Devastating impact of Native American child removals explored in 'Dawnland'

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
Anna Townsend, 9, testifying before Congress on April 8, 1974
Courtesy NBCUniversal

"Dawnland" trailer

A new Independent Lens documentary will reveal the untold story of Indigenous child removal in the United States.

Dawnland — which will premiere at 9 p.m. Nov. 5 on Panhandle PBS — explores the first government-endorsed truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) in the nation.

The commission was 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.

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.

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.

“As America struggles with the issue of forced separation of children from their parents, it may surprise many people to learn that the recent events happening on our Mexican border are just the latest chapter in the U.S. government’s under-reported history of using children as a pawn for political gain,” said Lois Vossen, Independent Lens executive producer. “It’s like déjà vu when we compare today’s news reports with the rediscovered riveting footage from the 1974 Congressional Hearings that revealed how Wabanaki Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes by Maine’s child welfare system. Dawnland is a living example that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

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