Indigenous Cinema in the Classroom Professional Learning for Educators

Indigenous Cinema in the Classroom Professional Learning for Educators

These are films for educators and parents wanting to learn more about the lives and histories of Indigenous people. Powerful, political, and profound, these films will initiate and inspire conversations on identity, family, community, and nationhood.

Indigenous Cinema in the Classroom is an extension of our Wide Awake Tour for the public. It offers teachers, students and parents the opportunity to watch films selected from our collection of more than 250 Indigenous-made works. We’ve created playlists for these titles, grouping them by student age recommendation and professional development themes for teachers.

Featured here are acclaimed works by Alanis Obomsawin, Gil Cardinal and others, including films from our Challenge for Change series.
They are stories about the blocking of the international bridge that cuts through the Akwesasne Reserve, protest and blockades, resistance, land rights, human rights, asserting one’s rights, diabetes among Indigenous communities, traditional Indigenous medicine, the medicine wheel, colonization, intergenerational knowledge, the Oka crisis, Mohawk communities of Kahnawake and Kanehsatake standing against the Canadian military and Canadian citizens, Mi’kmaq fishermen, the Attawapiskak housing crisis, the Idle No More movement, the sweat lodge, Indigenous pride and dignity, preservation of culture and language, substance abuse and addiction, foster care, suicide, mental health care, Métis identity, and adoption.

Curriculum links include:
Indigenous Studies – History and Politics/Identity and Society, Civics and Citizenship – Federal and Provincial Government, History and Citizenship Education – Civil Rights and Freedoms, Family Studies and Home Economics – Family Diversity and Challenges/Relationships, Diversity/Pluralism – Diversity in Communities, Health and Personal Development – Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution/Mental Health, Geography – Territory, Social Studies – Social Policies and Programs

  • You Are on Indian Land

    A film report of the 1969 protest demonstration by the Kanien'kéhaka (Mohawk) of St. Regis Reserve on the international bridge between Canada and the United States near Cornwall, Ontario. By blocking the bridge, which is on the Reserve, and causing a considerable tie-up of motor traffic, they drew public attention to their grievance. The community was prohibited by Canadian authorities from duty-free passage of personal purchases across the border; a right established by the Jay Treaty of 1794. The film shows the confrontation with police, and ensuing action.

  • The Gift of Diabetes

    "Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions among Indigenous peoples in Canada. Poor dietary habits, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, have led to high incidences of obesity. These factors are believed to play a pivotal role in the onset of diabetes. Add to this the ever-increasing costs of drugs and treatments for a disease that has no cure and, clearly, a health crisis is close at hand. Ojibway filmmaker Brion Whitford lives with the pain of advanced diabetes. In 2001, complications from the disease left him with only 50 percent kidney function and blood sugar levels that were spiralling out of control. Having been raised in the city, Whitford grew up without knowing his culture or heritage. Consequently, he had little faith in traditional Indigenous medicine and healing. But the more his health deteriorated, the deeper his interest grew in connecting with his own culture and traditions. The Gift of Diabetes follows Whitford's struggle to regain his health by learning about The Medicine Wheel, a holistic tool grounded in an Indigenous understanding of the interconnectedness of all dimensions of life: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. He also explores how the historical trauma of colonization continues to exert a negative influence over Indigenous people's psychological and physical well-being. Only by making peace with this fact and his own troubled past can he move forward to a healthier and better life. Whitford's journey is a moving account of a man coming to grips with his own mortality, while trying to re-establish balance in his life."

  • Rocks at Whiskey Trench
    2000|1 h 45 min

    This feature documentary profiles a key element of the 1990 Oka crisis in which the Mohawk communities of Kahnawake and Kanehsatake stood against the Canadian military and Canadian citizens in a stand-off that turned violent. On August 28, 1990, a convoy of 75 cars left the Mohawk community of Kahnawake and crossed Montreal's Mercier Bridge—straight into an angry mob that pelted the vehicles with rocks. The targets of this violence were Mohawk women, children and elders leaving Kahnawake, in fear of a possible advance by the Canadian army. This film is the fourth in Alanis Obomsawin's landmark series on the Mohawk rebellions that shook Canada in 1990.

  • Is the Crown at war with us?
    2002|1 h 36 min

    "It was the summer of 2000 and the country watched with disbelief as federal fishery officers appeared to wage war on the Mi'gmaq fishermen of Esgenoopetitj, or 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? What happened at Burnt Church? Alanis Obomsawin casts her cinematic and intellectual nets into history to provide a context for the events on Miramichi Bay. Delineating the complex roots of the conflict with passion and clarity, she builds a persuasive defence of the Mi'gmaq position. Obomsawin's numerous credits include Incident at Restigouche (1984) and Kanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance (1993). With Is the Crown at war with us?, she once again offers compelling insight into the complex relationship between Canada and its Indigenous peoples."

  • Totem: The Return of the G'psgolox Pole
    2003|1 h 10 min

    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 Aboriginal objects held in museums.

  • The People of the Kattawapiskak River
    2012|50 min

    Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary The People of the Kattawapiskak River exposes the housing crisis faced by 1,700 Cree in Northern Ontario, a situation that led Attawapiskat’s band chief, Theresa Spence, to ask the Canadian Red Cross for help. With the Idle No More movement making front page headlines, this film provides background and context for one aspect of the growing crisis.

  • Poundmaker's Lodge: A Healing Place
    1987|29 min

    This short documentary by Alanis Obomsawin takes us to Poundmaker's Lodge, a treatment centre in St. Albert, Alberta, that welcomes Indigenous people troubled by addiction to drugs and alcohol. Named after a 19th-century Plains Cree chief, the centre offers a space where people can come together for mutual support, partake in healing rituals like the sweat lodge, and rediscover their traditions. The film shows the despair of a people dispossessed of land, culture, language and dignity, and their strength and courage in overcoming substance abuse.

  • Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child
    1986|29 min

    This short documentary is a moving tribute to Richard Cardinal, a Métis adolescent who committed suicide in 1984. Taken from his home at the age of 4 due to family problems, he spent the rest of his 17 short years moving in and out of 28 foster homes, group homes and shelters in Alberta. A sensitive, articulate young man, Richard Cardinal left behind a diary upon which this film is based.

  • Foster Child
    1987|43 min

    In this documentary, filmmaker Gil Cardinal searches for his biological family to try and understand how he ended up in foster care as an infant. In his search, Cardinal encounters frustration and loss, but eventually finds answers and a new appreciation of his Métis culture.