Dawnland reveals the untold story of Indigenous child removal in the United States through the first government-endorsed truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) in the nation, tasked with investigating the devastating impact of Maine’s child welfare practices on Native American communities. With exclusive access to this groundbreaking process and never-before-seen footage, Dawnland bears witness to intimate, sacred moments of truth-telling and healing. Directed by Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip, the film premieres on Independent Lens Monday, November 5, 2018, 10:00-11:00 PM ET (check local listings) as part of Native American Heritage Month programming on PBS.
For most of the 20th century, government agents systematically forced Native American children from their homes and placed them with white families. As recently as the 1970s, one in four Native children nationwide were living in non-Native foster care, adoptive homes, or boarding schools. Many children experienced shattering emotional and physical harm by adults who mistreated them and tried to erase their cultural identity. Now, for the first time, they are being asked to share their stories.
The historic investigation by the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission represented a groundbreaking moment in the history of tribal-state relations. From 2013 to 2015, Native and non-Native commissioners travelled across Maine, gathering testimony about the agonizing impacts of the state’s child welfare practices on families in Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot tribal communities, which together comprise the Wabanaki people.
The TRC discovered that state power continues to be used to break up families, threatening the very existence of the Wabanaki people. Is it possible to right this wrong and turn around a broken child welfare system? Dawnland examines the immense challenges faced by the commission as it works toward truth, reconciliation, and the survival of all Indigenous peoples. By exploring what happened in Maine, the film also provides the opportunity to raise awareness about this nationwide issue, which continues to impact families and children.
Dawnland will be presented as part of the new season of Indie Lens Pop-Up, a neighborhood series that brings people together for free film screenings and community-driven conversations. Featuring documentaries seen on PBS’s Independent Lens, Indie Lens Pop-Up draws local residents, leaders, and organizations together to discuss what matters most, from newsworthy topics to family and relationships.