Telling The Truth As A Means Of Healing

A new documentary shows how one state is confronting Native American child removal.


Published:

Whom is this truth-telling for? Is it to educate White people on colonial violence and how it continues to harm indigenous communities in Maine, or is it for the Native participants to heal and be heard?

YES! illustration by Fran Murphy

When we think of the history of forced cultural assimilation of Native Americans into U.S. culture, we often point to residential schools. From the mid-19th to the early-20th centuries, residential schools removed Native American children from their communities, punished them for speaking their home language and practicing their religion, and attempted to assimilate them as working-class members of society. These residential schools are widely known to have been sites of abuse and trauma. But the story of removal of Native American children did not end with these schools. The new documentary Dawnland documents other more contemporary child removal practices and one state’s effort for justice.

In February 2013, the state of Maine launched the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first government-mandated TRC in the United States. The commission was charged with establishing a more complete account of Native American foster care placement between 1978 and 2012 and with formulating policy recommendations to empower tribal communities and start to reverse generations of colonial violence.

Dawnland, directed by Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip, 2018Native American children are overrepresented in the child welfare system. In Maine, in 1972, Native children were placed in foster care at a rate 25.8 times that of non-Native children. They were often placed in non-Native homes, sometimes without any legal proof that their birth parents were “unfit.” Stories like these across the nation led to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, which legally declared that it is in the best interest of Native American children to stay within their families or tribes. ICWA recognizes the potential damage that child removal does both to the children and their tribe as a whole: How can a tribe continue to exist if it cannot pass on its language, cultural traditions, and history to the next generation? As gkisedtanamoogk, co-chair of the Maine Wabanaki Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reflected in Dawnland on child-removal practices, “You take away a people’s understanding of who they are, their self-sufficiency, and you replace it with nothing.”

Yet decades after the passage of ICWA, Native American children are still removed from their homes at a disproportionately high rate. Between 2000 and 2013, Native children were removed at 5.1 times the rate of non-Native children in Maine. This is one reason the commission was formed. The commission, along with the advisory group Maine-Wabanaki REACH, or Reconciliation Engagement Advocacy Change Healing, began collecting stories in 2013. For the next two years, they gathered testimony from state child welfare staff, children who were placed in foster care or adopted, and parents in Maine’s four remaining tribes who had their children taken away. Dawnland is both an intimate lens into the personal and communal impacts of child removal practices and an exploration of the conflict that arises when White communities and communities of color jointly confront historical trauma and racism. 

These tensions play out in real time in Dawnland. One  community event for gathering testimony did not have a high turnout, so members of Maine-Wabanaki REACH asked staff from the commission to leave the room to ensure all participants were comfortable sharing their truths. This did not go over well with the commission staff, the majority of whom were White women. REACH co-director Esther Anne Attean defended the decision, saying that the goal of truth-telling is “not about making White people feel welcome.” She argued that part of being an ally is recognizing when you need to leave the room and allow Native peoples the space to share their stories as a form of healing.

We are left to ponder: Whom is this truth-telling for? Is it to educate White people on colonial violence and how it continues to harm indigenous communities in Maine, or is it for the Native participants to heal and be heard? Can it simultaneously be both, or should one be privileged over another?

Though child removal is a sensitive and at times traumatic subject matter, conducting research and making recommendations is the easy part. Sustained healing and an assertive confrontation of colonial and White supremacist violence are much harder. But as the commission’s executive director, Charlotte Bacon, reflected in the report, “None of us is exempt from that responsibility.” We have a collective responsibility to address the ongoing violence of colonialism, and the impacts of child removal on tribal communities and tribal survival.

Georgina Sappier (Passamaquoddy) from Mars Hill elementary in Maine for the years 1947–53. Photo by Ben Pender-CudlipAs the testimony of children removed from their homes makes clear in the film, changing policy alone cannot end the impacts of colonial violence. The commission focused specifically on Native American children in foster care from 1978 to 2012—after the passage of ICWA. Whether intentional or not, racism from foster parents and racism from child welfare staff continues to traumatize Native families.

“My foster mother told me that I was at her house because nobody on the reservation wanted me. ... And that she would save me from being Penobscot,” Dawn Neptune Adams said in the film. She also said she had her mouth washed out with soap when she spoke her Native language.

Like Adams’ foster mother, not everyone sees distancing Native children from their tribal cultures as violent. As with residential schools, some view it as benevolent. Jane Sheehan, a retired child welfare worker who worked in the system for decades, is shown in the film saying that “two sneakers for the feet is sometimes more important than learning an Indian dance.” Intentionally and aggressively confronting racism—particularly unintentional racism coming from ill-informed rather than overtly hateful viewpoints—must be addressed in any truth and reconciliation effort.

Tracy Rector, a producer for the film, is hopeful that Dawnland can help with this process. “In the majority of the screenings to date, the audiences have been primarily non-Native and more specifically White,” she told me. “The vast majority of these audience members often comment that they were not aware of the policies involved in colonization, the boarding schools, or forced adoption and foster care. I see and hear in these discussions that we are building allies.”

