Documentary Examines Forced Separation of Native American Families

anna townsend testimony residential school

The film’s storyline is fragmentary, its focal point like a crack in a wall.

A young girl, chin tipped up to the microphone, fingers toying with a bead necklace, attempts to tell a room full of congressmen about the abuse her brother endured, but she chokes on an enormous sob and can’t go on. In a black-and-white photo of American Indian children at a boarding school, identical in their close-cropped and bobbed haircuts and plain clothing, the number of children grows larger and larger as the camera zooms out, and then, a moment later, the image becomes just one of many pinpoints on a map of the United States. A woman tells of having her mouth washed out with soap for speaking Penobscot and abruptly stops. The screen goes black.

Throughout the new documentary Dawnland, screening Oct. 19 in Dartmouth College’s Loew Auditorium, a sense of incompleteness, of halted revelations and impenetrable grief, pervades. As it explores a dark and largely overlooked aspect of American life, the film opens just a tiny fissure, grants only the smallest suggestion of healing.

It is, nevertheless, a start.

Read the full article by Sarah Earle in the Valley News.

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At SIFF: Bearing Witness to Stories of ‘Cultural Genocide’

georgina sappier-richardson dawnland movie

To watch the documentary Dawnland is to experience having your stomach clenched in a knot. Native mothers weeping about having their children taken away from them; U.S. government policies stripping Native Americans of their culture; ‘reconciliation’ staffers fully aware of their white privilege but refusing to shelf it as they do cross-cultural work.

It’s all anguishing and infuriating to take in. It also makes Dawnland a powerfully illuminating film — a history lesson that you’re ashamed to have never learned but whose truths you’ll likely never forget.

Filmmakers Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip spent five years completing their feature-length documentary about the forced removal of Native American children from their families into White adoptive homes, non-Native foster care and boarding schools. The government’s racist intentions — clinically explained in historic footage included in the film — was to “civilize” Native youngsters. The legacy of such policies can be seen in the continued high rate of Native children in foster care and in the tortured memories of those who wanted to embrace their cultural identity but who were told, sometimes violently, that they must not.

Read the full article by Florangela Davila in Crosscut.

Strange Events at Vilas Bridge: A Cultural Misunderstanding?

fact cast vilas bridge

Combining local myth with a spooky storyline, the producers of Strange Events At Vilas Bridge have created a new television series they’re calling a “supernatural thriller.”

But in their efforts to tell a scary tale, are they misrepresenting local history and culture?

Read the full article by Wendy M. Levy in The Commons (02.21.2018).

Filmmakers Explore Vermont’s Uncomfortable Eugenics History

A former U-32 student is back in Vermont to make a movie about the state’s infamous eugenics era.

Luke Becker-Lowe, fellow film students from Emerson College in Boston and a cast of 20 were at the Center for Arts and Learning on Barre Street Saturday and Sunday, filming scenes that staged the sterilization of subjects.

The film is based on the Vermont Eugenics Program that followed a 1931 law legalizing the sterilization of “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons residing in state institutions.” Vermont’s eugenics program, headed by University of Vermont Prof. Harry F. Perkins, led to the sterilization of 253 people, mostly women, between 1931 and 1957, according to UVM’s website.

Becker-Lowe said growing up on dirt roads in central Vermont gave him an appreciation of backwoods life, unique characters and the challenges they face. He is also a fan of 20th century period films that reflect social and cultural shifts over time. Their project, “Dormancy,” was a response to and a reflection of a new era of political and social intolerance in America that serves as a sobering lesson, he said.

Read the full article by Stephen Mills in the Rutland Herald.

Link to the GoFundMe site for this production.

The Wabanaki People Are Taking Back Their Narrative

Cultural preservation is self-preservation for Native communities. An upcoming film from the Upstanders Project, “Dawnland,” explains just that.

The documentary, now in post-production, follows the journeys of those involved in a truth and reconciliation process in Maine involving the Wabanaki people. The documentary examines the history and the implications of the removal of Native children from their homes in the US.

From boarding schools in the 1800s to foster care today, Native children have repeatedly been separated from their families. In Maine, the Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in 2012 to trace the abuses experienced by Native children since the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted in 1978.
As early as 1975, a US Senate report found that Native children were 19 times more likely to be removed by child welfare workers than non-Native children. Today, Native children are still twice as likely to be taken from their homes and placed in foster care. Research has suggested this practice can lead to even greater isolation and erasure of indigenous culture.

The stories of Native children in foster care are peppered with horrific and unusual punishments, including not receiving food and being subject to physical harm as well as emotional and sexual abuse.

To tell these stories today, “Dawnland” has tapped advisers and consultants to help ensure the representation of the Wabanaki is accurate. Chris Newell is one of the advisers — he ensures the film is “culturally competent to the collective cultures of the Wabanaki territory.” Newell — born and raised in Motahkmikuhk, an Indian township in Maine — considers the story of Dawnland not his own, but rather the story of many of the people he grew up with.

Hear more about cultural preservation in “Dawnland,” by listening to the audio above.

Future Folk shares the stories of communities through the music that they make. It is a co-production of PRI’s The World and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock: Screening at Smith College

Awake Film Flyer Smith

On May 2nd, 6:30pm AWAKE, A DREAM FROM STANDING ROCK, a new documentary from directors Josh Fox, James Spione and Myron Dewey, will have a special free screening at Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall, Smith College. The film is subtitled for the hearing impaired and the hall is wheelchair accessible. The film will be followed by a discussion with the film’s director Myron Dewey.

Awake Flyer pdf

Link to the press release for the event: AWAKE – press release Smith

Walking the Talk

Saints-Strangers-tantanka-means-jesse-bowman-bruchac

National Geographic Channel’s upcoming release Saints and Strangers, to be shown this Thanksgiving 2015  season, is eagerly anticipated by many with a focus on Native culture in the Northeast. Western Abenaki language instructor Jesse Bruchac was enlisted to help make this “the most authentic retelling of the Thanksgiving story ever committed to film.”  The Native American cast members, among them Tatanka Means, Kalani Queypo, and Raoul Trujillo, accepted the challenge and wholeheartedly committed themselves to the task as an honor.

Channel Guide Magazine online has the story here.