Last month was Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate native people's culture and for others to consider what it means to be native. But it's crucial to keep learning about the social, political, and cultural sphere of the native world — and a great way to do so yourself is by looking at Native American documentaries.
As a non-native person, there is a responsibility to understand the authentic and diverse native history. A responsibility to recognize the record of oppression that has now molded into modern-day issues.
The importance of recognizing native culture:
Indigenous struggles are not in the past. According to the First Nations Development Institute, the Indian Child Welfare Act is on the line in the U.S. Supreme Court. Losing the policy would not only mean losing protections for native children but also allow resources to be extracted from tribal lands, eliminate tribal police, and repeal the Federal Indian Gaming Act, a major setback to tribal sovereignty.
Luckily, if you don’t have time to sit down and read a book there are hundreds of documentaries chronicling and revising the native experience. Here are just a few:
'GATHER': The true Thanksgiving story.
Produced by the First National Development Institute, GATHER tells the origin story of Indigenous foods, and current native food systems. For decades colonizers impeded every facet of the native food systems, which was not only a way for the people to provide for themselves but a major connection to their land, ancestors, and culture.
'Blood Memory' is the untold history of America’s Indian Adoption Era.
Blood Memory covers America’s Indian Adoption Era, a time when about one-third of Native American children were removed from their tribal communities. The documentary follows one survivor's journey and underlines the importance of keeping the Indian Child Welfare Act intact.
'Awake': A Dream from Standing Rock.
This film follows the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota that made headlines as a representation of Native American resilience in the face of subjugation. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe first protested the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in 2016, a threat to the Missouri River, their reservation’s water supply. Awake chronicles the Standing Rock protests as the beginnings of native people worldwide standing in the face of corporations for survival.
'Warrior Women' is a story of female-lead native liberation.
This film follows the story of Madonna Thunderhawk, a leader of the American Indian Movement, and an inspiration for generations of activists. She established the We Will Remember’ Survival School as an alternative to the government education native children were forced to assimilate into.
'Mankiller' is about the first woman to be elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
This film is about Wilma Mankiller, one of the most important influences in Native American history. However, very few know her name. In 1985, she became the first woman to be elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Her story is one of overcoming sexism within the tribal communities and serving for three terms. In 1990 she signed a Cherokee Nation self-determination agreement that gave the nation control over funding programs and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an unprecedented move for the nation. In 1998 she received the Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton and has been referenced as one of the most important female leaders in America’s movement for equality.