There’s no shortage of familiarity in Dawnland.
Following Canada’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2008-15), the Maine-Wabanaki State Child Welfare TRC was opened in 2013. The commission unearthed the same kinds of assaults, and ruptures, and stolen lives—the Canada-U.S. border never mattered much when it came to the dynamic between settlers and Indigenous peoples—but the question framed by the filmmakers here has a greater scope than mere awareness. There is no national effort in the U.S., the governor’s name only comes up when a state representative remarks, “[He] was concerned people would ask for reparations,” and as the process makes clear, it takes a lot just to get to the Truth part. The hurry to attach reconciliation, to make up for centuries with a single documented push, is perhaps extremely premature.
Dawnland’s pacing and rigor are uneven, caught as it is between bureaucratic and empathetic points of view. But it’s effective—much of its running time is concerned with personal, hard-to-speak-of accounts—in the sense that this film exists because even with the Maine TRC and Canada’s Commission accessible to all online, few have read, watched someone else read, or viewed their contents for themselves, let alone meditated on their implications.