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A documentary about cultural survival and stolen children: inside the first truth and reconciliation commission for Native Americans.
A documentary about cultural survival and stolen children: inside the first truth and reconciliation commission for Native Americans.
A documentary about cultural survival and stolen children: inside the first truth and reconciliation commission for Native Americans.
610 backers pledged $57,795 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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DAWNLAND - Help reveal this untold story

$57,795

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We reached our first goal of $50,000! THANK YOU!

Because of your support, and the support of our generous matching donor, $50,000 will now be doubled to $100,000!! Hooray!!! This is huge! Because of your pledges we will be able to keep moving forward with the editing of Dawnland and reach a fine cut.

What’s next? Taking this film to the next level! After we submit the fine cut to festivals, we still need to polish Dawnland into the tight, professional film audiences expect. That means we need to raise additional funds to hire experts: a composer, graphic designer, animator, sound designer, and color correction artist.

The first stretch goal is $15,000 for professional color correction. Will you help us meet this milestone and take our Kickstarter total to $65,000?

When most people hear about children ripped from their families, they think of faraway places or of centuries past. The reality is it's been happening in the U.S. for centuries—and is still happening today. Native American children are more than twice as likely as non-Native children to be taken from their families and put into foster care, according to a 2013 study.

In Maine, a group of Native and non-Native leaders came together to acknowledge and address the abuses suffered by Native children in the hands of the child welfare system. Thanks to their commitment, the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed in 2012 to seek the truth and bring healing to those affected.

Dawnland is the only feature-length documentary to tell the inside story of this historic, first of its kind commission and the individuals—both Native and non-Native—who boldly and publicly came forward to share their stories of survival, guilt and loss, in order to illuminate the ongoing crisis of indigenous child removal.

The film follows key participants through the truth and reconciliation process: a survivor of foster care, a child welfare worker, a TRC commissioner, and the co-founder of the commission. Their intersecting journeys reveal buried trauma and intergroup disagreements that threaten to derail the whole process. Dawnland also provides essential historical context showing how these present-day conflicts are the result of 500 years of colonial domination of Native peoples.

Co-director Ben at Split Rock in Sipayik, Maine
Co-director Ben at Split Rock in Sipayik, Maine

For most of the 20th century, government agents systematically forced Native American children from their homes and placed them with white families. A 1977 US Senate report found that as recently as the 1970s, Native children in Maine were 19 times more likely to be removed by child welfare workers than non-Native children. Many children experienced devastating emotional harm in homes that shamed, demeaned, and erased their culture. 

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Producer Bruce Duthu, professor of Native Studies at Dartmouth, explains the importance of the TRC (1:46)

Americans should know that these atrocities are not history. Native children in Minnesota are still 14 times more likely to enter foster care than non-Native children; other states are not much better. Many Native people describe this persistent child welfare crisis as ongoing genocide resulting in cultural, emotional, and financial devastation—a stark contrast to most outsiders who are ignorant, misinformed or unaware of these abuses.

In fact, we’ve already created the short film First Light (that you can watch online now) to begin engaging with students and teachers about what’s happening in Maine.

Workshop at  Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, MA
Workshop at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, MA

Dawnland is an endeavor of the Upstander Project, a Boston organization helping bystanders become upstanders through compelling films and learning resources. An upstander is someone who makes a choice to stand up and speak out against injustice.

Dawnland will carry the commission's message throughout the country and beyond. Every child and adult in the United States should know this story and learn that no culture can survive the loss of its children. Dawnland is key to fostering this understanding.

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Upstander Project Learning Director Mishy Lesser on why we need more upstanders (1:28)

Our learning director, Dr. Mishy Lesser, is collaborating with educators and scholars to create a suite of learning resources that will help classroom and community educators throughout the world use Dawnland as a tool for understanding this largely unacknowledged and ongoing crisis in child welfare systems and, more broadly, the power of being an upstander.

Through years of education outreach, we’ve learned that if you put a great film and thoughtful educational resources together, you’ll impact children and adults around the world. Upstander Project’s first film, Coexist, and its educator resources have been used in hundreds of teacher workshops and thousands of schools. We’ll be using the same approach with Dawnland.

For $100,000 we can take a huge step toward finishing Dawnland and submit a “fine cut” to prestigious film festivals across the country this fall.

$100,000? That’s a lot, you might be thinking. Actually, all we need from you is $50,000. A generous donor has committed to matching our funding once we reach that mark!

If just 500 people donate $100, we’ll reach our goal.

And we know that we can do it, because we know the power of individual people coming together. We just watched it happen in Maine.

With your help, Dawnland can be shown in community centers, schools, film festivals and on TV across our nation—amplifying the voices of those who suffered the consequences of the government’s actions, and helping to ensure that these abuses never happen again.

Donating on Kickstarter is simple and secure, and available to everyone around the world. And, your donation is tax deductible!

  • Log into your Kickstarter account. If you don’t already have a Kickstarter account, click here to create one.
  • Click the green “Back This Project” button at the top of this page.
  • Enter your pledge amount and select a reward tier—this is the reward you want to receive. If you don't want a reward, select “No Reward.”
  • Submit your payment information and that’s it!

You should receive a confirmation email moments after you submit your payment information. Kickstarter accepts debit or credit cards associated with Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. All payments are in U.S. dollars.

Your card will only be charged after May 8th, and only if we are successful and reach our goal. 

Need help? We're here for you. If you have questions at any time, during or after the campaign has closed, email us at info@upstanderproject.org

The Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is the first of its kind in the United States, a groundbreaking moment in the history of government-tribal relations. It is the only such commission in the world convened by multiple governments in response to grassroots leadership. Additionally, it is the first truth and reconciliation commission in the United States to address indigenous issues. The commission's work has been closely followed by tribal leaders and government officials across the country and around the world, and the voices and conclusions of Maine's TRC are already creating a foundation for others to build upon.

