on the snow-covered ground as well as the building of canoes and their smooth path across bodies of water. Mobilize enforces Indigenous peoples’ survival, skills, and labour as an undeniable part of modernization in Turtle Island/Canada. In employing fast-paced transitions between Northern Turtle Island/Canada and Tiohti:áke/Montreal, Monnet creates a vaguely chronological narrative between these scenes. Her emphasis on Indigenous resilience and presence in both spaces contradicts the erasure and narrative of settler colonialism. 

After the quick-paced journey through changing landscapes, the film transitions to a contemplative clip of a young, Indigenous woman, Janice Lawrence. She is dressed in 1960s attire while walking on Tiohti:áke/Montreal’s streets and observing the traffic and shops (Fig. 1)5. Monnet gathers this archival footage from Indian Memento by Michel Régnier, a documentary made in 1967 about the “Indians of Canada” Pavilion (Fig. 2.) at Tiohti:áke/Montreal’s world fair, Expo 67. Expo 67 was the centennial celebration of the birth of so-called Canada that intended to educate the public through representations of national identity6. Following her role as a hostess for the Pavilion, Régnier positions Lawrence as a lost, historicized part of modernization in Tiohti:áke/Montreal. Monnet’s use realigns this footage to communicate Janice Lawrence as a symbol of autonomy, resilience, and Indigenous Futurism. By contrasting footage of life in the North with Lawrence in an urban space, Monnet recontextualizes her as a signifier for the resistance and strength of the “Indians of Canada” Pavilion at Expo 67. 

The “Indians of Canada” Pavilion was an integral act of opposition at Expo 67. Under the governance of Jean Drapeau, Expo 67 marked the arrival of modernism in Tiohti:áke/Montreal7. With the fair, Drapeau made ambitious statements about urban regeneration and futurity8. It became a project that served the purpose of reidentifying Tiohti:áke/Montreal as a globalized, “future world metropolis.”9 It immersed visitors in a futuristic, economically and governmentally idealized landscape of Turtle Island/Canada.  

Monnet documents the land and people of Turtle Island through an engagement with the critical stance and betrayal explored in the “Indians of Canada” Pavilion. The “Indians of Canada” Pavilion juxtaposed this by prioritizing a past of silenced voices and histories. The curators of the Pavilion dispelled the traditional narrative of Turtle Island/Canada and educated the public using First Nations, Métis, and Inuit pedagogy. The Pavilion centered on the massive expropriation of 1,260 acres of Kanien’kehá:ka and Akwesasne territory for the construction of the Expo’s man-made island10.  The transformation of Tiohti:áke/Montreal’s water-side geography positioned land as malleable and controllable, displacing Indigenous families for the sake of industrialization and modernization. The conceptualizers of the “Indians of Canada” Pavilion took into account these histories of protest and struggle, placing Indigenous people into the narrative of modernism and Expo 67 and making this violence upon the land visible in the exhibition space11. Furthermore, the exhibit aligned with ongoing Indigenous resistance to residential school systems and the publishing of the Hawthorn and Caldwell Reports, which investigated and exposed the sites’ intention of violence and cultural cleansing12. The Pavilion created an opportunity for residential school survivors to participate in the rehistoricization of Canada, a state created by the brutal assimilation and genocide of Indigenous people. Within the educational exhibition, the Indigenous organizers situated themselves in the present and confronted visitors with Indigenous knowledge and experience. Their efforts defied the stagnant and historized depictions of Indigenous people in textbooks.13 The “Indians of Canada” Pavilion put settler colonialism in Turtle Island/Canada on a world stage in the midst of the 1960s urban regeneration. Monnet’s examples of Indigenous peoples’ labour and craft — including the creation of snowshoes and canoes and their journeys across the land — along with the clips of Janice Lawrence acknowledge the “pedagogical act of resistance” performed in the “Indians of Canada” Pavilion. Her reflection on Expo 67 and the archiving of racialized bodies facilitates an ongoing discourse about the coming of Tiohti:áke/Montreal’s modernity. By reflecting upon Expo 67 as a moment of resistance for Indigenous people, Monnet reclaims colonized land and histories. Monnet positions the collaged and reclaimed footage and sound from the NFB archives as a reminder of Indigenous presence and resilience on Turtle Island, echoing the voices showcased in the “Indians of Canada” Pavilion.14 Mobilize asks the viewer to observe Indigenous work, and the Indigenous physical imprint on the land we live on today, introducing “an idea of contemporaneity while still honouring the past.”15 The film also acts as a call to Indigenous people to continue enacting political and social resistance through public pedagogy.16  In the focus on movement and grounded material-based practices, Mobilize becomes a reflection on the survival of Indigenous people, and a celebration of Indigenous ways of life.

Fig. 1. Caroline Monnet, Mobilize, 2015, still, 
https://www.nfb.ca/film/mobilize/.
Fig. 2. Library and Archives Canada, Aerial View of Indians of Canada Pavilion, the United Nations Pavilion and the Atlantic Provinces Pavilion at Expo 67, 1967, photograph, RG71, Box TCS 00855, Archives / Collections and Fonds, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/CollectionSearch/Pages/record.aspx?app=fonandcol&IdNumber=3198391&new=-8585658350873194655

Notes

  1. Sarah EK Smith and Carla Taunton, “Unsettling Canadian Heritage: Decolonial Aesthetics in Canadian Video and Performance Art,” Journal of Canadian Studies 52, no.1 (2018): 332.
  2. Ibid, 330
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5.  Jane Griffith, “One Little, Two Little, Three Canadians: The Indians of Canada Pavilion and Public Pedagogy, Expo 1967,” Journal of Canadian Studies 49, no. 2 (2016): 198.
  6. Ibid, 177.
  7.  Sarah Moser, Gabriel Fauveaud, and Adam Cutts, “Montréal: Towards a post-industrial reinvention,” Cities 86 (2019): 127.
  8. André Jansson, “Encapsulations: The Production of a Future Gaze at Montreal’s Expo 67,” Space and Culture 10, no. 4 (November 2007): 423. 
  9. Ibid, 424.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid, 176
  12. Ibid.
  13.  Griffith, “One Little, Two Little, Three Canadians,” 174.  
  14. Ibid, 171
  15. Ibid.
  16.  Smith and Taunton, “Unsettling Canadian Heritage,” 332.

Bibliography 

Griffith, Jane. “One Little, Two Little, Three Canadians: The Indians of Canada Pavilion and Public Pedagogy, Expo 1967.” Journal of Canadian Studies 49, no. 2 (2016): 171–204. ​​https://doi.org/10.1353/jcs.20l5.00l6

Jansson, André. “Encapsulations: The Production of a Future Gaze at Montreal’s Expo 67.” Space and Culture 10, no. 4 (November 2007): 418–36. https://doi.org/10.1177/1206331207304355

Moser, Sarah, Gabriel Fauveaud, and Adam Cutts. “Montréal: Towards a post-industrial reinvention” Cities 86 (2019): 125-35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2018.09.013.

Smith, Sarah EK, and Carla Taunton. “Unsettling Canadian Heritage: Decolonial Aesthetics in Canadian Video and Performance Art.” Journal of Canadian Studies 52, no.1 (2018): 306-41. https://doi.org/10.3138/jcs.2017-0053.r2.

%d bloggers like this: