This feature-length documentary explores the diabetes epidemic within Indigenous communities in Canada. Ojibway filmmaker Brion Whitford lives with the pain of advanced diabetes, but shunned traditional Indigenous medicine and healing practices. But as his health deteriorated, he had a change of heart. Join Brion as he connects with his culture, comes to grips with his own mortality, and tries to re-establish balance in his life.
Just north of the City of Edmonton lies Poundmaker’s Lodge, an addiction and mental-health facility specializing in treatment for Indigenous people. Founded in 1973 and still operational today, the Lodge’s programs and services are Indigenous-run and based in culturally appropriate recovery and healing techniques. Framing the short documentary with the words of the great Plains Cree Chief Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), Alanis Obomsawin presents a frank examination of the root causes of substance abuse in Indigenous communities and how the absence of love and support – exacerbated by the impacts of colonialism and racism – created a legacy of alcoholism for some individuals.
Kamala Todd's short film is a lyrical portrait of Cease Wyss, of the Squamish Nation. Wyss is a woman who understands the remarkable healing powers of the plants growing all over downtown Vancouver. Whether it's the secret curl of a fiddlehead, or the gentleness of comfrey, plants carry ageless wisdom with them, communicated through colour, texture, and form. Wyss has been listening to this unspoken language and is now passing this ancient and intimate connection down to her own daughter, Senaqwila.
This documentary focuses on the Yukon's Far North, where 280 Aboriginal people live in the village of Old Crow. Deep in this wilderness, the health of the children is a source of concern—the rise in obesity, diabetes and delinquency rates underscores the extent to which health and social problems are linked. With compassion and insight, this film shows how a handful of parents took control of a situation to ensure a future for their children.
This feature-length documentary from Inuvialuit filmmaker Dennis Allen is an emotional and revealing exploration of addiction among Indigenous people in Canada.After years of struggle and shame, 5 Indigenous Canadians bravely come forward with their stories of substance abuse, presenting the sensitive topic of alcoholism in an honest and forthright manner. Alex, Paula, Desirae, Stephen, and Dennis himself maintain a deep and devoted commitment to their traditional culture to achieve long-term sobriety. Through their voices, this insightful doc offers an inspirational beacon of hope for others.
This feature-length documentary follows a man as he sheds nearly half his body weight (63.5 kg) by complete starvation under hospital observation. The film explores what brought him to so desperate a course and catalogues what actions other overweight people are taking, singly or in groups, to reduce to healthier proportions. Medical authorities comment on some misconceptions and malpractices of the slimming industry.
This feature-length documentary pays tribute to CBQM, the radio station that operates out of Fort McPherson, a small town about 150 km north of the Arctic Circle in the Canadian Northwest Territories. Through storytelling and old-time country music, filmmaker and long-time listener Dennis Allen crafts a nuanced portrait of the "Moccasin Telegraph," the radio station that is a pillar of local identity and pride in this lively northern Teetl'it Gwich'in community of 800 souls.
Richard Cardinal died by his own hand at the age of 17, having spent most of his life in a string of foster homes and shelters across Alberta. In this short documentary, Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin weaves excerpts from Richard’s diary into a powerful tribute to his short life. Released in 1984—decades before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—the film exposed the systemic neglect and mistreatment of Indigenous children in Canada’s child welfare system. Winner of the Best Documentary Award at the 1986 American Indian Film Festival, the film screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2008 as part of an Obomsawin retrospective, and continues to be shown around the world.
This short documentary journeys into the spiritual world of traditional Indigenous medicine, a world inhabited by Dr. Mary Louie (a spiritual leader of the Syilx or Okanagan Nation), and her husband Ed Louie. With a lifetime of experience in the ways of spirituality, they are committed to practices that keep them accountable to the spirit world, their people, and Mother Earth. When one of the crew members get sick while shooting, his subsequent care is recorded for the purposes of this film.
This award-winning documentary presents Mark Nowaczynski, a physician who photographs the lives of many of his elderly patients. "Who in the world would want to see a bunch of pictures of me? Junk," says Connie, 93. Yet "Dr. Mark" has been photographing her and other patients to raise awareness about the lack of home care in this growing segment of the population. His black-and-white pictures reflect faces that convey fragility and vulnerability but also quiet strength as these seniors struggle to live with dignity.
Released in 1968 and often referred to as Canada’s first music video, The Ballad of Crowfoot was directed by Willie Dunn, a Mi’kmaq/Scottish folk singer and activist who was part of the historic Indian Film Crew, the first all-Indigenous production unit at the NFB. The film is a powerful look at colonial betrayals, told through a striking montage of archival images and a ballad composed by Dunn himself about the legendary 19th-century Siksika (Blackfoot) chief who negotiated Treaty 7 on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The IFC’s inaugural release, Crowfoot was the first Indigenous-directed film to be made at the NFB.
Follow the Eagle is a short film that reminds us of the importance of our elders, especially in the inner city. It focuses on the Elders-in-Training project, created to help next-generation Elders take on their role. Slo-Pitch introduces us to Brian Arrance, an HIV-positive Cree man. Brian introduces us to the Downtown Eastside Slo-Pitch League, which provides family-oriented recreation in the heart of the city and shares how he's found fun and support in the League. These two short documentaries were produced as part of program aimed at providing Indigenous people with the opportunity, and skills, to tell their stories.
Ages 15 to 17
Family Studies/Home Economics - Family Diversity and Challenges
Indigenous Studies - Identity/Society
Ask students how it could be important to know their family history. Have students interview their eldest family member and create a timeline of that relative's life. After, have students use the information to write a poem or short story based on their family's lineage.