Dawnland makes clear that any effort to empower tribal sovereignty and right historical wrongs—what some may call reconciliation—must center indigenous leadership and indigenous healing. While it remains to be seen how Maine and its tribal communities will continue to work toward justice for those most affected by violent child welfare practices, truth-telling is a vital and historic first step. And non-Natives must be willing to listen deeply. As activist Harsha Walia asserted: “Non-Natives must be able to position ourselves as active and integral participants in a decolonization movement for political liberation, social transformation, renewed cultural kinships, and the development of an economic system that serves, rather than threatens, our collective life on this planet. Decolonization is as much a process as a goal.”

Abaki Beck wrote this article for The Good Money Issue, the Winter 2019 edition of YES! Magazine. Abaki is a free-lance writer and researcher passionate about Indigenous community resiliency, public health and racial justice. She is a member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana and Red River Metis. You can find more of her writing on her website.

This article was republished from YES! Magazine.

See also:
Indigenous People Invented The So-Called ‘American Dream’
Some “Unrecognized” Tribes Still Waiting After 130 Years

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

September 22, 2019

Shortly after midnight the Moon settles into her home base, Cancer. The quiet pleasures of familiar places is accented, although a late morning lunar sextile to Uranus may bring unexpected messages or surprise visitors. An informal gathering of close…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2019

It’s time for a workshop!  One plus one always equals two. In a similar fashion EFT plus Law of Attraction always equals effective and positive change. Teaching Emotional Freedom...

Cost: $40

Where:
21 Wiles Farm Road
Northboro, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Medicine My Way
Telephone: 508-523-7132
Website »

More information

In this 90 minute workshop you will find clarity in what brings you joy. You will create your personal vision statement that will help guide you to living a more satisfied, balanced life. This...

Cost: $25 early-bird till 9/20 ($30 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Witness the healing power of mediumship! Join New England's own trusted spirit medium Raylene Sousa and top UK medium Dominic Boag from Scotland for an afternoon of spirit messages. If...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Little Meetinghouse
723 Roosevelt Trail
Windham, ME  04062
View map »


Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
Contact Name: Raylene Sousa
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Members of the Reflexology Association of NH will be offering “mini” hand or foot reflexology sessions at the Salt Cave within Bien Soigne in honor of World Reflexology Week.

Cost: Donations suggested $15 - $20

Where:
Bien Soigne Salt Cave
350 North Broadway
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: Reflexology Association of NH
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

September 25–October 29, 2019 Expert Tai Chi instructor and Qigong Master Instructor Terry Dunn will be giving a total of four five-day intensive workshops in October 2019 at Eastover...

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

September 26–29 This training at the Center for Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) uses mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy to break the cycle of...

Cost: $1,390

Where:
Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
1035 Cambridge St, Suite 21A
Cambridge, MA  02141
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Telephone: 617-591-6132
Contact Name: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Website »

More information

Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the fall in our sanctuary! We have an intimate gathering of great readers and healers providing services at sampler rates to enjoy their services while...

Cost: $60: 3 Pack Service Special; $25: Single Service

Where:
Healing Power Of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Mirabai Starr was an adjunct professor of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years. Her emphasis has always been on making connections between the perennial...

Cost: $20

Where:
First Parish in Lexington
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA  02420
View map »


Sponsor: Lexington Community Education
Telephone: 781-862-8043
Contact Name: Craig Hall
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Maryellen Labelle, David Sholemson and Steve Cunningham are excited to announce Qigong for Inner Peace teacher training fall term 2019. This 50 hour certification training is appropriate for a wide...

Cost: $1100 / $800 early registration

Where:
Yoga Depot
17 Depot Square
Lexington, MA  02420
View map »


Sponsor: Qigong for Inner Peace
Telephone: 617-721-7215
Contact Name: Maryellen Labelle / David Sholemson
Website »

More information

Join life coach Cheryl Richardson and her husband, Michael Gerrish, a psychotherapist and gifted intuitive, for a special evening designed to help you upgrade your life! During this event,...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

This Dating Program is the follow-up to Kerri Morrison's workshop, Deliberate Dating: 5 Keys to Successful Online Romance; held Friday, August 16th, 2019 from 6:30-7:30pm. View that event...

Cost: $199

Where:
Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
View map »


Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Learn Reiki—revitalizing self-care and healing in the palm of your hands. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (master teacher.) This one-day class covers the...

Cost: $150

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

With Laura Haley, IET Master Instructor Trainer  This class provides you with everything you need to conduct a powerful Integrated Energy Therapy session on yourself or others (either in...

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
Methuen, MA


Telephone: (978) 474-8010
Website »

More information

Learn the benefits of yoga for families as well as how to develop character in children to get them more focused, respectful, and confident before returning back to school this fall! This class...

Cost: $45 early bird till 9/25 (includes child and a parent), $50 after

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

September 28–29 Saturday 10 am Registration; 10 am–5 pm  Sunday 10 am–5 pm This practitioner training takes place over 2 days and offers students the opportunity to...

Cost: Course Fee: $450; Recalibration Appointment: $333

Where:
The Hampton Inn Coventry Warwick
850 Centre Of New England Boulevard
Coventry, RI
View map »


Telephone: 617-366-6042
Website »

More information

September 28–29 Learn hands-on techniques for the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, as well as the sacrum, psoas and ilium. Leave with tools you can use right away. Coming in...

Where:
Downeast School of Massage
Waldoboro, ME


Telephone: (617) 678-8920
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags