The string of familiarities might not be documented in detail within the pages of our U.S. history books but our government’s role in separating children from their families has a long and torrid past. The separation of immigrant children from their parents at the southern border this past year was only the latest example. Black slave children were routinely snatched from their families in the earlier years of our country’s history and at the same time, and for decades after, Native American children were torn from their homes and forcibly, sent to boarding schools, foster programs or sent to be adopted by white families located far away from their communities.
A new film, “Dawnland” tells the story of a commission that aimed to inquire into the separation of Indigenous children.
The documentary which dabbles in the preservation and restoration of culture and reconciliation for children stolen from their families offers a look into the country’s first truth and reconciliation commission for Native Americans in the country. Truth and reconciliation commissions have been set up by states in an effort to discover and unveil wrongdoings by a government particular during times of unrest, dictatorship or war. The first commission of this type appeared in 1994 in South Africa, years later dozens of countries, including Guatemala, Argentina and El Salvador, have used them to reconcile the wrongdoings of their governments.
“Dawnland” follows the efforts of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission launched by the state of Maine and five Wabanaki chief in 2011 in an effort to examine the practice of child separation in the area. At the time the commission worked to investigate the treatment of Indigenous people by the child welfare system from 1978 to 2012.
According to the documentary, by 1974, 1 in 4 Indigenous children were separated from their families. It also underlines that by 1978, the U.S. government had signed into law the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which set a string of criteria for the placement of Indigenous children in boarding schools and foster homes. Even despite the 1978 law and various commissions and investigations NICWA notes that Indigenous children are four times more likely to be removed from their homes than white children. Additionally, Native children are overrepresented in the U.S. foster care system, which, according to the NICWA, “has increased trauma” to Indigenous families.
Check out a trailer for the film below.
View the full documentary here on PBS.
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