'Inconvenient Indian' Review: An Illuminating Documentary About Cultures Often Ignored [TIFF]

In 2012 Thomas King published The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, a compendium of his writings about what it means to be Native, and the types of stories both ascribed to, and told by, the various individuals broadly contained within the aboriginal rubric. Michelle Latimer's documentary, simply titled Inconvenient Indian, takes the themes of King's work, narrated in part by his own words, and showcases a kaleidoscopic vision beyond the stereotype, showcasing the actuality rather than the empty costumes secured in museum cabinets that so often speak silently to what it means to be part of these communities.Part meditation, part travelogue, part celebration, Latimer's film visualizes the multifaceted aspects of life for those that identify at Native, sweeping from the far North to an urban movie theatre, illustrating through relatively simple means how often the notion of what King describes as the "Dead Indian" occupies much of general understanding for what befell these groups. We witness a recreation of the Battle of the Big Horn, with plains tribesmen in full regalia engaged a choreographed death dance with American troops, showing off their skills while festooned with face paint and calling out in chants. This is contrasted with the vision of artist Kent Monkman, or the way that Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril talks about her own art. We see a hunter use subtlety and craft as part of a traditional seal hunt that's buttressed, of course, by snowmobiles and high powered rifles. As is pointed out, even during the shooting of Flaherty's iconic film Nanook of the North ancient traditions were fetishized and forced, evoking a neolithic stasis for a people trapped out of time, instead of recognizing the changing relationships with new technologies that still manage to find balance with the needs and sustainability of the land.From musical sequences involving Tribe Called Red through to a fishing trip meant to plant memories in schoolchildren to connect them with their environment, the end result is a warm and inviting rumination on modern day Native life. It's a pointed and profound look at how narratives shape who and what we are, and that stories, and who gets to tell them, remain one of the largest currencies we have as a species.King's central point is that we can no longer hide behind ignorance. He is hardly optimistic about things becoming significantly better, but at least the tragedies of the residential school system, or the breaking of centuries old promises, cannot be done under the guise of not knowing the tale. It may seem a small thing, but the end result, amplified by Latimer's visual representation of this ethos, is to change the ground upon which the conversations surrounding fairness and the obligations to both past and future will be set. Inconvenient Indian proves to be less a wake-up call than a clear-eyed look at what shapes these myriad individuals broadly banded together, and helps both showcase and celebrate a group of  peoples too often presented as inconvenient at best, primed for extinction at the most heinous./Film Rating: 7 out of 10