Friday, December 23, 2016

Tiny Horrors

Handcuffs for a child. (Background)
There are some things we just almost can’t comprehend.

One of the joys of the writing journey I’m on is discovering new things about the world. Seeing wolf puppies for the first time, watching black bear cubs romping through the woods, seeing first-hand the thermal power of the earth displayed in a kaleidoscope of color and forms throughout Yellowstone.

With that beauty and wonder, however, sometimes comes reminders of a past that rips apart my fairy tale about being human. I believe in the goodness of the human heart, but researching this book has forced me to pay equal attention to the dark shadow that follows every step we take.

Today’s reminder came in the form of handcuffs, tiny handcuffs, made to control small children as they were taken away from reservations to boarding schools where they were taught to “assimilate” (translation: look, act and talk like white people.) (Too much more.)

This story I’m writing is FICTION. Meant to be an adventurous journey taken by two, sixtyish women and a teenage boy. I wanted it to be realistic enough to include life and death, pain and joy, love and hate. But, it keeps pulling me into places I had no idea existed and definitely didn’t plan on visiting. 

This morning’s discovery almost knocked me out. I knew enough history to know about the attempts to assimilate Indian children and about the boarding schools. But, I didn’t know enough to think about them as anything more than misguided. Fortunately, there are people thinking about these things on much deeper levels.

Somewhat offsetting the heartbreaking handcuffs shown above, I discovered Upstander Project dedicated to helping "bystanders become upstanders through compelling documentary films and learning resources.” 
One of the documentaries they will release later this year is Dawnland, the remarkable story of a unique project of truth and reconciliation around a centuries-old practice of taking Native children away from their families.

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.

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