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It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The history of Indigenous representation in North American cinema is often ugly, but some filmmakers, both Indigenous and not, have periodically pushed against the trend. Here are some movies to stream about Indigenous characters, stories, and issues.
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
This 1993 documentary by Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin is a landmark of anti-colonial cinema. Obomsawin followed the Oka Crisis, a 78-day standoff between the Mohawk people and the Canadian government over a golf course planned on disputed land in Quebec. A resource to combat the anti-Native sentiment of mainstream news coverage of the conflict, the film is a righteous depiction of community solidarity and resistance.
Set in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation and featuring an all-Lakota cast, this 2018 independent film from Chloé Zhao melds the real backgrounds of the actors into the stories of the characters. Brady Jandreau, a onetime rodeo rider unable to continue the sport after suffering a head injury, plays Brady Blackburn, who wants to return to rodeo against the advice of doctors. It’s an incredibly understated and tender look at masculinity and the difficulties of healing.
Available on various platforms.
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
The lives of two very different First Nations women collide in Vancouver. The comfortably middle-class Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, also the co-writer and co-director of the film) encounters the poorer Rosie (Violet Nelson) just as she’s fled her abusive boyfriend. As Áila tries to help Rosie, the film plays out almost entirely in real time through a series of long takes edited to look like a single shot. Encapsulating a complicated tangle of issues around poverty, law enforcement, abuse, and trauma in just 100 minutes, it’s a masterclass in handling such sensitive subject matter with both grace and power.
Available on Netflix.