Nearing the end of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, one movie, Ojibwa Warrior stood out. From director Marie-Michele Jasmin-Belisle, Ojibwa Warrior captures the spirit and legacy of one of the most prominent Indigenous figures in Minnesota, if not the United States.
In her sold out showing, Jasmin-Belisle takes the viewer on a journey through the life of Dennis Banks, also known as Nowa Cumig in Ojibwe. As leader and founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and a voice of resistance against the American government, Banks remains a prominent figure in Indigenous culture, even posthumously. He’s been the subject of multiple books and documentaries, but this latest one by Jasmin-Belisle takes a unique and intersectional approach.
Quebec born and California based Jasmine-Belisle came across the subject by accident. While in film school she met Dennis Banks’ daughter. They developed a friendship that ultimately led to a strong relationship with the Banks family. As a documentarian and filmmaker by nature, she began capturing his stories and the stories of those around him.
Ojibwa Warrior plays like a history project, using oral history and primary documents to explore Indigenous culture. Through archival imagery, Jasmin-Belisle introduces viewers to Dennis’s life. She starts with the history of boarding schools in North America, exploring Dennis’s early trauma of family separation. She also documented his time serving in Vietnam, revealing how Banks became a pacifist by being forced to fight on the front lines. Throughout the film, she cross references AIM with various resistance movements, like the Black Panther Party.
The film concludes with his death in 2017, documenting how his peers, friends and remember him. Following the film, Jasmin-Belisle fielded questions from the audience. She bonded with attendees about Buddhism and further explained the process of making the film. She also spoke extensively with an Ojibwe audience member, who shared his experiences with Banks.
The screening was a sentimental, spiritual, and wholesome experience, and serves as an empathetic learning tool in understanding AIM and Indigenous resistance.