By: Jenasa Staples, Staff Writer
In honor of the first people to walk on American land, at the end of November the Portland Museum of Art played Sundance Institute Indigenous Shorts and Dear Georgina, one movie with multiple short films reflecting the lives of indigenous people.
The first films presented their stories artistically through dance, song and moments wrought with emotion. Viewing these films gave an opportunity to begin dipping a toe into the ocean of Indigenous Peoples’ history, not just universally but close to home, here in Maine.
First presented are two young ballerinas dancing outside on snow, grass, dirt and all the other features of Swedish land they had been forced to concede over the past centuries. The next film is a story about a myth told by indigenous people to help those who have fainted. The myth is scripted across the screen and the background displays the myth visually. There is also a film that shares the story of a young indigenous man who struggles with mourning and honoring his father who had passed away. Indigenous people live uniquely with a strong connection to the land they live on, each other and to their lively traditions, culture and beliefs. The connection is felt when the short film of two girls throat sing on their native arctic land, laughing together after every song. One way indigenous people connect to the land is by utilizing it with a few tools and bare hands to create and build. One of the short films is an indigenous man weaving a basket which is said to help bring him peace.
The film that really tugs on the heartstrings is the truth about Georgina Sappier-Richardson. Georgina is an older woman from Maine who told her story about being taken from her indigenous family at two years old and abused by her foster family throughout the rest of her childhood. This is an eye-opening piece that gives insight to the damage caused to indigenous people who were taken from their families. From childhood until they were ready to leave their foster homes many were banned from being with their families, banned from speaking their language and even banned from wearing the natural color of their skin. One story revealed in the film that some foster families would bleach the indigenous children’s skin to lighten it.
According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association, up until 1978 when the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was created, 25 to 35% of indigenous children were being taken from their families. Today, indigenous children are still four times more likely to be removed from their families than their white counterparts.
The Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the Commission) began a mission to capture the truth from the indigenous people who lived their lives separated from their family, stripped of their culture and tortured for being different.
The commission interviewed over 150 people. Sharing their stories helped Wabanaki people begin their healing process. According to the Commission, many of the Wabanaki people said they chose to share their story because they didn’t want what happened to them to be repeated.
Sundance supports indigenous film cycles, allowing indigenous people to be captured in their creative state and bring art back into their native land. This supports indigenous people and allows for others to see things from a different perspective and gain education on indigenous people’s lives.
As said by Maine-Wabanaki, Gkisedtanamoogk, a prior professor at USM and Ted Talk speaker bringing light to indigenous people’s stories, “One common thread that bound us together was a deep abyss of love and gratitude.” More importantly, though, he does not just mean connecting indigenous people, but he means the connection that all human beings have to one another. “The life between sky and earth, everything is connected, everything, even people.”