Early on in Michelle Latimer’s documentary Inconvenient Indian, author Thomas King warns that “you have to be careful about the stories you tell and have to watch out for the stories you are told.” This perfectly sets the stage for Latimer’s blistering and effective examination of the colonization of Indigenous peoples in North America.
Inspired by King’s book The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Latimer’s film provides a fascinating look at how stories, and who is afforded the opportunity to tell them, has disenfranchised generations of Indigenous people. Using the metaphor of a cinema to convey how the media, including films such as Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North and John Ford’s Stagecoach, has perpetually misrepresented the culture, the film holds an unflinching mirror up to society. Everything from Canada’s horrific history with residential schools, and the devasting impact it had on generations, to the ways politicians and police continually attempt to stifle and eradicate indigenous culture is tackled here.
Despite these continual hardships, Latimer’s documentary not only champions the resilience of Indigenous people, but also finds inspiration in the new generation who are fighting to reclaim their narrative. Inconvenient Indians does an exceptional job of highlighting how artists, filmmakers, musicians, hunters, video game programmers, educators and more are finding ways of bringing their cultural roots to the forefront. Latimer’s visually striking film forces viewers to take an uncomfortable look at who has shaped, and benefitted from, the narratives that govern societal views of Indigenous people.
In exposing the gatekeepers of culture and narrative, the film shines a light on those who, due to these misconceptions, have been invisible in plain sight for far too long. Inconvenient Indian unflinchingly holds one’s feet to the fire, removing any excuse that society “didn’t know better”, to truly understand those who have been burned for decades. One walks away with not only a different perspective of North American history, but also the Indigenous community as well. As the band Snotty Nose Rez Kids forcefully sings over the closing credits “I’m not the Indian you had in mind”.