Refocusing the lens: how Indigenous people are using documentaries to tell their own stories

This week on Unreserved, we’re talking all about Indigenous documentaries, from the history of Indigenous docs to how filmmakers today are reframing the stories being told.
A still from the 1969 film "You Are On Indian Land," made by the Indian Film Crew. (National Film Board of Canada)

Indigenous people have frequently been the subject matter in documentaries, but they haven't always had a say in how they were represented. In recent years, more and more Indigenous people are appearing on the silver screen, but also behind the camera. 

This week on Unreserved, we're talking all about Indigenous documentaries, from their history to how filmmakers today are reframing the stories being told. 

For more than 70 years, the National Film Board of Canada had been documenting Indigenous lives in its films, but in the late '60s, a massive change happened at the NFB: the creation of the Indian Film Crew. Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell reflects on his time with the Crew, and talks about his groundbreaking 1969 documentary You Are on Indian Land

You might not know the name Mary Two-Axe Earley, but she was a key figure in fighting for women's rights in Canada. Two-Axe Earley was a Mohawk activist, who fought to challenge discrimination against First Nations women. Courtney Montour wrote and directed the documentary Mary Two-Axe Earley: I Am Indian Again because she wanted to make sure Two-Axe Earley's legacy wasn't forgotten. 

Food for the Rest of Us is a new feature-length documentary that looks at the stories of racialized and marginalized people — from Hawaii to the Northwest Territories — and how they are using food for political action. Tiffany Ayalik,  a producer on the film, talks about how her majority Inuit-owned and women-run production company, Copper Quartz Media, is righting historical wrongs. 

It's been five years since Josiah Wilson was barred from an Indigenous basketball tournament because of his race. Josiah is Haitian-born, and is the adopted son of a Heiltsuk First Nation family. The new documentary One of Ours, directed by Yasmine Mathurin, tells the story of Josiah's experience as he examines his identity, race and belonging.

This week's playlist:

Willie Dunn. (Light in the Attic Records)

Willie Dunn — Ballad of Crowfoot 

YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN — Oak of Guernica 

PIQSIQ — Siren Summons