Documentaries to Watch for Native American & Indigenous Heritage Month

Documentaries to Watch for Native American & Indigenous Heritage Month

In celebration of Native American & Indigenous Heritage Month, we are highlighting a selection of award-winning independent documentaries that showcase Indigenous stories and voices. These films are available in a variety of streaming and purchase options for schools, non-profits, community organizations, libraries, and corporations. We hope you will utilize these important educational resources year-round to spark critical dialogue in your community or organization! Check out the full collection here.


Another Word for Learning follows Aisha, an exuberant and creative 11-year old, of Kwakwaka'wakw descent, who has always hated public school: the mean kids, the academic pressure, the lack of artistic space - and the racism. She has only one year left at her elementary school in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, but she's had enough. Her dreams don't fit into the colonial curriculum, so she wants to leave school to pursue them. While most of her family and friends are worried about her, her mother Gunargie, a residential school survivor, sees this choice to “drop-out” as an opportunity for her and her daughter to reconnect with their culture - and with each other.

Attla tells the gripping but little-known story of George Attla, an Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and fierce determination, rose to international fame and became a legendary sports hero. Part dog whisperer, ingenious businessman, and teenage heartthrob, George defied characterization during a unique period of history when Western education, economics, and culture penetrated the Alaskan village lifestyle and forever changed the state with the discovery of oil in the late 1960s. ATTLA interweaves George’s story into the final chapter of his life, as he emerges from retirement to train his twenty-year-old grandnephew, Joe, to restore a village tradition by competing in the world’s largest sprint dogsled race.

Crow Country: Our Right to Food Soverignty is a 20-minute documentary that enlightens its audience to one tribe’s struggle to retain food security. The Crow Indian Reservation is the largest reservation in Montana, encompassing 2.2 million acres of land. There are approximately 8,000 Crow (Apsáalooke) tribal members who live there. In 2017, the Crow Agency laid off 1,000 of its 1,300 employees due to federal government cutbacks, ultimately straining tribal operations and leaving many families struggling to make ends meet. In 2019, the only grocery store on the reservation burnt down, and the owners are not planning to rebuild. For the Crow, the federal and tribal governments are both failing its people.

The Crow Tribe— like most tribes— have been reliant on federal, tribal and non profit food distribution centers. As a result, tribal nations across the country are exploring the idea of ‘food sovereignty,’ the inherent right of a community to identify its own food systems. Returning to traditional and nutritious foods has been shown to be an effective way to restore Native food systems and create employment. However, restrictions on ancestral hunting grounds are preventing tribal members from providing for themselves and their families. CROW COUNTRY tells the stories of three Apsáalooke tribal members: a journalist; an elder; and a hunter, as they try to address these issues, and focuses on their resilience despite the hardships that they face.

Inhabitants: Indigenous Perspectives on Restoring follows five Native American communities as they restore their traditional land management practices in the face of a changing climate. For millennia Native Americans successfully stewarded and shaped their landscapes, but centuries of colonization have disrupted their ability to maintain these processes. From deserts, coastlines, forests, mountains, and prairies, Native communities across the US are restoring their ancient relationships with the land. The five stories include sustaining traditions of Hopi dryland farming in Arizona; restoring buffalo to the Blackfeet reservation in Montana; maintaining sustainable forestry on the Menominee reservation in Wisconsin; reviving native food forests in Hawaii; and returning prescribed fire to the landscape by the Karuk Tribe of California. As the climate crisis escalates, these time-tested practices of North America's original inhabitants are becoming increasingly essential in a rapidly changing world.

Little Wound’s Warriors lets the teenagers and community members speak for themselves.It’s freezing, the wind blows and the snow is coming down hard in the Badlands of South Dakota, in a little town in the middle of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At Little Wound High School, the kids and the staff have had a hard year. It’s January 2016 and last winter the cost of generations of trauma against the Lakota Sioux tribe was paid: a teenage suicide epidemic. They recount the history of the genocide of their ancestors and how that violence echoes into today through the effects of alcoholism, poverty and the frustrations between generations. 

But most importantly, through these interviews, we don’t just hear the problems. We listen as these young people recount their hopes for the future and how as they retrieve their heritage it invigorates and brings hope to the community. With stunning aerial footage of the wintry Badlands and intimate, personal interviews we learn that their story is one not of sorrow and victimization but instead a journey of rising up in hope and strength, determined to save themselves and their people through hard work and concrete action. This hour-long documentary was created with extensive feedback from the community and interview subjects to ensure it is representative not just of the challenges on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, but also the tremendous sense of community and connection with an ancient Lakota tradition that inspires us all.

