You are here


    Access to the catalogue and customer accounts will be intermittent on Sunday, May 19, starting at 7 pm, until Monday, May 20 at 7 pm.

Indigenous Voices on Screen


            Through bold and often-innovative work, film is but one of many media in which First Nations, Métis and Inuit voices are making striking statements. The same can be said for Indigenous Peoples beyond Canada: film is a powerful medium through which to relate, document, and share the diversity of their stories and lived experiences.

            This blog and list seek to highlight and celebrate just some of the film and video in Ottawa Public Library’s collection that brings to the fore the stories and lives of Indigenous Peoples in this country and beyond.


            There are no shortage of First Nations, Métis and Inuit filmmakers creating stunning work, often while simultaneously breaking new ground in the Canadian film industry. Inuit-led Isuma Productions burst through with the success of Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner, and followed it with Before Tomorrow and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. In their footsteps are exceptional films like Chloé Leriche's emotive Atikamekw drama Tewehikan Epwamoci Mescanawa (Before the Streets), Jeff Barnaby's innovative Rhymes for Young Ghouls, and Yves Sioui Durand's searching and powerful Mesnak.

            The work of Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin – some of which is collected in the box set 270 Years of Resistance – has long been a forerunner in documentary film. The strength of her output is no doubt an inspiration for work like Alethea Arnaquq-Baril's Angry Inuk and that of the multitude of Indigenous filmmakers and viewpoints collected in the series 8th Fire.

            The future of Indigenous film is glimpsed in Wapikoni: Encounter in Kitcisakik, which tracks the work of Wapikoni Mobile, a travelling filmmaking school seeking to give Indigenous youth the tools to tell their own stories. Even beyond the increasing number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit works in OPL's collection, be aware that Indigenous film throughout Canada continues to grow: the National Film Board recently established an Indigenous Cinema site, and the institution of an Indigenous Screen Office seeks to build upon the successes noted above.


            Beginning to look beyond Canada, Native American cinema is also represented in our collection. Smoke Signals, which traces two young Coeur d’Alene men on an often-funny road trip during which they grapple with issues of identity and family, was a popular breakthrough, and movies like Songs My Brothers Taught Me, a pensive look at the relationship between a Lakota brother and sister, continue in this thoughtful vein.

            A trio of insightful documentaries examine the role of Indigenous Peoples in American popular culture: More Than A Word calls into question Native mascotry in sports; Reel Injun looks at "The Hollywood Indian" and Indigenous portrayals on film; and Rumble: the Indians Who Rocked the World celebrates Indigenous musicians and their often-obscured influence on American rock music.


            Venturing further from this land, the lives of Aboriginal Peoples in Australia and New Zealand are well-illustrated on screen, too. Notably, Maori filmmakers are a vital force. Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider and Boy are just a few of the ever-increasing number of highly regarded films that tell stories of all aspects of Maori life, past and present. And to provide insight into some of the struggles and successes of Aboriginal Australians, The First Australians is a comprehensive documentary series.

            From Guatemala comes the striking Kaqchikel-language film Ixcanul. Centered on a young Mayan woman, critics have highlighted its perceptive feminist elements. Its themes are echoed to an extent in Sami Blood, which is a disquieting depiction of an Indigenous Sámi girl being forcibly integrated into Swedish society.

            Environmental issues can often be a concern in films centering on Indigenous Peoples. When Two Worlds Collide documents Indigenous Amazonians' attempts to safeguard Peruvian rainforest land. Meanwhile, The Last of the Elephant Men looks at the complex and changing relationship that the Bunong of Cambodia have with the now-endangered elephant, long at the centre of their culture.


            Elsewhere in OPL’s collection, one can find titles that capture a diversity of voices and viewpoints. Look into films featuring The Hadza in Tanzania, The Igorot of the Cordillera region of the Philippines, the Alacalufe, Yaghan and other Indigenous Peoples of Chile, and gain insights into Indigenous law.

Although we've traversed the globe, concluding with the documentary For the Next 7 Generations might be fitting. Recording the 2004 meeting and establishment of The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers – a world-spanning group seeking to underscore the strength, utility, and sustainability of Indigenous ways of life – the film marries around a common theme many of the multitude of Peoples that we've touched upon.


            Truly, the preceding is but a sampling of the totality of Indigenous-made and -focused film, both in OPL's collection and beyond. One might want to seek out more titles or filmmakers through lists created by Indigenous media like this or this. Or, you can use OPL’s Curio video portal for resources like its Beyond 94: Truth and Reconciliation in Canada collection, which monitors and documents the real-life implementation of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action.

            Hopefully, this blog and list have started you on your way through some of OPL’s Indigenous film collection. Please leave your suggestions of other Indigenous films from the world over in the comments below!



OPL/BPO - Indigenous Voices on Screen/Les voix autochtones à l’écran by Daniel_Library