“Imagine you’re about to have a little one, the love that you have for that little one… and then imagine somebody outside of your family you don’t even know making claims on your little one. They don’t like the way you live and they’re going to take your little one by force. Imagine what the loss is when this is not just your family, but your entire community loses its children.” —gkisedtanamoogk, Maine Truth and Reconciliation Commission member in the documentary film First Light
Take a look at media coverage of new film, First Light.
“New Film Documents Maine’s Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission” -Indian Country Today Media Network
Dawnland: Feature documentary in POST-Production (2016)
When most people hear about children ripped from their families, they think of faraway places or of centuries past. The reality is it’s been happening in the U.S. for centuries—and is still happening today. Native American children are more than twice as likely as non-Native children to be taken from their families and put into foster care, according to a 2013 study.
In Maine, a group of Native and non-Native leaders came together to acknowledge and address the abuses suffered by Native children in the hands of the child welfare system. Thanks to their commitment, the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed in 2012 to seek the truth and bring healing to those affected.
Dawnland is the only feature-length documentary to tell the inside story of this historic, first of its kind commission and the individuals—both Native and non-Native—who boldly and publicly came forward to share their stories of survival, guilt and loss, in order to illuminate the ongoing crisis of indigenous child removal.
The film follows key participants through the truth and reconciliation process: a survivor of foster care, a child welfare worker, a TRC commissioner, and the co-founder of the commission. Their intersecting journeys reveal buried trauma and intergroup disagreements that threaten to derail the whole process. Dawnland also provides essential historical context showing how these present-day conflicts are the result of 500 years of colonial domination of Native peoples.
Dawnland is an independent feature documentary film that uses exclusive behind-the-scenes footage to share the transformative journey of an historic body: the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission ultimately concludes that the state of Maine has been, and continues to be, engaged in “cultural genocide” against the Native people who have lived there for millennia.
Dawnland will shine a spotlight on the commission and its unprecedented response to a nationwide crisis in the United States. Today Native American children are far more likely than other children to grow up away from their families and tribes. Many of us are familiar with popular culture’s portrayal of the westward expansion, Indian wars, and boarding schools. We are often taught to think that these occurred in a distant time, disconnected from people who are alive here now. The headlines hide the historical through-line from the state-funded bounty killings of Native women and children, to forced assimilation of children, to what one commissioner in Maine calls the federal government’s atonement for colonial policies of dismantling tribes and families.
We released our short film First Light on Indigenous Peoples Day, October 2015 to begin to tell these stories to help break the silence that undermines healing. We felt we could not wait until 2017 when we plan to release Dawnland.
In First Light we tell a piece of the story of the commission and its origins. In Dawnland we will bring viewers inside the commission, and share testimony from those who suffered because of the child welfare system and those who upheld its policies.
Directors Adam Mazo, Ben Pender-Cudlip
Producers Adam Mazo, N. Bruce Duthu, J.D.
Executive Producer Beth Murphy
Director of Photography Ben Pender-Cudlip
Editor Kristen Salerno
Learning Director Mishy Lesser, Ed.D.
- Margaret D. Jacobs, Ph.D., University of Nebraska, author, A Generation Removed
- Anne Makepeace, director, We Still Live Here, Rain in a Dry Land
- Alanis Obomsawin, National Film Board of Canada, director, Waban-aki: People from Where the Sun Rises, Trick or Treaty, Hi-Ho Mistahey!, Incident at Restigouche, and others
- George Neptune, museum educator, Abbe Museum, Maine
- Chico Colvard, University of Massachusetts Boston adjunct lecturer, documentary filmmaker (A Family Affair)
- Donna Hicks, Ph.D., associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, author of Dignity
- Dave Joseph, LICSW, senior vice president for program, Public Conversations Project
- Robert Koenig, film director (Returned), producer, writer, and editor
- Rebecca Lowenhaupt, Ph.D., assistant professor for educational leadership and higher education at Boston College
- Dick Olsen, strategic planner and fundraising consultant for major non-profits
First Light is the first film in a series, anchored by the feature film Dawnland (to be released in 2017), conveying the stories of pain and resilience that emerged during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s process. It tells a piece of the story of the Commission and its origins. Dawnland will bring viewers inside the Commission and share testimony from those who suffered because of the child welfare system, along with those who upheld its policies.
“When we tell these stories, we feel it in our bodies and our hearts. But I believe we can get to the point where it has less power over us. This was a perfect example of the readiness, that it’s time.” —Sandy White Hawk, TRC Commissioner.