On the Gesgapegiag reserve (formerly known as Maria Reserve) in the Baie des Chaleurs region of Québec, Mi’kmaq children make birds and dolls of brightly coloured paper, which they hang in trees. But they are reluctant to have visitors see them, claiming, 'People might laugh at us.' The film is without comment except for the background music.
This short film, crafted entirely out of NFB archival footage by First Nations filmmaker Caroline Monnet, takes us on an exhilarating journey from the Far North to the urban south, capturing the perpetual negotiation between the traditional and the modern by a people moving ever forward.Part of the Souvenir series, it's one of four films by First Nations filmmakers that address Indigenous identity and representation, reframing Canadian history through a contemporary lens.
This short documentary looks at the Indigenous Gitxsan community in central British Columbia’s Skeena River through one of its members, Ben Risdale. Watch as Ben follows the “Grease Trail” from the first snowfall, and follow along as he tends his traplines while living outdoors among the grandeur of the surrounding forest and mountains. His reward? A valuable stock of fur pelts.
The historic post of Moose Factory on James Bay is still a centre of Canada's fur trade. The camera follows Cree trapper George McLoed as he goes out from the post to visit his trap lines. Bivouacing in the open, in bitter cold, he traps mink and beaver, skillfully skinning the animals and drying the rich pelts. Back at the post, he sells his furs to the Hudson's Bay trader.
This documentary shows how a canoe is built the old way. César Newashish, a 67-year-old Atikamekw of the Manawan Reserve north of Montreal, uses only birchbark, cedar splints, spruce roots and gum. Building a canoe solely from the materials that the forest provides may become a lost art, even among the Indigenous peoples whose traditional craft it is. The film is without commentary but text frames appear on the screen in Cree, French and English.
An NFB crew filmed a group of three families, Cree hunters from Mistassini. Since times predating agriculture, this First Nations people have gone to the bush of the James Bay and Ungava Bay area to hunt. We see the building of the winter camp, the hunting and the rhythms of Cree family life.
In 1977, the James Bay Festival took place over nine days in Montreal. This historic one-of-a-kind event was held in support of the James Bay Cree whose territory, resources and culture were threatened by the expansion of hydro-electric dams. First Nations, Métis and Inuit performers came from across North America to show their support in an act of Indigenous unity and solidarity few people in Montreal had ever witnessed. Rarely seen early performances by legendary Indigenous artists Gordon Tootoosis, Tom Jackson, Duke Redbird, Willie Dunn and director Alanis Obomsawin herself are interspersed with testimonies of members of the James Bay Cree. Their stories reveal first-hand experiences of the negative impacts of capitalistic expansion on Cree land.
Also available on the Alanis Obomsawin: A Legacy DVD box set
The building of a goélette, the wooden coastal freighter of the St. Lawrence River. Although ships of steel may replace these sturdy wooden vessels, the Jean Richard, shown in construction in this film, is still one ship built with all the old pride in craftsmanship.
This short documentary from 1966 shows life in the Chipewyan community on a reserve in Northern Saskatchewan, where new ways of living don’t conflict with traditional activities. You’ll meet Moise MacIntyre, who is satisfied living along the lake with its fish and the game in the nearby woods, despite having the opportunity to leave. Free from the burden of having to succeed in the traditional sense of financial earnings, these people have created a sense of community that more than makes up for what they may otherwise lack.
For five or six months at a time, Frank Ladouceur lives alone, trapping muskrat in the vast, desolate wilderness of northern Alberta. His family last visited him there some 14 years ago, and Frank’s own visits to the family home in Fort Chipewyan are few and far between. This is the story of an independent Métis man who is remarkably determined and self-sufficient, and who is ceaselessly called to return to the bush. Early experiences at Holy Angels residential school are recounted by his daughter. A Christmas play at the local school is presented in Cree. After a family Christmas meal, the fiddle and guitar are taken out and the Red River Jig begins.
A vivid recollection of the free west of the North American Indigenous Peoples and the vast herds of buffalo that once thundered across the plains. From paintings of the mid-1800s, the animation camera creates a most convincing picture of the buffalo hunt, both as the Indigenous People and, disastrously, the white hunters practised it.
This short film from 1958 compiles 3 short reportages on different ways kids are schooled in remote areas. To School by Boat follows children of isolated fishing hamlets along a stretch of British Columbia coastline as they travel to school by sea-going bus. In Classroom on Rails, we hop along a railway coach that brings school to children in a logging area of northern Ontario. Northern Schooldays introduces us to First Nations children educated in a residential school in Moose Factory.
Please note that this film was produced in 1958 and reflects the attitudes and thinking of its era. To modern audiences, parts of the film may be perceived as offensive, but it must be seen as a cultural product of the era in which it was produced. The perspectives of Canadians (and the NFB) have evolved and become more conscious of Indigenous rights, realities and points of view since the making of the film. Through its rich collection of Indigenous-made films, available at Indigenous Cinema, the NFB continues to strive to challenge stereotypes about Indigenous people and accurately depict the diverse experiences of Indigenous communities.