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How to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

November 05, 2021

Explore the culture and contributions of Native Americans through these TV shows, movies and documentaries.

 

November is Native American Heritage Month, an opportunity to pay tribute to the rich ancestry, traditions, achievements and contributions of Native Americans.

 

The first efforts to officially recognize the contributions of Native Americans date back to the early 20th century. In Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, convinced the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans."

 

Over the years, various states issued related proclamations. In 1990, President George W. Bush designated the month of November as “National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar federal proclamations (including name variations) have been issued every year since 1994.

 

One way to create your own celebration is by screening TV shows and movies about Native American experiences and stories from their own perspectives.

 

These 10 titles represent a range of Native American portrayals, from documentaries to comedies to children's programming.

 

Basketball or Nothing

 

Where to Watch: Netflix

 

This docuseries tracks a high school basketball team in Arizona's Navajo Nation on its quest for a state championship. Over six episodes, viewers get a window into the Chinle Wildcats players' hopes and dreams and the reality of life on a reservation.

 

The Blessing

 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

 

A Navajo coal miner considers his part in the destruction of his tribe's sacred mountain, as his daughter searches for her identity in this feature-length documentary. Co-directed by Hunter Robert Baker and Jordan Fein, the award-winning film examines themes around identity and environmentalism.

 

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

 

Where to Watch: Netflix

 

This drama features indigenous women in Vancouver who bond after experiencing a traumatic event. The critically acclaimed Canadian film is based on the life of its co-director/co-writer and star, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.

 

Exterminate All the Brutes

 

Where to Watch: HBO Max

 

Raoul Peck's expansive, four-part docuseries explores European colonialism and its impact on society today. The show takes an in-depth look at the U.S. role as a colonial power, unpacks the impact of the "official" story of Columbus on history and the contrasts American tenets of freedom and democracy with its complicated history.

 

Gather

 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

 

This documentary highlights indigenous Americans' efforts to reclaim their social and spiritual identities by gaining control over their ancestral food systems. The New York Times Critic's Pick features both personal stories and archival footage.

 

The Grizzlies

 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

 

Based on a true story, this drama focuses on a lacrosse team in a small Arctic town struggling with a high teen suicide rate. Ben Schnetzer plays teacher Russ Sheppard, alongside a primarily Native cast, including the late Emerald MacDonald, Ricky Marty-Pahtaykan and Booboo Stewart.

 

Molly of Denali

 

Where to Watch: PBS Kids

 

This animated children's show follows Molly, an Alaska Native girl, her dog, Suki, and her friends, Tooey and Trini, on their adventures in Alaska. The program is geared toward kids ages 4 to 8.

 

Reservation Dogs

 

Where to Watch: FX on Hulu

 

A group of four indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma resort to stealing and robbery to try to get to California in this FX comedy series. Created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, the buzzy hit showcases the work of indigenous writers, directors, actors and the production team.

 

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World

 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

 

This documentary considers the tremendous influence of indigenous people on popular music in North America today. Directed by Catherine Bainbridge and co-directed by Alfonso Maiorana, the award-winning film features music giants such as Steven Tyler, Quincy Jones and Iggy Pop.

 

The Seven Generation River

 

Where to Watch: PBS

 

Protecting and preserving waterways and traditional arts is critically important to the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians, as illustrated in this documentary short. The program is part of a water-focused series by Detroit Public TV's Great Lakes Bureau.

 

More Ways to Observe Native American Heritage Month

 

In addition to watching eye-opening and inspiring Native American films and TV, you can honor Native American heritage by:

 

 
 
  • Participating in free, online events, sponsored by the Smithsonian and other organizations.

 

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