Manzanar Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust follows intergenerational women from three communities who defend their land, their history and their culture from the insatiable thirst of Los Angeles. In this fresh retelling of the LA water story, Native Americans, Japanese-American WWII incarcerees and environmentalists form an unexpected alliance to preserve Payahuunadü (Owens Valley), “the land of flowing water.” Featuring breathtaking photography and immersive soundscapes, the film recounts more than 150 years of history, showing how this distant valley is inextricably tied to the city of Los Angeles. It reveals the forced removals of the Nüümü (Paiute) and the Newe (Shoshone) who were marched out of the Valley in the 1860s by the US Army, and the Japanese Americans who were brought here from their West Coast homes and incarcerated in a World War II concentration camp. Water lured outsiders in and continues to fuel the greed which has sucked this once lush place dry.

In Out of State, shipped thousands of miles away from the tropical islands of Hawaii to a private prison in the Arizona desert, two native Hawaiians discover their indigenous traditions from a fellow inmate serving a life sentence. It's from this unlikely setting that David and Hale finish their terms and return to Hawaii, hoping for a fresh start. Eager to prove to themselves and to their families that this experience has changed them forever, David and Hale struggle with the hurdles of life as formerly incarcerated men, asking the question: can you really go home again?

In Powerlands, Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso, a young Navajo filmmaker, investigates the displacement of Indigenous people and the devastation of the environment caused by the same chemical companies that have exploited the land where she was born. She travels to the La Guajira region in rural Colombia, the Tampakan region of the Philippines, the Tehuantepec Isthmus of Mexico, and the protests at Standing Rock. In each case, she meets Indigenous women leading the struggle against the same corporations that are causing displacement and environmental catastrophe in her own home. Inspired by these women, Ivey Camille brings home the lessons from these struggles to the Navajo Nation.

Rez Metal  explores the thriving heavy metal scene on the Navajo reservation through the remarkable story of I DONT KONFORM and their journey gaining popularity on reservations and recording their debut album in Denmark with one of the music industry's most influential producers.

When Navajo heavy metal band I DONT KONFORM sent out a demo album to Flemming Rasmussen, the Grammy Award-winning producer of Metallica, they never imagined that a few months later they would be rehearsing with him inside a hot Hogan on the Navajo reservation. As Rasmussen states after hearing their demo, “a specific technical element wasn’t what stood out for me but the raw emotion and the thematic rage running through their music stood out as something refreshing and unique” – something true to the life of this metal band. 

The Condor and the Eagle documentary offers a glimpse into a developing spiritual renaissance as the film's four protagonists learn from each other’s long legacy of resistance to colonialism and its extractive economy. Four leaders from impacted communities embark on an extraordinary trans-continental adventure from the Canadian Boreal forests to deep into the heart of the Amazonian jungle to unite the peoples of North and South America and deepen the meaning of justice. Their path through the jungle takes them on an unexpectedly challenging and liberating journey, which will forever change their attachment to the Earth and one another.

The Good Mind spotlights the Onondaga Nation’s tireless environmental advocacy and their legal battle with the U.S. over ancestral land taken by New York State in violation of a 1794 treaty with George Washington. The Indigenous and sovereign Onondaga Nation – the Central Fire of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy – follows the Great Law of Peace, never accepted U.S. citizenship, has its own passport, and still maintains a traditional government led by Clanmothers and Chiefs, one of the world’s first true democracies that inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States and the women's suffrage movement. Motivated by ancient prophecies, the Nation seeks environmental stewardship of their sacred land and waters, which have suffered vast degradation by industrial resource extraction and pollution.

This is The Way We Rise is an exploration into the creative process, following Native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio as her calling to protect sacred sites atop Maunakea, Hawai`i reinvigorates her art.

Warrior Women is the story of Madonna Thunder Hawk, one such AIM leader who shaped a kindred group of activists' children - including her daughter Marcy - into the "We Will Remember" Survival School as a Native alternative to government-run education. Together, Madonna and Marcy fought for Native rights in an environment that made them more comrades than mother-daughter. Today, with Marcy now a mother herself, both women are still at the forefront of Native issues, fighting against the environmental devastation of the Dakota Access Pipeline and for indigenous cultural values.

Through their story, Warrior Women explores what it means to balance a movement with motherhood and how activist legacies are passed down from generation to generation in the face of a government that has continually met Native resistance with mass violence.

A chronicle of resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), We Are Unarmed bears witness to this historic event from the first week of September 2016 to forced evacuation on February 23rd, 2017. Award-winning filmmaker Gwendolen Cates goes behind the scenes with three Lakota women who play central roles – Kelly Morgan, the tribal archaeologist, Phyllis Young, the longtime activist who became the movement spokesperson and strategist, and Holy Elk Lafferty, the young camp leader. Framed by history and the American political context in which it is situated, Standing Rock becomes both a warning and an inspiration as the country moves into uncharted territory.