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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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 documentary looks at various Indigenous spirituality programs that run in western Canadian federal penitentiaries, as well as in some provincial institutions. These programs are led by elders, with assistance from liaison officers. They include workshops, ceremonies, and other traditional methods that help put the incarcerated back in touch with themselves, their culture, and their spirituality. A unique glimpse of the lives of Indigenous inmates.
This short documentary takes a poignant look at cultural misunderstanding and its toll on a family's grief. When filmmaker Gerald Auger lost his father, the local Anglican priest refused to allow the family to bury their father in the traditional Cree way - with the drum and the smudge - because he was buried on Anglican church property. Gerald sets out to resolve his hurt and anger and his path leads him to some unexpected places.Second Stories follows on the heels of the enormously successful First Stories project, which produced 3 separate collections of short films from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Second Stories builds on that success by continuing the training with 3 of the 12 Indigenous filmmakers who delivered such compelling short documentaries. Produced in association with CBC, APTN, SCN, SaskFilm and MANITOBA FILM & SOUND.
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.
Shoal Lake 40 women talk about their struggles, and those of their parents and grandparents, in trying to raise their families in a hazardous state of enforced isolation. Everyone in the community has a harrowing story of a loved one falling through the ice while trying to get across the lake, with pregnant women and new mothers fearing for their babies and having no choice but to make the trek in dangerous conditions. The film shows the key role of the community’s women in demanding funding for the road from three levels of government, and how their reconnection to culture and ceremony give them the strength to keep going.
This very short film from the Canada Vignettes series documents the annual pilgrimage that members of Saskatchewan’s Métis Catholic community make to St. Laurent, a village in the Duck Lake area that became the Métis nation’s spiritual centre at the time of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.
Ages 16 to 18
Health/Personal Development - Mental Health/Stress/Suicide
Health/Personal Development - Substance Use and Abuse/Addiction
Indigenous Studies - History/Politics
Indigenous Studies - Identity/Society
Indigenous Studies - Issues and Contemporary Challenges
Warning: Topics include suicide, addiction (alcoholism, narcotics), murder. This documentary can inspire research, discussion, projects and deeper learning about social implications of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. How has the Indian Act and other policies and laws forced upon First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples contributed to negative social implications that some have faced and continue to face? How did the forced severing of original ways of childrearing rooted in First Nations, Inuit or Métis peoples’ ways fracture families? What are examples of original or traditional methods of childrearing? Who was Chief Pîtikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) and what is his legacy? How do healing lodges support a more just and healthy society? How do negative beliefs about First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples continue to shape Canadian society and what can be done to dismantle the racism and hate projected upon First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples? What are root causes of substance abuse within the context of this film? How has colonialism and racism created a legacy of trauma for some individuals and communities? How does social programming contribute to prevention while encouraging health and wellness on an individual and social level?