Native American Heritage Month landscape image

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with our top picks

In the early 1900s, a Dr. Arthur C. Parker, who hails from a Native American lineage, convinced the Boys Scouts of America to celebrate a day for the “First Americans”. Nearly a century later, President George H. W. Bush declared November 1990 as the first Native American Heritage Month, which continues to be celebrated now. According to the official government website, “The purpose of this heritage month is to not only celebrate the legacy of the indigenous Native Americans, but also to celebrate those who continue to shape our society, lead their communities, and impact our culture today.” 

American University Media Services invites you to celebrate Native American Heritage this month and beyond with our wide collection of content available for members of the AU community. 

This year, we want to feature 5 of our favorite Native American movies made by Native filmmakers, with genres including documentary, horror, coming-of-age, and more.

Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock (2017)

A promotional image for the film "Awake" featuring a group of indigenous activists facing off against police and heavy construction equipment

Awake is a documentary on the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests (#NoDAPL movement) that took place in Spring 2016 at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The documentary recounts the peaceful protests held by The Lakota Souix tribe against the construction of the pipeline that threatened the upper Missouri River, the only water supply for the Standing Rock Reservation. It was the largest gathering of Native Tribes in the past 100 years. It cuts together amazing cinematographic work like drone shots of beautiful Standing Rock with jarring scenes of shaky iPhone camera footage of protesters being arrested with force by law enforcement. 

Awake is co-written and narrated by activist Floris White Bull’s voiceover and executive produced by #NoDAPL movement ally Shailene Woodley, both of whom were arrested for trespassing at Standing Rock. A must-watch. 

Available on streaming

Barking Water (2009)

A still from "Barking Water" featuring the two leads leaning against each other while seated on a log

Originally debuting at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and later receiving the award for best drama film at the 2009 American Indian Film Festival, Barking Water is a touching road movie featuring a dying man and his former lover traveling across rural Oklahoma to visit his friends and family.

Available on streaming

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)

A still from "Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner" featuring the silhouette of a man standing alone in a field of ice and snow

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is a an epic drama that retells the story of an Inuit legend passed down for centuries. It is the first feature film to be written and acted in the Inuktitut language, and features a cast made up of Inuit actors.

Available on DVD

Smoke Signals (1998)

A still from "Smoke Signals" featuring the two leads

Smoke Signals is a coming-of-age comedy-drama that tells the stories of two Coeur d’Alene Indian boys, Victor and Thomas, grappling with very different perspectives on Victor’s alcoholic father who saved Thomas from a fire as an infant. This film was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2018 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Available on DVD

Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013)

A still from "Rhymes for Young Ghouls" featuring three individuals in creepy masks

Rhymes for Young Ghouls is a Canadian horror film depicting the abuse of First Nations children in government-mandated residential schools and a teenage girl’s desperate attempts to stay out of one. This film premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and has since won numerous awards, including Best Canadian Film at the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Available on streaming

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