The following selection of curated shorts is in honour of International Women’s Day and reflects stories by Indigenous women filmmakers across Canada. The selected films convey different journeys but all of them centre on quiet, powerful forms of resurgence and resistance.
To Wake Up the Nakota Language by Louise BigEagle is a powerful short documentary that looks to our elders and knowledge keepers to connect us with our ancestors, through language and land. For me as an intergenerational survivor who was born when the threat of residential school was still very real, the general belief was that a focus on the English language would help us succeed in Western school. However, as a child growing up in my community, I heard and understood my Woodland Cree language of La Ronge, Saskatchewan, but I was better at listening and responding to directions than speaking it myself. After moving to Treaty Four, where this film was shot, I spent my time learning Plains Cree in the university classroom setting, which is becoming more common and more accessible than it was before. However, I learned that the Plains Cree y-dialect was being brought to the North by students returning home. The language is more accessible now but is still in danger of being lost, as was indicated by Armand in the film, because the number of fluent speakers grows smaller every year. A late friend once told me, “If your language is right in front of you, then it’s up to you to reach out and embrace it.” This was a reminder that I am responsible for continuing to learn while there are still fluent speakers willing to share their knowledge. This film is encouraging to those who are taking time to learn their language and the languages of other nations whose land we live on. (Janine Windolph, Filmmaker/Educator/Community Worker)
This enlightening and entertaining film sensitively shares the story of siblings separated from their mother, each other and their culture as very young children thanks to “the Sixties Scoop,” a series of policies implemented across Canada from the 1950s to the 1980s. (Donna Cowan, NFB Audience Outreach)
Urban. Indigenous. Proud: Places to Gather and Learn by Dalene Naponse is a snapshot of the lives of urban Indigenous youth who are balancing education, family, and learning about their identity. The film features an urban space, the N’Swakamok Indigenous Friendship Alternative School, where we see young people of many backgrounds come together. It provides brief profiles of the students and covers a day in their lives. Today many Indigenous people say, “Education is our buffalo,” meaning it is how we survive in modern society. My mom, Marian, recognized this and took my sister Annie and me to the city from our home community of La Ronge, Saskatchewan. She knew that as young Indigenous girls, if we didn’t graduate from high school and go to university, we would struggle as she had. She also knew that in order for us to walk this path, she had to walk it as well. So as a result, we are all of us graduates of the University of Regina. (Janine Windolph, Filmmaker/Educator/Community Worker)
With recent agitation among settler Canadians over the blockades, I felt that this older work had become timely yet again, as it shows the violence perpetrated against fleeing Indigenous women, children, and seniors during the Oka standoff. (Thirza Cuthand, Filmmaker/Artist/Writer)
Unearthing footage from the NFB’s archives and marrying it with original animation, artist Asinnajaq (Isabella Weetaluktuk) crafts a spectacular visual treat for the eyes that weaves together a story of the past and the present, while envisioning the future for her homeland and her people. (Donna Cowan, NFB Audience Outreach)
Walking Is Medicine by Alanis Obomsawin is an empowering short film that highlights the voices of our young men on a journey. As a mother raising boys, I know how important it is to elevate our men and reinforce their roles within the larger Indigenous community. My interest in the film is also due to my personal connection to Waswanipi First Nations, in the part of the James Bay Treaty that my matrilineal family comes from. My favourite quote in the film is from Brock Lewis, who says, “Walking is medicine and that is how the ancestors are speaking to us.” This is a very powerful statement of a belief that I have taught my sons. I always tell them, when the time comes and I pass on to the spirit world, if they walk the places we walked together, I will be with them. (Janine Windolph, Filmmaker/Educator/Community Worker)
Nowhere Land by Rosie Bonnie Ammaaq is a powerful film that draws from the memories of a family who lived off the land. Memory is an important tool in oral storytelling. It is what we transmit to the next generation, along with our creation stories. This film reflects on the changes faced by family members as they adapt new technologies to a traditional way of life, and shows how the legacy of residential schools and colonial policies left large gaps in culture, language and identity. Ammaaq’s film conveys one family’s quiet resistance to colonization as they continue traditional practices while slowly adopting new tools and technology. (Janine Windolph, Filmmaker/Educator/Community Worker)