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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From the Perspective of the First Mainers: Workshop Teaches Wabanaki History

wabanaki map bowdoin REACH

The Wabanaki map literally at the center of a recent Bowdoin workshop was imprinted, like a fabric mosaic, of images integral to the history of the Wabanaki people and their culture: a red eagle, a tri-colored dream catcher, fish, and mammals.

Over the course of the workshop, the Wabanaki map—the colorful storyboard in the middle of the room—was folded up and broken apart several times, representing the fragmented nature of Wabanaki history. By the end, the pieces were rolled out and put back together, as if to symbolize the resilience of the Wabanaki up to the present day.

“We are working toward truth, healing, and change with educational programs that teach how the process of colonization happened and continues to happen here,” said Kates.

Diana Furukawa ’18 helped facilitate the recent afternoon event in the Edwards Center for Art and Dance with Maine-Wabanaki REACH, a nonprofit engaging non-native people in restorative justice for the Wabanaki. The Wabanaki refers to five nations—the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot—who are from the Northeastern part of the country, including Maine.

Furukawa currently works at the public library in Millinocket, Maine, helping with community-led grassroots revitalization efforts in the Katahdin area. To bring the Wabanaki  event to Bowdoin, Furukawa partnered with Barbara Kates, REACH’s community organizer.

“We are working toward truth, healing, and change with educational programs that teach how the process of colonization happened and continues to happen here,” said Kates.

Read the full press release here.

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.

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.

Maine Forum: Education Continues on Wabanaki Plight

wabanaki reach forum maine 03:16:17

In 2015, a report focusing on Maine Wabanaki children and decades of discriminatory practices in the child welfare system was meant to spark changes and begin the healing process for the state’s native tribes. For Wabanakis and members of Maine-Wabanaki REACH, a group tasked with implementing the report’s recommendations, that process is far from over.

Speaking during a Great Falls Forum in Lewiston on Thursday, Maine Wabanaki REACH Community Organizers Barbara Kates and Tom Reynolds underlined the importance of the work that had been accomplished but said more outreach and more education is needed.

The pair led a presentation titled “Truth, Healing and Change: Why Maine Needed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” which refers to the Maine Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in 2013.

Read the full story by Andrew Rice in the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal.

Photo by Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal.

This is a followup to this post on Sokoki Sojourn.

Maine Forum to feature Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission

penthea-burns-co-director-reachbarbara-kates-reach

The Great Falls Forum on Thursday, March 16, will feature Penthea Burns and Barbara Kates from Maine Wabanaki REACH. The program will take place from noon to 1 p.m. in Callahan Hall at the Lewiston Public Library. The presentation is titled “Truth, Healing and Change: Why Maine Needed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

REACH — Reconciliation-Engagement-Advocacy-Change-Healing — began as a collaboration of state and tribal child welfare workers who knew from their work together that major inequities existed in the way that the state dealt with family issues within Maine’s Native-American communities. Through their advocacy, they were able to establish the Maine Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013.

The commission released its findings and recommendations two years later and since that time, much of the work directed at healing and change has been led by Maine Wabanaki REACH. Burns and Kates will talk about the founding of REACH and discuss the historical treatment of Native-American children that led to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Penthea Burns, senior associate at the Muskie School of Public Service, co-directs Maine-Wabanaki REACH.  Since 1999, she has been working with the Wabanaki tribal child welfare programs and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to improve Maine’s compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

Barbara Kates is a community organizer for REACH and is involved with designing and delivering community presentations and ally building workshops to increase understanding of Maine’s shared history with the Wabanaki people.

Admission is free to all Forum events and no reservations are required. This program is a bring-your-own brown-bag lunch. Coffee, tea and bottled water will be available at the library.

The Great Falls Forum is co-sponsored by Bates College, Lewiston Public Library and the Sun Journal. The Lewiston Public Library is at 200 Lisbon St. at the corner of Pine Street.

More information on Thursday’s lecture or other upcoming events in the Great Falls Forum series is available by contacting the Lewiston Public Library at 207-513-3135 or www.LPLonline.org.

Link to original article in the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal.

New Paths for Healing: SSW Alumna Brave Heart Draws Delegation from ME

When social worker Esther Attean began working with fellow members of Maine’s Wabanaki communities in the late 1990s, she discovered they lacked a framework for talking about the losses Native Americans have sustained over generations in her state.

“The effects of trauma—feelings of grief, stress, anger and anxiety—were all passed down,” said Attean, who co-directs Maine-Wabanaki REACH, a cross-cultural collaborative that is working to develop better child welfare practices with Native American families. “But a lot of our trauma is still unresolved because it hasn’t been acknowledged.”

Attean and her colleagues at REACH (short for Reconciliation, Engagement, Advocacy, Change, Healing) then learned about the work of Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, who earned a Ph.D. from the Smith College School for Social Work in 1995 and who will be speaking at Smith on Monday, July 27.