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Jul 1 2021 Film /

TSA Playlist | July: Indigenous Land

For thousands of years, the land which we now call Canada has been the traditional territory of many nations, each with their own unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages and institutions. With the arrival of European settlers, partnerships between Indigenous nations and colonial governments were formed through historic treaties, providing a framework for coexistence and sharing of the land. Despite the recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada’s constitution, these foundational agreements have since been eroded by two centuries of colonial policies and forced cultural assimilation. And while treaties cover many parts of Canada, just over half of the country is on unceded Indigenous land where no agreement has been signed.

Understanding and honouring these foundational agreements, and acknowledging the traditional lands on which we live, work and play, is a necessary step towards reconciliation.

This month’s playlist brings together a series of free-to-stream shorts and documentaries featuring Indigenous voices from across Turtle Island reflecting on the theme: Indigenous Land. Included are films that share the long Indigenous history of what is now known as the Greater Toronto Area, as well as documentaries capturing contemporary territorial conflicts stemming from colonial policies and attitudes. The playlist also looks at ongoing efforts to reclaim and reassert Indigenous knowledge and placemaking across Canada through education, architecture and tradition.


From Earth to Sky
2021 | 81 min

A recently released documentary, From Earth to Sky explores the work of seven accomplished Indigenous architects and designers, including world-renowned Anishnaabe architect Douglas Cardinal, as they bring to life the vitality of Indigenous architecture from design to construction. This film articulates the power of Indigenous architecture and its relevance in today’s world where climate change threatens the planet.

Watch it on YouTube Watch it on TVO



A Sacred Trust
2012 l 13 min

Did you know that the Greater Toronto Area is within the traditional territories of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa and the Haudenosaunee and the Wendats peoples?

This short documentary, produced by the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, provides an overview of the Indigenous history of this land, including the Beaver Wars, the 1805 Toronto Purchase, and the displacement caused by the encroachment of European settlers in Toronto. Included in the film are also the origins of many place names in the GTA such as Credit River and Mississauga, all of which are tied to the Indigenous history of the land.

Watch it on Youtube



Cottagers and Indians
2020 | 44 min 

Just north of Peterborough, James Whetung of Curve Lake First Nation is reclaiming his Indigenous right to cultivate wild rice on Ontario’s Pigeon Lake, but local homeowners are furious about the large-scale changes in the waterways.

Directed by award-winning Canadian author, humourist and playwright Drew Hayden Taylor — also from Curve Lake First Nation — this documentary looks at the big picture issues behind this conflict, delving into food sovereignty, property rights, restricted access to capital on reserves, racism, privilege, contract law and Indigenous poverty. Recognizing that these matters go far beyond Pigeon Lake, affecting the lives of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous landowners across Canada, Hayden Taylor embarks on a cross-country journey to investigate how these groups might coexist.

Watch it on CBC Gem



Urban Elder
1997 | 28 min

In 2017 it was estimated that 56% of all Indigenous people live in urban areas, with Toronto representing the largest Indigenous urban population in Ontario and fourth largest in Canada. But how can Indigenous traditions thrive within the core of colonial cities?

This documentary follows Urban Elder Vern Harper, who walks the “Red Road” in the fast-paced, urban landscape of Toronto, from leading a sweat lodge purification ceremony to conducting a private healing ceremony and participating in a political march of 150,000 people. In his own voice, Vern Harper tells the story of an urban Indigenous culture, reaching into the past for his people’s traditions and blending the old ways with those of the present.

Watch it on the NFB



Our People Will Be Healed
2017 | 97 min

A film by prolific Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, Our People Will Be Healed provides a glimpse of what action-driven decolonization looks like in Norway House Cree Nation, one of Manitoba’s largest First Nation communities. The film documents the work happening at the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre, a school built upon the remains of a residential school, where teachers and staff are ensuring that Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture are preserved and passed down for generations to come.

Watch it on TVO



Now Is The Time
2019 | 16 min

From 1885 until 1951, the Canadian government banned the potlatch as part of an effort to destroy Indigenous culture and religion in western Canada. The ban was part of the Indian Act, which was meant to control the lives of Indigenous people and was used as a tool of assimilation.

In 1969, when internationally renowned Haida carver Robert Davidson was only 22 years old, he carved the first new totem pole on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii in almost a century. On the 50th anniversary of the pole’s raising, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter steps easily through history to revisit that day in August 1969, when the entire village of Old Massett gathered to celebrate the event that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit.

Watch it on the NFB



Unceded: Voices of the Land | Interview with David Fortin
2021 | 60 min 

““Our exhibit is about storytelling. You can’t look at a building without hearing the dances. You can’t look at a building without seeing the landscape behind it or beside it. You can’t look at a building without hearing the voice of the architect and them referencing their families.”

– David Fortin, Co-Curator

Presented as Canada’s official entry to one of the world’s most prestigious architectural exhibitions, Unceded: Voices of the Land showcased the work of 18 Indigenous architects and designers from across Turtle Island through an immersive audio-visual experience that tackled the difficult truths of colonialism while explaining and celebrating the strength of Indigenous resilience.

In this interview for VernissageTV, co-curator and Métis architect and academic David Fortin, speaks about the exhibition and the contemporary search by a group of Indigenous architects and designers to understand what contemporary Indigenous architecture is. You can also explore a short virtual reality experience of the exhibition here.

Watch it on YouTube



Additional Resources

We hope this playlist has inspired you to learn more about the land you are on and the people who have stewarded it, so to help you on your search we have put together a list of some helpful resources!

Whose Land
Whose Land is a web-based app that uses GIS technology to assist users in identifying Indigenous Nations, territories and communities across Canada.The app can be used for learning about the territory your home or business is situated on, finding information for a land acknowledgement, and learning about the treaties and agreements signed across Canada.

Ontario Treaty Map
A resource developed by the province of Ontario, this interactive map provides information on the more than 40 treaties and land agreements that cover Ontario. It also contains information on First Nations reserves in the province.

Canada by Treaty: Negotiating Histories
A virtual exhibit exploring Canada’s treaties and their role as foundational documents for the country.

Anishinabek Nation: Treaty Education 
A kid-friendly animated educational video series about treaties, put together by the Anishinabek Nation.

Myseum of Toronto: Indigenous Resources for Allies
A useful list of resources compiled by the Myseum of Toronto.

About the TSA Playlist

The TSA Playlist is a monthly curated list of free online films touching upon issues of architecture, the built environment and design. Our thematic lists do more than just entertain; they inspire us, enrich us, and challenge our perspectives helping bring the conversation of the built environment to new audiences and encourage conversation and debate.

Have a suggestion of a film or theme you would like to see featured? Let us know at tsa@torontosocietyofarchitects.ca

Be sure to also check out the past editions of the TSA Playlist.