Far from home and cut off from family and friends, Montreal’s Indigenous homeless population is the focus of No Address. Dreams of a better life in the big city can be met with harsh realities, as the individuals in this documentary recount. Often trying to flee circumstances created by colonialism and the effects of assimilation, the First Nations and Inuit people in this work share frank stories about their lives and the paths that took them to the streets of Montreal. Alanis Obomsawin presents an honest, stark portrayal of endemic homelessness while giving voice to those so often overlooked or made invisible on the streets of every city in Canada.
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.”
Pete Standing Alone of the Kainai Nation was more at home in the White man's culture than his own as a young man. However, confronted with the realization that his children knew very little about their origins, he became determined to pass down to them the customs and traditions of his ancestors. This hour-long film is the powerful biographical study of a twenty-five-year span in Pete's life, from his early days as an oil-rig roughneck, rodeo rider and cowboy, to the present as an Indigenous man concerned with preserving his Nation's spiritual heritage in the face of an energy-oriented industrial age.
In this feature-length documentary, 8 Inuit teens with cameras offer a vibrant and contemporary view of life in Canada's North. They also use their newly acquired film skills to confront a broad range of issues, from the widening communication gap between youth and their elders to the loss of their peers to suicide. In Inuktitut with English subtitles.
The people of the Attawapiskat First Nation, a Cree community in northern Ontario, were thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 when the impoverished living conditions on their reserve became an issue of national debate. With The People of the Kattawapiskak River, Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin quietly attends as community members tell their own story, shedding light on a history of dispossession and official indifference. “Obomsawin’s main objective is to make us see the people of Attawapiskat differently,” said Robert Everett-Green in The Globe & Mail. “The emphasis, ultimately, is not so much on looking as on listening—the first stage in changing the conversation, or in making one possible.” Winner of the 2013 Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary, the film is part of a cycle of films that Obomsawin has made on children’s welfare and rights.
Also available on the Alanis Obomsawin, A Legacy DVD box set
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 feature-length documentary traces the journey of the Haisla people to reclaim the G'psgolox totem pole that went missing from their British Columbia village in 1929. The fate of the 19th century traditional mortuary pole remained unknown for over 60 years until it was discovered in a Stockholm museum where it is considered state property by the Swedish government.Director Gil Cardinal combines interviews, striking imagery and rare footage of master carvers to raise questions about ownership and the meaning of Indigenous objects held in museums.
This short film portrays the experiences of Rhonda Gordon and her daughter, Angela, when a simple bus ride changes their lives in an unforeseeable way. When they are harassed by three boys, Rhonda finds the courage to take a unique and powerful stance against ignorance and prejudice. What ensues is a dramatic story of racism and empowerment.
This documentary pokes fun at the ways in which Inuit people have been treated as “exotic” documentary subjects by turning the lens onto the strange behaviours of Qallunaat (the Inuit word for white people). The term refers less to skin colour than to a certain state of mind: Qallunaat greet each other with inane salutations, repress natural bodily functions, complain about being cold, and want to dominate the world. Their odd dating habits, unsuccessful attempts at Arctic exploration, overbearing bureaucrats and police, and obsession with owning property are curious indeed.
A collaboration between filmmaker Mark Sandiford and Inuit writer and satirist Zebedee Nungak, Qallunaat! brings the documentary form to an unexpected place in which oppression, history, and comedy collide.
In this follow-up to his 2003 film, Totem: the Return of the G'psgolox Pole, filmmaker Gil Cardinal documents the events of the final journey of the G'psgolox Pole as it returns home to Kitamaat and the Haisla people, from where it went missing in 1929.
The Hudson’s Bay Company’s 300th-anniversary celebration in 1970 was no occasion for joy among the people whose lives were tied to the trading stores. Narrated by George Manuel, then president of the National Indian Brotherhood, this landmark film presents Indigenous perspectives on the company whose fur-trading empire drove colonization across vast tracts of land in central, western and northern Canada. There is a sharp contrast between the official celebrations, with Queen Elizabeth II among the guests, and what Indigenous people have to say about their lot in the Company’s operations. Released in 1972, the film was co-directed by Martin Defalco and Willie Dunn—a member of the historic Indian Film Crew, an all-Indigenous production unit established at the NFB in 1968.
Ages 18 to 18
Family Studies/Home Economics - Housing
Health/Personal Development - Mental Health/Stress/Suicide
Indigenous Studies - Identity/Society
Indigenous Studies - Issues and Contemporary Challenges
Warnings: M (discussion of prostitution, drug use, some swearing). This film can be used to develop understandings of root causes of homelessness through discussions, critical inquiry and research. How has colonization contributed to homelessness of Indigenous people? Do the needs of homeless people exceed the resources of non-profit social service groups? What attracted the characters in the film to want to move to a city rather than staying in rural isolated communities? Research policies that tried to strip Inuit of their cultural identity (Inuit dog slaughters, Inuit dog-tags, project surname, and forced relocation) and consider the long-term social implications. How does loss of cultural identity contribute to homelessness and other negative social impacts that some Inuit may face? What social outlets are available in cities for Indigenous people who are in need? How does one become trapped without a means to return to their community? What ethical actions can be taken as a society to eliminate homelessness?