September 30th marks an important day in Canada’s history – the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day is dedicated to remembering and honouring the survivors of the country’s residential school system and reflecting on the painful legacy it has left behind. One powerful way to engage with this history and gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous experiences is through Canadian films and television shows created by Indigenous filmmakers. Read on to discover some recent productions about the impact and ongoing consequences of the residential school system that also celebrate the resilience and strength of Indigenous peoples.
You can also learn more about the history of residential schools, Indigenous oppression and reconciliation through the following resources:
PACT (Pledge-Activate-Cultivate-Thrive) – North America’s first free online Indigenous cultural competency course for the screen sector, designed to prepare non-Indigenous stakeholders for working with Indigenous productions and content.
Native Land – an interactive map that tracks Indigenous territories, languages, lands, and ways of life.
APTN TV’s special screening schedule for NDTR – all-day programming that delves into the diverse culture and history of Indigenous Peoples.
The NFB’s Residential Schools channel – A selection of films by Indigenous filmmakers and allies about the tragic impact of residential schools in Canada.
If you have been affected by the residential schooling system and need mental health support, call 1-866-925-4419 for emotional crisis referral services and information on other health supports from the Government of Canada.
Indigenous peoples across Canada can also go to The Hope for Wellness Help Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for counselling and crisis intervention. Call the toll-free Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or connect to the online chat (Please use Google Chrome).
What to watch this National Day For Truth And Reconciliation
Little Bird is a six-part limited series that explores universal themes of love and family in the face of trauma and loss. Removed from her home on the Long Pine Reserve in Saskatchewan, Bezhig Little Bird is adopted into a Montreal Jewish family at the age of five, becoming Esther Rosenblum. Now in her 20s, Bezhig longs for the family she lost, and her search lands her in the Canadian Prairies, worlds apart from everything she knows. As she begins to track down her siblings and unravel the mystery behind her adoption, Bezhig is forced to reckon with who she is and who she wants to become.
Read our interview with Director Zoe Hopkins on Little Bird and her episode “Bineshi Kwe,” nominated for a 2023 DGC Award.
Bones of Crows*
Bones of Crows is a five-part hour-long drama told through the eyes of Cree Matriarch Aline Spears as she survives Canada’s residential school system to continue her family’s generational fight in the face of systemic starvation, racism, and sexual abuse. The series is an expanded story from the feature film version, a truly epic tale that spans over a hundred years and multiple generations of the Spears family. Bones of Crows connects and deepens the events of the past with a cumulative force that propels us into the future with power. *DGC BC Production
A dreamy love story between She (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) and He (Braeden Clarke), set in the unexpected haven of a Northern Ontario dive bar while natural disasters unfold. The fourth feature from Anishinaabe director and producer Darlene Naponse, Stellar intersperses the flirtation between She and He with a meteorite dropping down outside the bar, creating multiple extreme environmental crises seen only through the giant front window. Focusing on touch, connection to one another, and the land, with nods to the context in which Indigenous people have endured and flourished, Stellar is a contemporary Indigenous romance unlike any other.
Reservation Dogs, “Deer Lady”
Now wrapping up its third and final season, the critically acclaimed Reservation Dogs, co-created by Taika Waititi and Serlin Harjo, focuses on the lives of four Indigenous teens living in rural Oklahoma who steal, rob and save in order to get to the exotic, mysterious and faraway land of California. The third season episode, “Deer Lady,” features the talents of DGC Ontario Members Danis Goulet, who directed the episode, and Kanetiio Horn, who plays the eponymous title character. A human girl who was abducted into a residential school and transformed into a mythical spirit, Deer Lady seeks revenge for the horrors inflicted on her and other Indigenous children while also inspiring Reservation Dogs’ lead characters to be resilient and true to themselves.
Danis Goulet’s feature debut Night Raiders is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama with an underlying critique of Canada’s past. Set in 2043 after a post-war North America, Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) joins a band of Indigenous vigilantes to save her daughter Waseese from a military-run institution in a powerful allegory of residential schools. Listen to our podcast episode with Directors Danis Goulet and Nyla Innuksuk on the many ways that genre film can metaphorically represent Indigenous past, present and future.
The Children Have to Hear Another Story
Abenaki filmmaker, artist, and activist Alanis Obomsawin emerged during a challenging period in Canadian history when Indigenous peoples faced systemic barriers to social and political engagement. Despite this, she persevered and was able to insert her voice and intervene in major public media platforms to advance Indigenous concerns and tell Indigenous stories. Over five decades, Obomsawin has pioneered Indigenous cinema by prioritizing the voices of her subjects, challenging colonial worldviews, and redefining the representation of First Nations people. The Children Have to Hear Another Story showcases her extensive lifework, featuring films, prints, music, and archival materials that underscore her extraordinary contributions to revitalizing Indigenous voices and ideas, fostering transformative change in Canada and internationally.
The Children Have to Hear Another Story: Works by Alanis Obomsawin is part of a special exhibition curated by Richard Hill and Hila Peleg for the Art Museum at the University of Toronto. Running from September 7–November 25, 2023.
The feature film debut of Métis writer-director-actor Gail Maurice brings us to the fringes of 1980s Montreal as seen from the perspective of a sweet and suddenly orphaned Indigenous girl thrust into the care of her tough, street-smart aunt Frédérique. Fred, an artist who creates art from trash, introduces Rosie to her best friends Flo and Mo, two glamorous, gender-bending sex workers. A story of finding love, acceptance, and making a home with a chosen family of glittering outsiders.