Released in 1968 and often referred to as Canada’s first music video, The Ballad of Crowfoot was directed by Willie Dunn, a Mi’kmaq/Scottish folk singer and activist who was part of the historic Indian Film Crew, the first all-Indigenous production unit at the NFB. The film is a powerful look at colonial betrayals, told through a striking montage of archival images and a ballad composed by Dunn himself about the legendary 19th-century Siksika (Blackfoot) chief who negotiated Treaty 7 on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The IFC’s inaugural release, Crowfoot was the first Indigenous-directed film to be made at the NFB.
The Ballad of Crowfoot is among the most popular and most widely screened films from the CFC/SN program. Filmed entirely by members of the Indian Film Crew, the First Nations unit founded by the NFB's National Indian Training Programme in cooperation with the Company for Young Canadians, The Ballad of Crowfoot asserted Aboriginal rights and placed the media in targeted community's hands. The skilful compilation of archival photographs in combination with the stirring use of director Willie Dunn's original song create a space in which deference and tribute are paid to the legendary Blackfoot leader while the stakes for contemporary First Nations struggles are laid bare. A rousing finale of contemporary newspaper headlines cataloguing a series of injustices against the First Nations people through Canada's history establishes an informative bridge to the actions and issues captured in CFC films You Are on Indian Land (1969), God Help the Man Who Would Part With his Land (1971), Cree Hunters of Mistassini (1974), and Our Land Is Our Life (1974).Thomas Waugh, Ezra Winton, Michael Baker
From the playlist: Challenge for Change
Notable for being one of the first films produced by the NFB’s Indian Film Crew, The Ballad of Crowfoot is also remarkable for its haunting archival images set to an impassioned ballad written and performed by director Willie Dunn: “Crowfoot, Crowfoot, why the tears? You’ve been a brave man for many years, Why the sadness? Why the sorrow? Maybe there will be a better tomorrow.”Gil Cardinal
From the playlist: The Aboriginal Voice: the National Film Board and Aboriginal Filmmaking through the Years