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10 docs on Indigenous life in Canada

These Indigenous activists are advocating for change

These Indigenous activists are advocating for change

(CBC)

To celebrate National Indigenous History Month, here are some documentaries to help you better understand the history of the first peoples of this land, and introduce you to the activists fighting for their future.

Colonization Road

Anishnaabe comedian and activist Ryan McMahon takes us to his hometown of Fort Frances, Ont., where the main drag is called "Colonization Road." Similarly-named streets exist all over Northern Ontario and Manitoba, and they aren't named that by accident. These roads were literally built to bring colonizers to the area. McMahon looks at the legacy these roads have left on the region's First Nations communities and asks what "decolonization" means in a place where colonization is so deeply embedded.

Sober House: A Sign of Change in Cree Nation (Short Docs)

Lynden, Ayla, Paywapin and Camryn are four urban Cree teens who have each had their lives negatively impacted by alcohol, whether through having adults in their lives struggle with alcohol addiction, losing loved ones to drunk driving accidents, or struggling with addiction themselves. 

They live in Prince Albert, Sask., a city that is regularly near the top the list of Canada's most dangerous cities. But they want to change that. They're pushing the city to help create a network of sober houses: places where drugs, alcohol, and intoxicated people aren't allowed. In so doing, they're hoping they can help the next generation of young people and turn their city into a better place.  

Bighetty & Bighetty (Short Docs)

The Bighetty brothers are trying to spread the Cree language and culture across the Canadian prairies and around the world in the most joyful way possible: with puppets. Ken, Andrew, Kelsey, and Daniel, and their alter egos, The Chief, Baptiste, Michel and Marcel, showcase the lighter side of Indigenous life, both online from their home Pukatawagan, Man. and live in communities across the country. Join them as they hit the road, and see the joy they bring to everyone they meet.

nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up

In August of 2016, Colten Boushie, a young Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot by Gerald Stanley on Stanley's farm outside of Biggar, Sask. The subsequent trial raised questions about the role racism in Canada's legal system.

A multiple award-winner, the film won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary at the 2020 Canadian Screen Awards.

Searching for Winnetou

Germany has a thing for Indigenous North American culture. Every year, thousands of Germans visit Canada's North, and tens of thousands visit special holiday camps in their own country, looking for a genuine "Indianer" experience. And if you ask them why, it almost always comes back to their love for Winnetou, a fictional Apache warrior who was the hero of a series of German books written at the turn of the 20th century, and a very popular film franchise from the 1960s.

Anishnaabe author Drew Hayden Taylor goes to Germany to meet some of these "Indianthusiasts" and figure out whether what they're doing is cultural appropriation, appreciation, or something else entirely.

Angry Inuk

For decades, animal rights activists have targeted Canada's seal hunt, decrying it as cruel, barbaric, and unnecessary. For Inuit communities in Canada's north, however, seal meat is an important part of the traditional diet and selling seal skins provides a crucial source of income. 

Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril visits these communities to talk about how the bans on seal products have affected them, then follows a group of Inuit youth as they go to Europe to lobby the European Union for change. 

Life in the City of Dirty Water

Cree climate activist Clayton Thomas-Müller takes us through his personal journey, from overcoming trauma and addiction in his hometown of Winnipeg (the titular City of Dirty Water) to becoming a leader for his people and our planet.

Trapped in a Human Zoo

In 1880, Abraham Ulrikab, an Inuit man from Labrador, was convinced to go to Europe to be displayed in a human zoo. He was motivated by a need to pay off a debt, as well as a desire to see Europe. He brought with him his wife, his two daughters, and another young man from the community. According to his diary, Ulrikab regretted the decision almost immediately. He and his family never returned home.

More than 130 years later, Labrador Inuit leader Johannes Lampe goes to Europe to retrace Abraham's steps, find out what happened to the family, and hopefully bring their remains home.

Indictment: The Crimes of Shelly Chartier

In 2013, gossip and sports columnists unexpectedly turned their eyes to Easterville, a tiny community in northern Manitoba where most of the residents are members of the Chemawawin Cree Nation. A local woman,Shelly Chartier, had orchestrated a series of elaborate catfishing scams that had ensnared, among other people, NBA power forward Chris "Birdman" Andersen. 

Indictment goes beyond the salacious headlines and dives into the how and why of the scandal. To understand Chartier and her crimes, one has to understand the history of her people, her family, the community of Easterville, and how Indigenous people are treated by the Canadian justice system. In this case, and in so many cases, the perpetrator is also a victim.

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