Commissioners of the TRC: gkisedtanamoogk, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, Carol Wishcamper, Sandy White Hawk, and Dr. Gail Werrbach
Commissioners of the TRC: gkisedtanamoogk, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, Carol Wishcamper, Sandy White Hawk, and Dr. Gail Werrbach

The TRC, in part through Dawnland, has the potential to provide an honest and unblinking history of the failings of the child protection system and to create a path to cooperation between Native peoples and non-Native communities. These would be monumental goals under any circumstances, and the TRC tackled them with a short timeline—just 27 months—before closing in June 2015.

The TRC may have completed its task, but the work continues through Maine-Wabanaki REACH (Reconciliation, Engagement, Advocacy, Change, Healing). This organization, which was responsible for convening the TRC, will oversee the implementation of the TRC’s recommendations and use the commission's findings to continue to improve tribal-state relations.

ADAM MAZO is the co-director and producer of Dawnland. His feature film, Coexist, was nominated for an Africa Movie Academy Award in 2011 and aired domestically and internationally.

BEN PENDER-CUDLIP is the co-director and cinematographer of Dawnland. He has directed and photographed over a dozen short documentary films, including Sanjiban in 2012 (Hot Docs), and was selected as a 2014 Points North Fellow at the Camden International Film Festival alongside Mr. Mazo.

N. BRUCE DUTHU, J.D. is a producer of Dawnland. An enrolled member of the United Houma Nation of Louisiana, Duthu is an internationally recognized scholar of Native American law and policy and Samson Occom professor in the Native American Studies Program at Dartmouth.

MISHY LESSER, Ed.D., is Upstander Project’s learning director and an education fellow at UConn’s Dodd Research Center. She develops curricula for First Light and Dawnland. Mishy authored the Coexist Teacher’s Guide to promote learning about reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. She is a Circle Keeper and has been featured on WBUR (Boston) and PRI/BBC’s The World.

BETH MURPHY is the executive producer of Dawnland. Beth’s films have been featured on the Sundance Channel, PBS, and History Channel. Her latest film, What Tomorrow Brings, will premiere this spring at Hot Docs and will air on POV this fall.

KRISTEN SALERNO is the editor of Dawnland. Kristen has edited and sound mixed numerous short documentaries. She co-edited the public television documentary Raising of America, produced by California Newsreel and Vital Pictures.

We hope you’re as passionate as we are now about Dawnland. It’s hard not to be when you see how essential, yet unknown, this story is.

Maybe you’re thinking, “This is a great project! But I just can’t afford a big donation right now.” Don’t worry. Every little bit helps. Five dollars and five dollars and five dollars will get us to our goal.

Of course, if you happen to have $50,000, feel free to wrap up our campaign today!

We can make Dawnland happen, but only by working together. Back our project by clicking the green button at the top of the page.

Know how you can help even more? Spread the word about Dawnland! Share this page on Facebook and Twitter and email it to your friends via the links below or at the top of the page.

Thank you for your support!

We would like to recognize and thank these Upstander Project partners, supporters, and collaborators for their commitment to sustaining our work. They include: the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, Dean's Beans, Hawk Henries, International Center for Transitional Justice, LEF Foundation, Maine Community Foundation, Maine Humanities Council, Mass Humanities, Points North Documentary Film Forum, Teaching Tolerance, and Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

Risks and challenges

The good news is, we’ve already overcome many of the major challenges facing a documentary project. We’ve captured all of the footage we need to tell this important story. We have an experienced team that has completed much of the film’s editing, and we have a committed audience of educators and community leaders that are excited to see the finished product.

The one major challenge that lies before us is time. The best way to get DAWNLAND in front of as many people as possible is try our luck at premiering at a prestigious film festival, like Sundance. That means we have to finish DAWNLAND in time to meet festival deadlines in the fall.

Your financial support is the biggest step we can take toward jumping this hurdle. Once we have the funds to cover the rest of our work, we can commit every minute of our time to completing the film. And, we have something else big going for us—passion. Every single member of the Upstander Project team is passionate about making this film. We’re not nine to fivers. We’re willing to put in nights and weekends and do everything it takes to finish this film on time.

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    Your support will help get the word out about this important issue. We’ll give you a shout-out online!

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    Thanks for being an upstander. We’ll give you a DAWNLAND-themed summer reading list and a shout-out online!

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    Free download of our short documentary FIRST LIGHT (a prequel to DAWNLAND) and receive all of the above rewards.

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    New reward! Choose one map from a wide variety of beautiful 24" x 36" Tribal Nations Maps by our friend, mapmaker Aaron Carapella, and receive all of the rewards above.

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    Get an on-screen thank you in our feature film DAWNLAND and receive all of the above rewards.

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    Get a signed copy of the book SHADOW NATIONS by producer N. Bruce Duthu and receive all of the above rewards.

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    New reward! Choose one high-quality art canvas 24" x 36" Tribal Nations Map by our friend, mapmaker Aaron Carapella, and receive all of the rewards above. (Note: art canvas is offered instead of standard map)

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    Lunch with a member of the DAWNLAND filmmaking team in Boston area (travel and accommodations not included), an on-screen thank you in our feature film DAWNLAND, plus DVDs or downloads (your choice) of COEXIST, FIRST LIGHT, and DAWNLAND.

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    The Upstander Project education team will conduct a workshop at a school of your choice (travel and accommodations not included), an on-screen thank you in our feature film DAWNLAND, plus DVDs or downloads (your choice) of COEXIST, FIRST LIGHT, and DAWNLAND.

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Funding period

- (32 days)