Reflections on the film “Dawnland”

In the United States (like elsewhere, e.g., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), the government’s systematic efforts to uproot Indigenous cultures through violence, resettlement, ideology, and education had adverse effects on Native communities and larger society. Among these efforts, Native children were taken from their homes and placed in the institutions (e.g., boarding schools) or with foster care often with Euro-American families. Until 1970’s, these efforts affected one in four Native children in the United States. Physical and emotional abuse experienced by these individuals and cultural genocide by the aforementioned institutions and foster-care arrangement are being critically investigated, discussed, and creatively addressed by Indigenous Peoples in various parts of the world, including the United States, in different ways. Dawnland is one afford to address these injustices in a visual and emotional form by documenting the workings of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the State of Maine (US) in order to revitalize Indigenous cultural heritage of local peoples. 

Our collective was honored to attend a screening of this documentary in Concord (NH) early October 2018. We urge you all to see the film. Learn more Here, and at the PBS Website!

Below are some of the responses from the Indigenous NH Collaborative collective’s members:

Caitlin: “I found the film itself to be very powerful, and felt emotional watching it. Before seeing the film, I had no idea that the removal of Indigenous children from their families was still such an ongoing issue. I also learned a lot about the process of having a TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] and considering forms of restorative justice. One of the scenes that I found really compelling was when the white TRC team members were asked to leave the room in order to encourage more Indigenous people to feel comfortable enough to come forward and give their testimony. Many of the people who were asked to leave felt hurt by this decision, as well as feeling like it was unfair to ask them to leave because they were white. I felt like this really showed white privilege, as it was difficult for the people who were upset to understand that the conversation was not about them, it was about the healing of Indigenous people. This was really exemplified during the Q&A, where I felt like some of the responses from people showed that they had really missed that point. Instead they felt like it was necessary for them to contribute to the conversation, even though it was not in a particularly reflective or sensitive fashion.”

Erik: “For me, the Dawnland film was eye-opening to just another atrocity against the indigenous people of North America. These are similar problems to those we see on the border of Mexico, families being torn apart and it has become a major issue within the United States. Why are we, as Americans, so ready to jump to the aid of people from other countries or our own fellow Americans, yet the indigenous people, barely get a second thought? I am more informed about Indigenous people than the average American, yet this movie was the first that I have heard of this problem, why is that? This sort of information should be talked about… I want to see Facebook movements, across the public, talking about how awful things like this are. Yet from my perspective everyone is focused on saving the turtles, protecting immigrants and funny memes, which are all important, but this issue is happening to families here and now. I am not sure the perfect way to approach making this issue more widely known, but it must happen and that was my main takeaway from the movie. We live in a time and place where thoughts and movements spread and grow quickly as long as they are presented in a way that appeals and reaches the masses.

Alessandro: “…I found value in hearing the discussion at the end from the audience. I also thought the film was very sentimental and informative. The reality that indigenous children were being taken from their families by social workers and being put in schools to be groomed for integration into white homes is very disturbing, especially considering this happened to close to home and so very recently! This movie exposed me to the concept of “cultural genocide” which in effect has been devastating to the culture of indigenous communities in Maine. I also learned that being an ally to a marginalized group mean recognizing privileged and sometimes withdrawing from spaces for the sake of the healing process and to foster truth and reconciliation.”

Olivia: “The film was very effective in exposing the suffering Native Americans have endured for so long. I felt overcome by emotion as I listened to the testimonies provided by the people who were directly affected by the unjust treatment by the government. Prior to the film I was unaware that Native American families were continuously being torn apart to further the colonizing agenda of the US government. This made me question my own education, why in my 18 years of schooling was I never taught about “Indian schools” or the Native American Child Welfare Act. The most important thing I took away from the film is that the misery caused by the cultural genocide of Native peoples will take time and support to heal. It will never heal completely and cannot be forced to heal by people with white privilege. The only true way for the oppressed to become free from the oppressor is for them to tell their stories to the world.

Marinna: “Having the opportunity to watch this powerful film, while be surrounded by individuals who have been directly affected by the forceful removal of Indigenous children was an emotional experience. The atmosphere of the film viewing had a huge impact on the audiences takeaways. Overall, the content of the film was not only educational but also extremely eye-opening. Not many people are aware of how recently these Indigenous removal laws were banned, and personally I was one of those people before viewing Dawnland. The Q & A, which occurred after the film, was somewhat difficult to listen to because of how deep many of the wounds were for so many people in the audience. Even though it was hard to listen to it made the impact of the films message much stronger.” 

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