François Paulette has devoted more than 25 years of his life to resolving a battle that is more than a century old. Senior negotiator for the Smith's Landing First Nation, Paulette is determined to see the Canadian government honour promises made to the Thebatthi (Chipewyan) people in an 1899 treaty. Shot in northern Alberta and Ottawa, Honour of the Crown is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the turbulent final years of this fight.
Plunged into seemingly endless negotiations, Paulette and his brother, Chief Jerry Paulette, struggle to reclaim nine tracts of land and $33 million in compensation. Featuring interviews with tribal, provincial and federal government representatives, this documentary provides a rare glimpse into one community's success in settling a 100-year-old treaty obligation of the Crown.
Covering a vast swath of northern Ontario, Treaty No. 9 reflects the often contradictory interpretations of treaties between First Nations and the Crown. To the Canadian government, this treaty represents a surrendering of Indigenous sovereignty, while the descendants of the Cree signatories contend its original purpose to share the land and its resources has been misunderstood and not upheld. Enlightening as it is entertaining, Trick or Treaty? succinctly and powerfully portrays one community’s attempts to enforce their treaty rights and protect their lands, while also revealing the complexities of contemporary treaty agreements. Trick or Treaty? made history as the first film by an Indigenous filmmaker to be part of the Masters section at TIFF when it screened there in 2014.
Also available on the Alanis Obomsawin, A Legacy DVD box set
Dancing Around the Table: Part Two charts the battle to enshrine Indigenous rights in the Canadian Constitution, capturing a key moment in Canada’s history from the perspective of Indigenous negotiators. The 1985 conference, chaired by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was the fourth and final meeting to determine an amendment to Indigenous rights as defined in the Constitution. The provincial premiers again refuse to reach an agreement with the First Nations, Metis and Inuit leaders, even though the majority of Canadians supported the inclusion of Indigenous rights to self-government.Director Bulbulian captures the pride and determination of Indigenous leaders and community members who refuse to back down on this historic opportunity to enshrine their rights, and the arrogance of the First Ministers who are fighting to keep power within the federal and provincial governments. The film takes us to Indigenous communities, where ceremony and traditional practices affirm the connection to the earth and its animals, and are the source of the strength and resilience shown by the Indigenous people around the table.
Mary Two-Axe Earley: I Am Indian Again shares the powerful story of Mary Two-Axe Earley, who fought for more than two decades to challenge sex discrimination against First Nations women embedded in Canada’s Indian Act and became a key figure in Canada’s women’s rights movement.
Using never-before-seen archival footage and audio recordings, Mohawk filmmaker Courtney Montour engages in a deeply personal conversation with the late Mohawk woman who challenged sexist and genocidal government policies that stripped First Nations women and children of their Indian status when they married non-Indian men.
Montour speaks with Cree activist Nellie Carlson, Mary’s lifelong friend and co-founder of Indian Rights for Indian Women, and meets with three generations in Mary’s kitchen in Kahnawà:ke to honour the legacy of a woman who galvanized a national network of allies to help restore Indian status to thousands of First Nations women and children.
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.
In July 1990, a dispute over a proposed golf course to be built on Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) lands in Oka, Quebec, set the stage for a historic confrontation that would grab international headlines and sear itself into the Canadian consciousness. Director Alanis Obomsawin—at times with a small crew, at times alone—spent 78 days behind Kanien’kéhaka lines filming the armed standoff between protestors, the Quebec police and the Canadian army. Released in 1993, this landmark documentary has been seen around the world, winning over a dozen international awards and making history at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it became the first documentary ever to win the Best Canadian Feature award. Jesse Wente, Director of Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office, has called it a “watershed film in the history of First Peoples cinema.”
On August 9, 2016, a young Cree man named Colten Boushie died from a gunshot to the back of his head after entering Gerald Stanley’s rural property with his friends. The jury’s subsequent acquittal of Stanley captured international attention, raising questions about racism embedded within Canada’s legal system and propelling Colten’s family to national and international stages in their pursuit of justice. Sensitively directed by Tasha Hubbard, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up weaves a profound narrative encompassing the filmmaker’s own adoption, the stark history of colonialism on the Prairies, and a vision of a future where Indigenous children can live safely on their homelands.
