November 4, 2019  (Web Review)

Dawnland

(2018) 86 min. DVD or Blu-ray: $75: high schools & public libraries; $350: colleges & universities. DRA. Tugg (http://edu.tugg.com). PPR.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Filmmakers Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip’s documentary centers on a truth-and-reconciliation program that was established by the government of Maine to redress the trauma inflicted on members of the four Wabanaki tribes (the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot) by the state’s child welfare programs—marking the first such official effort in the United States. Established in 2012, the commission was designed to investigate the state’s compliance with a 1978 federal statute restricting the removal of Native American children from their families for placement in boarding schools and foster families when the aim was to encourage—or force—assimilation into the wider society. Dawnland follows the efforts of the commissioners, led by Maine’s Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, as well as activists to encourage affected parties—including parents of children taken from homes and taught to reject tribal traditions—to relate their experiences despite their deep suspicions about the purpose behind the entire process. The resulting testimony is often wrenching and painful to hear. Combining excerpts from interviews with Dunlap and other members of the commission, along with archival materials illustrating how the earlier child welfare programs were implemented, Dawnland presents a moving account of a system that amounted to little less than cultural genocide, and a follow-up attempt to apologize for, and to some extent rectify, the mistakes of the past. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)