Shoni Schimmel’s journey to the WNBA is documented in Jonathan Hock’s Off the Rez.
Screen Capture YouTube
Shoni Schimmel’s journey to the WNBA is documented in Jonathan Hock’s Off the Rez.

9 Cheap Native Films and Docs to Watch Online Now

Cary Rosenbaum

Who doesn’t want to curl up with a good laptop and watch a Native flick?

From activism to comedy to history, there are plenty of movies that made this list that will suit your needs – most for about $2.99. Some of them are tucked away in subscriptions services you currently pay for, like Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Go. There are also some great options from NativeFlix and Skinsplex, two upstart websites who stream Native American movies.

Whether you’re a Native film buff looking to connect to the early days of Adam Beach or are just entering the world of Native films, we’ve got you covered. Here are nine online Native films you can watch now on the cheap.

John Trudell during an interview featured in the documentary Trudell. (YouTube screenshot)

Trudell (2005)

“Last Russian Babylon. Voices catching up. Voices catching up. Watch out child. Watch out child. Babylon falling down. Falling down. Society of broken promise. Economy’s war, citizen hors. Political pimps leaving us flat on our backs. Trading today waiting for the promised land,”

  • John Trudell’s intro poem.

The documentary Trudell follows the iconic activist through his childhood in Omaha, Nebraska to his role with the American Indian Movement, and his poetry and music career. His activism will live on for generations.

Amazon Video has it for $1.99.

A screenshot from the trailer for Rhymes for Young Ghouls. (YouTube)

Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013)

There’s a lot to like about this movie based on a 1976 Canadian government decree that all Indian children under the age of 16 must attend residential schools.

The setting is the Red Crow Mi’g Maq reservation in Canada, and this isn’t one to watch with your children. There’s nudity, suicide, drugs, alcohol and violence.

Netflix, Amazon Prime and Fandor subscribers are in business for on-demand. But all others gotta fork out $2.99 on iTunes, Amazon or Vudu.

Evan Adams plays the unforgettable Thomas Builds-the-Fire in Smoke Signals. (YouTube screenshot)

Smoke Signals (1998)

With by far the most options for viewing, this Chris Eyre film, based on a Sherman Alexie story, is a must-watch from time to time.

The film follows Adam Beach (Victor Joseph) and Evan Adams (Thomas Builds-the-Fire) as they set off to retrieve Victor’s father’s ashes on a trip that takes them from the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho to the southwest.

Those who own a Playstation console are in the best boat, as it costs just $1.99 to rent there. YouTube, iTunes, Amazon video, Vudu and Google Play all have it listed for $2.99.

Kimberly Norris-Guerrero stars as Wilma Mankiller in Cherokee Word for Water. (YouTube screenshot)

The Cherokee Word for Water (2014)

This film captures the spirit of the late Wilma Mankiller, the first modern woman Cherokee chief, and takes you back to the ‘80s – a time Natives love for a multitude of reasons.

CW4W, as it’s acronymed, confronts a Cherokee community’s struggle to access running water The success of Mankiller, played by Kimberly Norris-Guerrero, and Mo Brings Plenty (Charlie Soap) on the Bell Waterline Project helped inspire tribal communities nationwide to achieve similar self-help projects.

It’s $3.99 on iTunes, but you won’t find it anywhere else, as for some reason this project hasn’t really made its way to mainstream sales. Not bad.

Gil Birmingham plays the father of Chaske Spencer’s character in Shouting Secrets. (YouTube Screenshot)

Shouting Secrets (2011)

Chaske Spencer and Q’orianka Kilcher – of Twilight and The New World fame – headline this movie, which also features the legendary Tantoo Cardinal. This film centers on a love story that reminds you of the importance of family, bu you need to decide whether it’s an accurate depiction of Native life.

To do so, Amazon and iTunes are the only way – for $3.99 each.

August Schellenberg, second from left, plays the iconic Sitting Bull in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. (YouTube screenshot)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007)

This 1880s tale of the introduction of legislation to protect Native rights, following the U.S. Army’s loss at Battle of Little Bighorn, should be watched by every Native, despite its mediocre rating on IMDB.

Adam Beach (as Charles Eastman), Anna Paquin, August Schellenberg (as Sitting Bull) and Aidan Quinn carry this drama. 

HBO Go and Amazon Prime subscribers can view this for free; otherwise, you’re looking at at least $10, which might prompt one to dole out their best Jeff Spicoli with, “Who’s got the beaucoup dolares, today?”

Adam Beach plays Frank Fencepost in Dance Me Outside. (YouTube screenshot)

Dance Me Outside (1994)

This movie, one of Adam Beach’s breakout films, is a mainstay in American Indian cinema. It follows two First Nations men from the Kidabanesee Reserve who find a murdered Native woman. They attempt to track her Caucasian murderer, who gets a lowly two-year sentence.

iTunes is the lone source to rent the film ($2.99).

Wes Studi plays Magua in The Last of the Mohicans. (YouTube screenshot)

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

No list of Native must-sees is complete without a Wes Studi film. Though he plays a supporting role in this movie as the villain Mogua, his performance is worth the view.

Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis, Eric Schweig and Russell Means round out the Mohican bunch in this action-packed film set during the French and Indian War in 1757.

iTunes, Amazon and Vudu list the viewing price at $2.99.

Shoni Schimmel’s journey to the WNBA is documented in Jonathan Hock’s Off the Rez. (YouTube screenshot)

Off the Rez (2014)

The story of Shoni Schimmel’s epic journey from the Umatilla Reservation to Portland, the University of Louisville and the WNBA has to be seen up close in documentary form.

Witnessing the struggle the family went through to propel the WNBA All-Star and her younger sister Jude is not only a great watch, but a good blueprint for success.

Amazon Prime has it listed for rent at $2.99.

Cary Rosenbaum (Colville) is a correspondent and columnist for Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter @caryrosenbaum

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