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One of the most poorly understood topics in Canada and the United States is the history, culture and traditions of the indigenous Native Americans.

To learn about the fascinating history of the Native American peoples, a great way to educate yourself about what isn’t being taught well in school is to watch documentary films.

I have collected here some of the best documentaries I have seen about Native American history, culture and traditions.

Feel free to share your personal favorites in the comments.

1. 500 Nations

500 Nations is an eight-part American documentary television series that was aired on CBS in 1995 about the Native Americans of North and Central America.

2. How The Native Americans Built A Legendary Civilisation 

 An excellent documentary episode from 1491: America Before Columbus, which explores the indigenous peoples of the Americas and their culture, history and traditions.

3. America Before Columbus: The Secret Continent

This is the story of the Columbian Exchange, the greatest cultural exchange in history. We explore life in America and Europe in 1491, and why America was “discovered” and not the other way around.

4. America’s Wild West: Discovery of a Land

This is the true story of the early American frontier. The “13 Colonies,” eager to go west of Appalachia despite the British crown’s forbiddance, decide the question in the American Revolution.

5. The Indigenous People of America

The story of the indigenous people of the Americans ranging from the empires of Mesoamerica such as the Aztec and Mayan Empires, the Inca Empire of South America and the Iriquois, Sioux, Apache, Navajo and Pueblo of North America.

6. America’s Great Indian Nation

The story of the Iroquois, Seminole, Shawnee, Navajo, Cheyenne, and Lakota Sioux nations filmed on location at their native tribal lands across America telling the story of their struggle to protect their lands, cultures, and freedoms.

7. The Military Prowess Of The Native Americans

At the end of the 15th century two worlds which had stood apart for generations violently collided: The kingdoms of Europe and the indigenous nations of the Americas. How did these two cultures interact and what series of events lead to the formation of the Canada and USA that we know today?

8. The History of the Indian Wars

The story of the Indian Wars and the colonial settlement of the American West.

9. The Colonial Battle For North America

The battle for North America rages on as the Americans claim a manifest destiny to take the continent; the First Nations of the West were forced to fight for their survival.

10. More Than Bows And Arrows

A documentary film released in 1981 that attempts to rectify misconceptions about early Native Americans, demonstrating that their contributions to the world’s knowledge, and influence on the development of America, in particular, has been considerable.

11. Canada: The Story Us Episode on First Nations

Hundreds of Indigenous nations with advanced political systems and traditions live in what today is known as Canada. With the arrival of European newcomers, centuries of Indigenous traditions face sudden change, as France and England compete for a stronghold on this continent.

12. The Untold Story Of America’s First Nations: The Haida Gwaii

For generations, the First Nations of the Northwest coast in modern-day British Columbia lived in fear of the Haida raiders. From their island strongholds, they won slaves, wealth, and glory at the point of a dagger.

13. We Will Be Free: First Nations In Canada

In Canada, Native Americans are referred to as First Nations. This documentary tells the story of indigenous peoples’ long battle for the right to simply exist and about a machinery that was designed to erase their people.

14. Experience A Native American Pow Wow

This documentary speaks with people from Indigenous tribes across the United States about the importance and the history of the Wacipi – or as it is called in English, the Pow Wow.

15. Native Way Forward

This documentary film shines a light on the present-day lives of Native young adults, and explores what’s possible for their futures. Hear Native leaders telling their stories in their own words, and illuminating the path for Native youth everywhere.

16. The Great Native Nations of North America

The fascinating history and cultures of some of the largest Native American groups: Sioux (Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota), Apache, Sioux, Navajo, Comanche and Iroquois (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora).

17. Lakota Nation vs. United States

The story of the Lakota people in the Black Hills, an isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming where you will find a battle over Mount Rushmore (previously known as the Six Grandfathers). This documentary film explores the history of the Native Americans here who survived removal, exploitation and genocide.

Watch the full documentary film on the Lakota Nation vs United States website.

18. RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World. is a feature documentary about the role of Native Americans in popular music history. Discover the fascinating untold story of Native American influence on blue, jazz, folk, pop, rock and heavy metal.

Watch the full documentary film on the RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World website.

19. Gather: Reclaiming Food Sovereignty

An intimate portrait of a growing movement amongst Indigenous Americans to reclaim their spiritual and cultural identities through obtaining sovereignty over their ancestral food systems, while battling against the historical trauma brought on by centuries of genocide.

Gather documents the growing movement among Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty.

Watch the full documentary film on the Gather website.

20. Inhabitants

A documentary about how Native Americans 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.

21. The Warrior Tradition

The Warrior Tradition, tells the astonishing, heartbreaking, inspiring, and largely-untold story of Native Americans in the United States military. Why would Indian men and women put their lives on the line for the very government that took their homelands?

22. Awakened First Nations

The story and prophecies of the spiritual destiny of the First Americans and how they will help awaken the world. This documentary film takes a rather fascinating look at the overlap of Native American and Christian prophecy.

23. 8th Fire: Native American Prophecy

An Anishinabe Prophecy: We are approaching a fork in the road. One road will lead to materialism and destruction for almost all living creatures. The other road will lead to a spiritual way upon which the native people are standing/ This path will lead to the lighting of the 8th fire, a period of eternal peace, harmony and a New Earth where the destruction of the past will be healed.

24. Rebel Music: Native America

Follow the lives of four Indigenous musicians and activists as they incite change in their communities through their art. Explore the revival of Native American identity through art, music and spoken word.

25. The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Throughout the mid-1920s, the Osage Nation suffered a series of mysterious murders, and the body count kept piling up until the federal investigators got involved. But who was killing all of these people, and why? Explore the history behind the Martin Scorsese film Killers of the Flower Moon.

Kyle Pearce

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