November 15, 2018

Documentaries to Watch for Native American Heritage Month

Editor’s note: In celebration of National Native American Heritage Month, we invited Rebekka Herrera-Schlichting, Assistant Director of one of our Organizational Members, Vision Maker Media, to select five films that help indigenous filmmakers practice their right to narrative sovereignty. Vision Maker Media envisions a world changed and healed by understanding Native stories and the public conversations they generate. Watch and share these great films!

Lake of Betrayal (Paul Lamont, 2017)

Lake of Betrayal, from director Paul Lamont, explores the history of Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania and its impact on the Seneca Nation. When the US Army Corps of Engineers attempted to take their land to build Kinzua Dam, the Seneca people stood up to the government and prevailing political forces of the 1950s and ‘60s to save their culture, their sovereignty, and their way of life to preserve their future. Completed in 1965, the dam was originally proposed to help mitigate flooding in the City of Pittsburgh—200 miles downriver--but the 27-mile reservoir that formed behind it inundated vast tracts of the Seneca Indians’ ancestral lands, resulting in irreplaceable cultural losses.

Watch it: Amazon Video


Ohiyesa: The Soul of an Indian (Syd Beane, 2018)

Biography and journey come together as Kate Beane, a young Dakota woman, traces the extraordinary life of her celebrated relative, Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa)—from traditional Dakota boyhood, through education at Dartmouth College, and in later roles as physician, author, lecturer and Native American advocate. Kate Beane’s father, Syd Beane, directed the film.

Watch it: Free on PBS Twin Cities Public Television


The Mayors of Shiprock (Ramona Emerson, 2017)

In Shiprock, New Mexico, poverty and corruption have long been a township struggle as the Navajo Nation looks for leadership. To make a change, a young group of men and women, led by 21-year-old Graham Beyale, are looking to take back their community. This story, written and directed by Ramona Emerson, tells how one can make a difference and inspire a generation of leaders to make changes in their own communities.

Watch it: Free on PBS SoCal


We Breathe Again (Marsh Chamberlain, 2017)

For centuries, survival was difficult for Alaska Native peoples, but they lived full lives. Today survival is easier, but they are dying young. Rarely heard of 40 years ago, suicide among Alaska Native peoples is now a silent epidemic—3.5 times higher than the national average, affecting Alaska Native men between the ages of 15 and 24 at the highest rate in the country. We Breathe Again, directed by Marsh Chamberlain, intimately explores the lives of four Alaska Natives who are determined to break free from personal histories of trauma and suicide.

Watch it: Amazon Video or find broadcast time on your local PBS channel with “America ReFramed” - next dates include Nov 27-28 and Dec 1-2.


What Was Ours (Mat Hames, 2016)

An Eastern Shoshone elder and Vietnam vet, who hasn’t left the Wind River Indian Reservation in over 40 years, visits the underground archives of Chicago’s Field Museum with two young Arapaho to explore ancestral objects kept in boxes for many years. Like millions of indigenous people in many parts of the world, they do not control their own material culture. It is being preserved and locked away by “outsiders” who themselves do not know what they have. Together the team tries to learn how these artifacts vanished from their tribe in the first place. Mat Hames directed this film.

Watch it: Free on PBS Independent Lens