Films Take Viewer on Many a Native Journey

By Natasha Netschay Davies

A Vancouver filmmaker has released nine documentaries that feature Native artists, tackle First Nations issues and explore spirituality.

The made-for-television films were inspired by stories that “haunted” producer and director Richard Hersley. “The First Nations spirit has bubbled in my blood for quite some time now – a lone eagle in the naked winter tree – and it has touched my heart. I want to tell stories about this spirit and this doorway into a wisdom, a simplicity and a belief that may someday create the road that many people may follow.”

The topics of the award-winning films include politics, land history, family, health and art. Whose Land is This? and Making Treaties deal with First Nations’ relationship to the Canadian governments regarding land settlements, and a detailed look into the current modern treaty process. Native Women: Politics gives voice to several of the nation’s Aboriginal female leaders and their take on issues such as rebuilding a balanced self-government. An examination of the Indian Act and Bill C31 demonstrate their consequences on Native women.

The film closest to Hersley’s heart is The Medicine Wheel. “The film is the closest to the very nature of native spirituality today. It was the film that went “inside” native thought and even a few native secrets and allowed me to grab on to and hold a faith and a spiritual warmth.” The film, told in the first person by a Cree woman from Manitoba, includes segments of the Sweat Lodge and Pipe Ceremonies.

The Beat of The Drum takes both a poetic and philosophical look at the Native culture’s most important musical instrument. A traditional Native saying: “The drum is the heartbeat of mother earth; to beat the drum is to match the heartbeat,” introduces the profiles of four popular Native singers, songwriters and actors including Chuck Sam, Sandy Scofield, Jerry Alfred and Renae Morriseau. Each performer shares the inspiration behind their work, and what they hope to give back to their communities.

Other films include a look into the sad truth behind the residential school experience and the effects it had on their students; a report on the growing rate of breast cancer amongst Native women; and a program that explores why 45% of children in care are Native.

After working in mainstream television for many years, Hersley’s mind was “clouded with commercial appeal.” As he began to work on these Native-focused films, he began to see that others were searching for something different, just like he was. “A group of people that is native and non-native alike. A group that is learning to take the best of the best of what spirituality has to offer. A group of people that is interested in learning what we can from the wisdom and vision of First Nations thought and spiritual beliefs.”

The previously televised films are available to individuals, schools and libraries. To find out how you can access them visit and click on First Nations Films or call 604-318-5418.