Dancing Around the Table: Part One provides a fascinating look at the crucial role Indigenous people played in shaping the Canadian Constitution. The 1984 Federal Provincial Conference of First Ministers on Aboriginal Constitutional Matters was a tumultuous and antagonistic process that pitted Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the First Ministers—who refused to include Indigenous inherent rights to self-government in the Constitution—against First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders, who would not back down from this historic opportunity to enshrine Indigenous rights.In a now infamous exchange, Kwakwaka’wakw lawyer and lead negotiator Bill Wilson states that he has two children who want to become lawyers and prime minister. When he says that they are Indigenous women, the male audience bursts into laughter, and Trudeau replies, “Tell them I’ll stick around until they’re ready.” Over 30 years later, Bill Wilson’s daughter, Jody Wilson-Raybould, became Canada’s first Indigenous minister of justice and attorney general in the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The conference was Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s last constitutional meeting before he resigned and the process was handed over to his successor, Brian Mulroney.
In this feature-length documentary by Alanis Obomsawin, it's the summer of 2000 and the country watches in disbelief as federal fisheries wage war on the Mi'kmaq fishermen of Burnt Church, New Brunswick. Why would officials of the Canadian government attack citizens for exercising rights that had been affirmed by the highest court in the land? Casting her cinematic and intellectual nets into history to provide context, Obomsawin delineates the complex roots of the conflict with passion and clarity, building a persuasive defence of the Mi'kmaq position.
Released in 1969, this short documentary was one of the most influential and widely distributed productions made by the Indian Film Crew (IFC), the first all-Indigenous unit at the NFB. It documents a 1969 protest by the Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) of Akwesasne, a territory that straddles the Canada–U.S. border. When Canadian authorities prohibited the duty-free cross-border passage of personal purchases—a right established by the Jay Treaty of 1794—Kanien’kéhaka protesters blocked the international bridge between Ontario and New York State. Director Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell later became Grand Chief of Akwesasne. The film was formally credited to him in 2017. You Are on Indian Land screened extensively across the continent, helping to mobilize a new wave of Indigenous activism. It notably was shown at the 1970 occupation of Alcatraz.
Leading Indigenous activists, thinkers and community organizers – including Harold Cardinal, Walter Dieter, Mary Ann Lavallee and Duke Redbird – have a frank conversation about the broken relationship between the Government of Canada and Indigenous people. Taking place in 1967, the discussion remains deeply resonant today, where the same issues persist. The group expertly parse the “unconscionable” treaty agreements, the intricacies of the Indian Act, and the political system as tools designed to prevent Indigenous self-determination and economic independence. They explore what it means to be “Indian”, and offer radical new ideas for Indigenous self-governing policies, some of which were developed by individuals in this group, and others that are still being fought for today. This film was produced as part of Challenge for Change/Société Nouvelle (CFC/SN), a ground-breaking community engaged documentary program run by the NFB from 1967 to 1980. The program pioneered participatory and experimental storytelling in film and video, with a focus on the perspectives of Indigenous and marginalized communities whose voices were rarely represented in the media landscape. In 1968, the Challenge for Change program established the “Indian Film Crew”, marking the beginning of a movement of Indigenous filmmaking at the NFB, and in Canada.
On June 11 and 20, 1981, the Quebec Provincial Police (QPP) raided Restigouche Reserve, Quebec. At issue were the salmon-fishing rights of the Mi’kmaq. Because salmon has traditionally been a source of food and income for the Mi’kmaq, the Quebec government’s decision to restrict fishing aroused consternation and anger. Released in 1984, this groundbreaking and impassioned account of the police raids brought Alanis Obomsawin to international attention. The film features a remarkable on-camera exchange between Obomsawin herself and provincial Minister of Fisheries Lucien Lessard, the man who’d ordered the raid. Decades later, Jeff Barnaby, director of Rhymes for Young Ghouls, cited the film as an inspiration. “That documentary encapsulated the idea of films being a form of social protest for me... It started right there with that film.”