Sometimes a film has a lot to say about what is happening in our world. That is the case with “Dawnland,” as it tackles many issues our society is facing today.
“Dawnland” is an Emmy Award- winning documentary (for Outstanding Research) about the forced removal of Native American children from their homes into boarding schools throughout the 20th century. The film follows the (then-called) Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) as they work on a report over the course of two years to prove that this, in fact, is and has been a problem.
The film takes place in Maine as the TRC travels to various Native American tribes to hear their stories. “Dawnland” is certainly not for the faint of heart as countless stories are told by victims of forced removals. The victims also talk about how this created a loss of identity throughout their lives that impacted personal relationships and caused them to turn to drug use.
The screening also included an appearance from Upstander Project Learning Ddirector Mishy Lesser. According to Lesser, the film was an idea that came to her after she heard a piece from Maine Public Broadcasting about the TRC. She said she created the research guide for teachers to allow them to make our whole society more knowledgeable about indigenous people.
Lesser stressed that this is a problem that everybody should care about. “If we don’t care enough, our society will continue to crumble,” said Lesser. She also made sure that all students know that this issue is more pressing than ever due to the Indian Child Welfare Act currently in danger of being deemed unconstitutional.
She also said she learned a lot from working on the film. “One of the many things I learned is that I need to appreciate the complexity of the topic and all the different perspectives,” said Lesser.
Audience member Collin Coviello also appreciated the different perspectives. “I thought it offered a lot of interesting perspectives about the intersectionality of people who are mixed race and being forced into white families. I think it also talks a lot about erasure, which is obviously something that isn’t talked about much in our culture,” said Coviello.
Coviello also added that he thought this was an important movie not just for indigenous people. “It was really nice to have a space where some white people can talk about what we can do better and what we’ve done wrong or what our ancestors have done wrong,” said Coviello.
Another audience member senior film production and Holocaust and genocide studies major Jack Kelleher liked how the film went with his class discussing indigenous people. “It was interesting to learn a bit more about the topic and see what is really happening to people all around our country,” said Kelleher.
The next showing of “Dawnland” will be held on Monday, October 28 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco, California. The film is not yet available for individual sale, but https://dawnland.org/buy/ encourages people to get their school or any organization they’re a part of to buy the film. The teacher’s guide by Mishy Lesser is also available at https://dawnland.org/teachers-guide/ .
Cristian Valentin can be contacted