November 14, 2022
Celebrate Native American Heritage Month by watching these movies and shows about the American indigenous experience.
Native American culture has experienced a long-overdue revival in movies and TV. The early days of cinema often used white actors to depict indigenous characters. In recent decades, however, the entertainment industry has made strides in Native representation.
To celebrate Native American Heritage Month, which spotlights Native cultures during the month of November, you can watch these fantastic films and TV series. Each one depicts the First American experience, comes from indigenous creators and features Native actors.
You can find them all on streaming services available on Contour TV or the Cox Contour Stream Player. Say "Native American History Month" into your Contour Voice Remote and follow the prompts on the screen.
Watch on: Hulu
Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo teamed up with acclaimed writer/director Taika Waititi to create a show featuring all-indigenous actors, writers, directors and crafts people. The dramedy follows four Native teens living on a reservation in rural Oklahoma and grieving over the recent suicide of a friend. Bear (D'Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) dream of leaving the reservation and starting fresh in California — just like their late pal Daniel wanted.
Watch on: AMC+ (first episode free on Amazon Prime Video)
Based on Tony Hillerman's bestselling mystery novels, Dark Winds tracks tribal police officers on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Like recent indigenous projects, most of the cast and crew all have Native roots. The troubled Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) is called to investigate a double homicide with a personal connection. He's also dealing with a new deputy, Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), who has old scores to settle from his youth on the reservation.
Watch on: Peacock
Indigenous creatives abound on Rutherford Falls, from co-creator Sierra Teller Ornelas (Navajo) to stars like Jana Schmieding (Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux). The latter plays Reagan Wells, a member of the local Minishonka Nation who dreams of opening a cultural center for her people. Meanwhile, her childhood best friend Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) runs the area heritage museum. Their bond is tested as changes affect their small town and the bordering reservation.
Watch on: Hulu
The Predator prequel has been hailed as the best movie in the franchise since the 1987 original. It seems they moved forward by looking back, as it centers on a young Comanche warrior in 1717. Amber Midthunder (Assiniboine of the Fort Peck Sioux) plays Naru, who yearns to hunt like the men in her tribe but faces gendered skepticism. Her strength and skills are tested when Naru detects a new creature lurking on their land — one who turns out to be an almost unstoppable alien lifeform.
Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher
Watch on: Netflix
The inspiring life of Montford Johnson is the subject of this film, based on his own book The Chickasaw Rancher. Released by Netflix for Native American Heritage Month in 2021, it stars Martin Sensmeier as the title character, the son of an Englishman and a Chickasaw American. He overcomes humble origins and hardships to build a ranching empire along the cattle highway of Chisholm Trail. Despite threats from the government and other land barons, Johnson holds onto his legacy through sheer grit and perseverance.
Watch on: Hulu
Ojibwe filmmaker Lyle Mitchell Corbine, Jr., who hails from the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin, reckons with generational trauma in his debut feature. The title itself refers to a pejorative term used to describe misbehavior. Here, the so-called “wild Indian" is Michael (Michael Greyeyes) who has reinvented himself to fit in Anglo society. But he hides a terrible, consuming guilt over covering up a classmate's murder decades prior. The demons of the past, both personal and cultural, won't stay there.
Watch on: Peacock
Yellowstone has become one of the biggest shows on TV, bringing the Western back into vogue. Like examples of the genre before it, tensions are high between white land owners and local Native Americans. The powerful Dutton family, headed by patriarch John Dutton III (Kevin Costner), runs the largest ranch in Montana. If they want to pass down their holdings to the next generation, they must fend off corporate developers, appease environmental activists and maintain an uneasy peace with the bordering Broken Rock Indian Reservation and Chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham).
Watch on: Amazon Prime Video
Before colonizers came to the Americas, indigenous tribes lived and roamed freely across what is now the United States and Canada, making a Canadian series like Trickster very relevant to Native American Heritage Month. The story centers on a troubled Haisla teen named Jared (Joel Oulette of the Cumberland House Cree and Red River Métis nations). He soon discovers magical events seem to follows him, possibly tied to a mythical figure in Haisla lore.
Falls Around Her
Watch on: Netflix
Tantoo Cardinal is a veteran Canadian actress of Cree and Métis heritage who has appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. She's probably best known for her work in Dances With Wolves, Legends of the Fall, Smoke Signals and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Yet her first starring role didn't come until 2018, in this drama about a famous First Nations musician. Mary Birchbark returns to her community to recharge and reflect, but finds the outside world continuing to intrude.
How Do You Honor Native Americans?
Honoring Native Americans begins with education, and these movies and TV series offer a great way to start. You can also learn about the indigenous people in your local area and the history of the land around you. The U.S. recognizes 574 indigenous nations — each has different languages, cultures and traditions. The National Museum of the American Indian offers online exhibitions and other resources for learning more about Native cultures and history.
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