For the most part, everything that people are typically taught about Thanksgiving is wrong — unless craft hour is skipped over and they’re taught that Thanksgiving is a holiday with roots in the mass killings of millions of Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, many American public schools still teach a romanticized version of Thanksgiving instead of the true history of what actually went down during the first meetings between Natives and colonizers. Those misconceptions can change by having people not only learn the real history behind Thanksgiving, but also the history of the systematic oppression of Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the United States. This November, in the spirit of “Truthsgiving” and Native American Heritage Month, check out these 10 films and documentaries that put a spotlight on how the United States has wronged the Indigenous peoples of the Americas throughout history.
Dawnland is a documentary that focuses on the systematic separation of Wabanaki children from their families by government agents, children that were then placed with white families during most of the 20th century. Many of these children suffered devastating emotional and physical trauma after being taken from their family and many of the people interviewed for the documentary share how they have lost a sense of their identity due to these experiences. A major part of the film is about Maine’s government-sanctioned Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which gathered testimony from Wabanaki families who were affected by this practice. Directed by Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip, you can rent Dawnland, here.
The Canary Effect
The Canary Effect is a documentary that explores a variety of topics, including various policies from the United States government that have negatively affected Native American people over the years. It touches on the economic marginalization these communities have faced, along with the media’s refusal to report on various stories of death by suicide and Columbine-style school shootings that have occurred among Indigenous youth. Directed by Robin Davey and Yellow Thunder Woman, it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006. The Canary Effect is free on Youtube, here.
Project Chariot puts a spotlight on when the United States government wanted to experiment with nuclear testing in Alaska during the 1950s and’60s. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission planned to detonate thermonuclear bombs at a site near the Indigenous village town of Point Hope. People from Point Hope protested the plan and eventually stopped it from happening. While no detonation happened, it was later revealed that the site was radioactively contaminated by another secret experiment in which the government buried several thousand pounds of radioactive soil in the same area without telling nearby people. A 1996 report from The New York Times points out that the cancer rate in the area was much higher than the national average. Project Chariot is free on Vimeo, here.
The Long Walk: Tears of the Navajo
The Long Walk: Tears of the Navajo is a documentary that tells the history of when the United States Army marched over eight thousand Navajo men, women, and children at gunpoint through three hundred miles of desert in the Southwest to a prison camp in eastern New Mexico. Hundreds of people died from starvation and exposure to the winter elements. You can order it or watch parts on YouTube.
Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools
Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools focuses on the history and brutality of American boarding schools that tried to “kill the Indian” in Native peoples, as put by U.S. cavalry captain Richard Henry Pratt. These institutions forced assimilation onto people who were unwillingly taken from their families; their hair was cut, they were made to wear military uniforms, along with being forced to learn and speak English. Many were punished physically and sexually abused at the boarding schools. The documentary is broken into two parts and can be viewed for free here.
Our Spirits Don’t Speak English
Our Spirits Don’t Speak English is another documentary that like Unspoken, focuses on the first-hand experiences of the people that survived the boarding school system. A part can be viewed here and the DVD can be ordered here.
Aleut Story showcases the journey of the Alaskan Unangan (Aleut) people of Alaska. The Unangan people’s traditional territories became a major point of defense for the U.S. Military as World War II crept into Alaska. Aleuts were forced out of their homes and put into isolated internment camps. Those who survived later fought for reparations from the federal government.
Our Sisters in Spirit
Our Sisters in Spirit focuses on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) epidemic, a crisis that hard largely gone uncovered by the media. There is systemic violence that has led to a disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, many cases which have never been solved. According to information from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, Native Americans and Alaska Natives represent only 0.8% of the U.S. population, but in 2017, they made up 1.8% of missing persons cases. The documentary is free to watch on YouTube here.
We Shall Remain: The Trail of Tears
We Shall Remain: The Trail of Tears tells the story of the forced relocation by gunpoint of thousands of Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee people between 1830 and 1840 due to provisions of the Indian Removal Act under President Andrew Jackson. Some of these people were forced to march more than 1,200 miles. As a result, thousands of people dieddue to cold, hunger, and disease. This documentary can be viewed on Youtube.
A film to watch for: Amá is a forthcoming documentary about the involuntary sterilization of tens of thousands of Native American women across the United States over the past couple of decades. Due to poor record keeping, this amount could be much higher. Directed by Lorna Tucker, Amá is scheduled for a release in December 2018. Stay updated here.
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