Last June, I took readers on a brief overview of some of the streaming audiovisual resources that feature media content concentrated on Indigenous peoples of North America and beyond. Now I would like to take everyone on a deeper dive into one of the resources featured in that original post: NFB Campus. Those of us who spent our formative years in Canada are probably familiar with National Film Board of Canada (NFB) classics like Log Driver’s Waltz, The Cat Came Back, but the NFB has a rich library of films, animated and documentary, about and by Indigenous people.
Full disclosure, some of the NFB’s earlier films that feature Indigenous people are… well… problematic, to say the least. They definitely come at the subject through a colonialist lens, they were made by settlers after all, and there are some truly regrettable films in their archives. That said, the NFB has been trying to do better by Indigenous people of Canada by giving voice to Indigenous Filmmakers and supporting projects that better represent various aspects of being Indigenous in Canada, both past and present.
Given the horrifying news of the recent discovery of the burial grounds of 215 Indigenous Children who lost their lives in Kamloops Residential Schools, it seems appropriate to start with some films that reckon with Canada’s heinous Residential School System.
Holy Angels – Based on some of the remembrances of Lena Wandering Spirit, a survivor of the Residential School System, Jay Cardinal Villeneuve uses recreations, shadow puppetry and haunting images from the remnants of Holy Angels Residential School to symbolize the traumas experienced by Indigenous children. Though Lena’s memories are bleak, she emerges as having reclaimed her identity despite her painful past.
Second Stories – It Had to Be Done – Two survivors of the Residential School system, make the brave decision to return to the site of the school that altered their lives. Through the course of the film they recount some of the devastating memories from their time there, and in doing so are able to assert their strength and resilience.
Sisters and Brothers – Taking footage from the NFB’s film archive, including films made in the era when Residential Schools were at their height, Kent Monkman mixes images of children going through their daily grind at such schools (sadly, in the past, the NFB was guilty of portraying Residential Schools in a positive light), with footage of bison populations that were decimated in the 1890s. The effect is a defiant short film that damns colonial practices and revels in the defiant spirit of survivors who have refused to let these schools destroy their identity.
Freedom Road Series – Angelina McLeod an Anishinaabe activist, politician and documentary filmmaker created the remarkable five-part Freedom Road series to document the efforts of Shoal Lake First Nations to stop the City of Winnipeg’s efforts to divert the waters surrounding their territory. Through the series the impacts of colonialism on the people of Shoal Lake are examined.
Three Thousand – In this mixture of archival footage and brilliant animation, Inuk artist Asinnajaq explores how the Inuit have been portrayed in cinema, particularly in earlier NFB films. The final moments depict a futuristic vision where Inuit culture is celebrated and cherished by Northern settler communities.
Second Stories – Deb-we-win Ge-ken-am-aan, Our Place in the Circle – A fascinating examination of gender diversity and identity from an Indigenous standpoint, director Lorne Olson works with Indigenous theatre professionals to recreate his vision of Two-Spirit people celebrating their acceptance in the world. Along the way we learn about the challenges that people who identify as Two-Spirit have encountered in trying to accept themselves and be accepted by the world.
Stories are in our Bones – Intergenerational connection to the land is the backbone of Janine Windolph’s short film. Documenting a fishing trip where her mother teaches Windolph’s city dwelling sons to fish on their ancestral land, it is a peaceful meditation on the joys of nature and the importance of passing such knowledge on to future generations.
This is just a taste of the Indigenous content that can be discovered through NFB Campus. An easy way to discover more is to look at their curated playlists devoted to different Indigenous subjects and filmmakers. They can be accessed through the NFB’s Indigenous Cinema page.