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.
An important figure in the history of Canadian Indigenous filmmaking, Gil Cardinal was born to a Métis mother but raised by a non-Indigenous foster family, and with this auto-biographical documentary he charts his efforts to find his biological mother and to understand why he was removed from her. Considered a milestone in documentary cinema, it addressed the country’s internal colonialism in a profoundly personal manner, winning a Special Jury Prize at Banff and multiple international awards. “Foster Child is one of the great docs to come out of Canada, and nobody but Gil could have made it,” says Jesse Wente, director of Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office. “Gil made it possible for us to think about putting our own stories on the screen, and that was something new and important.”
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.
This documentary from Martin Duckworth features young adults from two distinct Winnipeg neighbourhoods on either side of the Red River who struggle to overcome geographical and cultural barriers. High school students from the predominantly Indigenous North End and their peers from the Francophone district of St. Boniface work together to produce a play on the origins of the Métis.
Their collaboration raises questions about how these youths foresee their role and place within their respective communities and how these minority communities co-exist with the predominant culture. The film also tackles issues of intolerance, racism and discrimination.
Acclaimed Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh brings us a compelling documentary that puts a human face on a national tragedy – the epidemic of missing or murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The film takes a journey into the heart of Indigenous women's experience, from Vancouver's skid row, down the Highway of Tears in northern BC, and on to Saskatoon, where the murders and disappearances of these women remain unsolved.
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.
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.
This story begins over a century ago, when the City of Winnipeg decides that the water surrounding the traditional Anishinaabe territory of what is now Shoal Lake 40 First Nation will be diverted and used as Winnipeg’s primary water source. The community, their ancient burial grounds, environment, and ways of life are forever disrupted, and access to opportunities and essential services are severed. Enforced residential schooling and a tainted water supply compound the devastating impact. Community leader and former combat engineer Daryl Redsky sheds light on how generations of complex planning, cultural preservation and mobilization have led us to the current moment—and to the construction of Freedom Road.
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.
Part of the Daughters of the Country series, this dramatic film features a young Ojibwa girl from 1770 who marries a Scottish fur trader and leaves home for the shores of Georgian Bay. Although the union is beneficial for her tribe, it results in hardship and isolation for Ikwe. Values and customs clash until, finally, the events of a dream Ikwe once had unfold with tragic clarity.
In this deeply moving feature-length documentary, three sisters and a brother meet for the first time. Removed from their young Dene mother during the infamous Sixties Scoop, they were separated as infants and adopted into families across North America.Betty Ann, Esther, Rosalie, and Ben were only four of the 20,000 Indigenous Canadian children taken from their families between 1955 and 1985, to be either adopted into white families or live in foster care. As the four siblings piece together their shared history, their connection deepens, and their family begins to take shape.
Shoal Lake 40 youth share what it’s like to be forced to live away from their close-knit families and community to attend high school in Kenora, Ontario. The community’s school provides courses up to the Grade 8 level only, so there are no other options for young people who want to continue their education. Some of the young men are able to work on the construction of the road, a rare opportunity to have a good job in the community. The pride of the youth in doing this work is palpable, and they express the gratification that comes with providing safety for their Elders and opportunities for future generations. Despite the systemic and personal racism they’ve already experienced, Freedom Road gives the youth a sense of optimism and instills hope in them for the future of their community and their own ability to contribute.
Ages 12 to 17
Family Studies/Home Economics - Family Diversity and Challenges
Family Studies/Home Economics - Relationships
Health/Personal Development - Mental Health/Stress/Suicide
Indigenous Studies - Identity/Society
Indigenous Studies - Issues and Contemporary Challenges
Social Studies - Social Policies and Programs
Clarify the meaning of the word “Métis” prior to viewing the film. Discuss why Richard’s family was separated. Do you believe Richard’s story is unique? How did the social welfare system fail Richard and his family? Why do you think Richard committed suicide? Comment on Leo Crothers’ decision to photograph Richard’s body. What did he hope to gain by doing so? Was he successful?