The documentary film Dawnland earned two grants, one to create a short film supporting distribution of the full-length movie and a follow-up grant to create a teacher’s guide and companion short films to extend the project into classrooms.
Dawnland tells the story of the state of Maine’s effort to come to terms with a shameful part of its history, when state welfare workers removed Indian children from their families and placed them in foster care. The film follows the work of the state’s Truth And Reconciliation Commission, set up in 2012, which gathered stories from the state’s indigenous people. It is the first such body to investigate mistreatment of American Indian children, families, and communities, particularly the taking of Native children from their birth families.
Dawnland filmmaker and head of the Upstander Project Adam Mazo used Mass Humanities funding to develop First Light, a 13-minute version of Dawnland released in 2015. The short film did very well for Mazo, getting coverage in news outlets like WGBH and Business Insider, gaining traction on social media, and leading to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
For over two years, Mazo and his team followed Native and non-Native Truth And Reconciliation commissioners as they traveled across Maine. They gathered testimony and bore witness to the devastating impact of the state’s child welfare practices on families in Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribal communities, which collectively make up the Wabanaki people. In 2015 the commission concluded that Native people in Maine continue to be targets of “cultural genocide.”
Dawnland was released to critical acclaim in April 2018. The Boston Globe wrote a compelling review.
A second Mass Humanities grant about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was awarded in 2017 for the creation of a teacher’s guide and three companion short films. This grant project should be finished soon.