In this short documentary, a Musqueam elder rediscovers his Native language and traditions in the city of Vancouver, near where the Musqueam people have lived for thousands of years.Writing the Land captures the ever-changing nature of a modern city - the glass and steel towers cut against the sky, grass, trees and a sudden flash of birds in flight and the enduring power of language to shape perception and create memory.
Released in 1969, These Are My People… was the first NFB film made entirely by an Indigenous crew. It was co-directed by Roy Daniels, Willie Dunn, Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell and Barbara Wilson—members of the Indian Film Crew (IFC), an all-Indigenous unit established in 1968 as part of Challenge for Change, a broader organizational initiative to use media to effect social change. One of the first Canadian documentaries to foreground an Indigenous perspective on the history of Indigenous–settler relations, it features Standing Arrow and Tom Porter, from the Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) community of Akwesasne, who discuss longhouse religion, culture, government and the impacts of settler arrival on their way of life.
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 short film traces Pete Standing Alone's personal journey from cultural alienation to pride and belonging. As a spiritual elder, teacher, and community leader of the Kainai Nation of Southern Alberta, Pete works with youth to repair the cultural and spiritual destruction wrought by residential schools. At age 81, he has come full-circle in his dedication to preserving the traditional ways of his people.
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 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.
A tribute to Indigenous women everywhere, this short documentary focuses on 5 women from across Canada. Of varied ages and backgrounds, they have achieved success in a variety of careers: as the Yukon legislature's first Indigenous woman minister (Margaret Joe), as a deck hand on a fishing boat (Corinne Hunt), as a teacher (Sophie MacLeod), as a lawyer (Roberta Jamieson), and as a band council chief (Sophie May Pierre - St. Mary’s Indian Band of the Ktunaxa Nation off the Ktunaxa Nation).Each of these women talks about how she got to where she is today while emphasizing the importance of Indigenous culture - its values, art, and spiritual beliefs - in helping her to develop a sense of self and seeing through rough times, including residential school experiences.
This short documentary serves as a portrait of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, one of Canada's most important painters. We meet him at the Bisley Rifle Range in Surrey, England, where he's literally shooting the Indian Act in a performance piece called "An Indian Shooting the Indian Act." It's in protest of the ongoing effects of the Act's legislation on Indigenous people. We then follow him back to Canada, for interviews with the artist and a closer look at his work.
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.”
In this feature-length documentary, Alanis Obomsawin tells the story of Shannen’s Dream, a national campaign to provide equitable access to education in safe and suitable schools for First Nations children. Strong participation in this initiative eventually brings Shannen's Dream all the way to the United Nations in Geneva.
Also available on the Alanis Obomsawin: A Legacy DVD box set
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.
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.
Ages 14 to 18
Geography - Territory: Indigenous
Geography - Territory: Urban
Indigenous Studies - History/Politics
Indigenous Studies - Identity/Society
Indigenous Studies - Issues and Contemporary Challenges
This documentary can inspire research, discussion, projects and entry points for developing foundational knowledge in relation to First Nations language, connection to the land and survival. How important is learning language related to knowing who you are as a First Nations person? How are First Nations languages connected to the land and spirituality? What would be the significance of learning original First Nations place names of landmarks within Canada? How has urban sprawl affected the health and well-being of First Nations people? What does traditional, ancestral and unceded territory mean in terms of First Nations in what is now Canada? Who are the Musqueam and where is their original territory? How has the Musqueam land base shifted over time and how is this a reflection of the disregard for First Nations lives and livelihood? Like the plants that grow amidst concrete, how do the Musqueam continue to flourish and thrive?