About this site

Marc St-Pierre, Collection Analyst
in collaboration with the Aboriginal Perspectives team

The Films
The Aboriginal Perspectives module contains 33 documentaries, a short fiction film, and 5 film clips. These productions do not represent the entirety of the films on Canada’s native peoples in the NFB collection, which comprises more than 700 such works. We did want it, however, to be a representative sample of the whole. The user will find films on many important aspects of Aboriginal culture and heritage, its diverse communities, and some of the major issues and significant moments in its history. These films, more than half of which were made by Aboriginal people, are the work of experienced filmmakers, such as Alanis Obomsawin and Gil Cardinal, and filmmakers in the early stages of their career, such as Elisapie Isaac and Bobby Kenuajuak. The selection covers more than 50 years of film production. All the films are available in both official languages, and 18 of them include described video to allow blind and visually impaired people to fully enjoy their content. In addition, 27 films are available with closed captioning for hearing impaired people.

Some people may be surprised at the omission of well known works from our list. These omissions are explained, first, by the fact that we were unable to obtain online broadcast rights for all the films we might have wanted to include, and second, by the fact that the project, which is supported by the Canadian Memory Fund, had to leave aside some newer works to give pride of place to the rich cultural heritage in the collection.

Film Excerpts and Themes
The module contains 71 films excerpts grouped under 7 themes: the arts, film and representation, colonialism and racism, indigenous knowledge, history and origins, sovereignty and resistance, and youth. Although the films make up the raw material of the module, we wanted to concentrate on short excerpts that would make it easier to access the proposed themes. The teacher, student, or individual user can thus scan the issues covered in a specific theme area by screening excerpts rather than having to screen an entire work. The full versions of the films remain available at all times. For most films, there is also a wealth of additional information (photos, posters, transcriptions, credits, updates, biographies, filmographies, interviews with filmmakers, and learning activities).

The 7 numbered themes were chosen after our team carefully reviewed a selection of 39 films. For more than 60 years, the NFB has devoted its efforts to the production and distribution of documentary and animation film, and our projects relay on the films in our collection as their major resource. For that reason, we have not considered other potential sources in developing our themes. Clearly, we do not pretend to cover every aspect of Aboriginal culture and heritage, or to describe all the issues, raise all the questions, or point to all the difficulties and achievements in Aboriginal communities across the country. These seven themes do, however, constitute an excellent introduction to the subject of Aboriginal people in Canada.

These theme areas are neither rigid nor definitive. Many deal with the same subjects and are closely intertwined, and so a film excerpt may deal with more themes than the one under which it is listed. We should also mention here that the excerpts listed under one theme area do not cover all aspects of that theme; rather, they cover key moments, crucial events in history, and remarkable people. They should be considered as learning components and avenues for research, sharing ideas, and reflection.In order to facilitate the learning experience, we have also provided (for most theme areas) texts written by experts, interviews with filmmakers, learning scenarios, and supplementary resources (photos, reference lists including NFB films and web sites).

An Aboriginal Voice
We wanted this project to help people become more familiar with Aboriginal film, and to pay tribute to its filmmakers, but most of all, we wanted to give a voice to Canada’s native peoples. Certainly, the films are a big part of this, but we also provide interviews with some of the filmmakers and writings by specialists from various communities. These texts, in the form of personal essays and commentaries on film excerpts, were written by academics, artists, elders and students. Lastly, we have put together learning activities for each theme written by a secondary school teacher from the PeePeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Native Peoples at Time of European Contact
Native Peoples at Time of European Contact
Courtesy of West/Dunn Productions - A Country by Consent / Un pacte, un pays

Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, terminology
In this Web site the term “Aboriginal peoples” covers the First Nations (Indian), Métis people and Inuit. This is in line with the following definition:

This is a collective name for all of the original peoples of Canada and their descendants. The Constitution Act of 1982 specifies that the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada consist of three groups – Indians, Inuit and Métis. First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples have unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs. The term Aboriginal peoples should not be used to describe only one or two of the groups. (Assembly of First Nations)

The three groups are defined as follows by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada:

1. Indian: Indian peoples are one of three groups of people recognized as Aboriginal in the Constitution Act, 1982. It specifies that Aboriginal people in Canada consist of Indians, Inuit and Métis.Indians in Canada are often referred to as: Status Indians, non-Status Indians and Treaty Indians.

  • Status Indian: A person who is registered as an Indian under the Indian Act. The act sets out the requirements for determining who is an Indian for the purposes of the Indian Act.
  • non-Status Indian: An Indian person who is not registered as an Indian under the Indian Act.
  • Treaty Indian: A Status Indian who belongs to a First Nation that signed a treaty with the Crown.

First Nation(s): A term that came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word "Indian," which some people found offensive. Although the term First Nation is widely used, no legal definition of it exists. Among its uses, the term "First Nations peoples" refers to the Indian peoples in Canada, both Status and Non-Status. Some Indian peoples have also adopted the term "First Nation" to replace the word "band" in the name of their community.

Students at 2006 Winter Festival Regina Campus, First Nations University of Canada
Students at 2006 Winter Festival Regina Campus, First Nations University of Canada
Credit: Tina Pelletier, photographer
Courtesy of First Nations University of Canada

2. Métis: People of mixed First Nation and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis, as distinct from First Nations people, Inuit or non-Aboriginal people. The Métis have a unique culture that draws on their diverse ancestral origins, such as Scottish, French, Ojibway and Cree.

Young métis voyageurs at Batouche, Saskatchewan, 2005
Young Métis Voyageurs at Batouche, Saskatchewan, 2005
Courtesy of Métis National Youth Advisory Council

3. Inuit: An Aboriginal people in northern Canada, who live above the tree line in the Northwest Territories, and in Northern Quebec and Labrador. The word means "people" in the Inuit language - Inuktitut. The singular of Inuit is Inuk.

Inuit Youth
Inuit Youth
Courtesy of Inuit Youth Voices

Other terms
We have attempted to respect the spellings that are generally accepted by the community. For example, we use the spelling “Mi’kmaq” rather than “Micmac”, and “Listuguj” rather than “Restigouche”. It should be noted, however, that terminology is constantly changing. For further information on these questions, please consult the following Web sites:

Indian and Northern Affairs terminology guide

The Canadian Encyclopedia

Government of Nunavut

Metis Community of Eastern Canada

The five federally recognized national Aboriginal political organizations in Canada:

Assembly of First Nations

Metis National Council 

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) 

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) 

Native Womens Association of Canada (NWAC) 


Daniel N. Paul - 1

Daniel N. Paul - 2

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