Indigenous filmmakers use their art as platforms to reclaim Indigenous humanity and to validate their struggles on a wider stage. The three films in this post, all of which are directed by Indigenous women, explore Indigenous experiences in exciting new ways. 

TW: Discussions of colonial violence, including residential schools and MMIWG2S. 

The recent recognition of Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada is a strong reminder that the effects of colonialism are persistent in present society. Our country’s history is one of violence, both in terms of the land and the culture that was, and continues to be, stolen from Indigenous peoples. It is clear that decolonization is the responsibility of all of us. This is a process which requires continual work and a conscious unlearning of the narratives we have been fed. The following three films confront colonial practices by undermining the assumptions that they are based on, assumptions about the inherent otherness and worthlessness of Indigenous people, their land claims, and their traditions. By reclaiming their narratives and their humanity, Indigenous filmmakers engage in a powerful act of decolonization. They imagine and embody a world in which change isn’t just possible, it is necessary. Through a variety of genres and filmmaking styles, these films provide powerful glimpses into the strength and resilience of Indigenous communities who continue on in spite of the violence of colonialism.

Savage (2009) dir. Lisa Jackson

In a short film which has been described as a “residential school musical,” director Lisa Jackson uses humour and satire to address the traumas of the residential school system. The plot follows a young Indigenous girl who has been taken away from her home and placed in a residential school. Her experience is horror-filled but perhaps not in the way the audience would expect.

Amongst Indigenous artists and authors, the use of humour and storytelling is an act of healing. Trauma can be indirectly confronted, re-imagined and re-shaped through the fictional and the symbolic. Director Lisa Jackson does just this, creating a dark and satirical visual metaphor for residential schools which effectively communicates their impact while also taking away their power. Using Indigenous frameworks of knowledge, the film provides an empowering means of confronting trauma and facilitating healing.

Where to Watch: Vimeo or above

Finding Dawn (2006) dir. Christine Welsh

Finding Dawn acts to powerfully reclaim and restore the stolen humanity of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirits (MMIWG) in Canada. Travelling across western Canada, director Christine Welsh explores the lives of three missing women, Dawn Crey, Ramona Wilson, and Daleen Bosse, connecting their disappearances with the thousands of other MMIWG2S across Canada. Through interviews with family, loved ones and community members, the film emphasizes both the communal grief and the communal acts of resistance, strength, and healing that define the Indigenous response to these tragedies. By giving a voice to the historically voiceless, Welsh proves that Indigenous women’s existence is an act of resistance, and visible decolonization work is a form of rebuilding and remembrance. This work comes in many forms: marches and protests, public memorials, community search missions, and artwork. Above all else, the film emphasizes the revolutionary and life-giving act of returning to ancestral/cultural traditions as a means of restoring hope and community.

For many, artwork and storytelling is a form of medicine. The sharing of the stories in Finding Dawn actively validates Indigenous knowledge and experience, while disrupting the colonial practices of silence and erasure. In a colonial society which justifies its violence through dehumanization, films such as Finding Dawn are invaluable for their steadfast reclamation of Indigenous humanity.

Where to Watch: or above

Night Raiders (2021) dir. Danis Goulet

“We’ve always been here, we are still here, and we will always be here”

Danis Goulet

Set in a post-war future, Night Raiders creates a world in which children, who are “properties of the state,” are taken from their families at the age of four and are then entered into state-mandated academies. These academies prioritize conformity and function as tools to foster military devotion and submission to the state. One mother, Niska, meets a community of warriors who are on a mission to save their children from these academies and who claim that she is the “guardian,” a prophesied saviour.

Night Raiders brilliantly uses the visual cues of sci-fi/dystopia (post-conflict, surveillance, police state, class division) as a powerful storytelling tool to communicate the horrors of colonialism to present day audiences. Shot on location, and aided by a grey colour palate and a liberal use of shaky cam, the film maintains a sense of desolation, instability, and realism throughout. Powerful stuff, and essential viewing for all those taking on the decolonial struggle, that is to say, everyone.

In an interview, director Danis Goulet describes the film as a “declaration that we’ve always been here, we are still here, and we will always be here”. The message rings loud and clear, and it is one of community, strength, reclamation, family, and resilience.

Where to watch: Criterion on Demand (requires a University of Alberta login) or Crave

Mental Health Resources for Indigenous People in Canada:

-National Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

-MMIWG Crisis Line: 1-844-413-6649

-Hope for Wellness Helpline: 1-855-242-3310 or online

Featured Image Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films

About the Author

Hi! I’m Brynn, and I’m super excited to be writing on the blogs committee this year. I am a third-year Women’s and Gender Studies student with interests in film, feminism, theatre and social justice. Blog writing provides me with the perfect opportunity to combine all of these passions. I hope you will join me on my blog journey!