Our Shifting View

In a 1944 essay about the raging World War, George Orwell wrote, “History is written by the winners.” 1   This truth has been recognized throughout human history, and is poignantly reflected in the last several centuries’ worth of written histories of the indigenous peoples of North America.

We’ve begun to see a shift in perspective over the last couple of decades, as Indigenous people write their own histories, people campaign to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, and as the State of Maine convened a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013 “to discover what happened to Wabanaki families in the child welfare system, recommend improvements, and illuminate the path toward healing and cooperation.”

Father and child, Indian Island, Maine, Ben Pender-Cudlip, Photo (screen grab) courtesy: Upstander Project

The commission was the first of its kind in the country, and was initiated in response to a century-long policy of removing native children from their families, and placing them in foster care with white families.  As recently as the 1970s, one in four Native children nationwide was living in non-Native foster care, adoptive homes, or boarding schools. While it’s almost impossible to fathom the damage these policies have wrought on the culture and community of the tribes, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was determined to at least try.

The feature length documentary Dawnland documents that story, and we are thrilled to host a screening of the film this Thursday (11/15) at 6:30 PM.  Introducing the film and taking your questions will be Watertown’s own Dr. Mishy Lesser, who is the co-founder of Upstander Project, and learning director for Dawnland.


Georgina Sappier’s elementary report card from Mars Hill elementary in Mars Hill, Maine for the years 1947-1953, Ben Pender-Cudlip, Photo (screen grab) courtesy: Upstander Project

We hope you’ll join us for the film. But we also hope you’ll join us in relearning what we thought we already knew: the history and experience of indigenous people in these United States.

Here are a few books and DVDs that might interest you.  If there are works by or about indigenous people that you believe we should have in the WFPL, please let us know!


The name of war : King Philip’s War and the origins of American identity / Jill Lepore

The Earth is weeping : the epic story of the Indian wars for the American West / Peter Cozzens

Indian New England before the Mayflower / Howard S. Russell

Good Friday on the rez : a Pine Ridge odyssey / David Hugh Bunnell

The other slavery : the uncovered story of Indian enslavement in America / Andrés Reséndez

An indigenous peoples’ history of the United States / Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

The earth shall weep : a history of Native America/ James Wilson

Facing East from Indian country : a Native history of early America / Daniel K. Richter

Plundered skulls and stolen spirits : inside the fight to reclaim native America’s culture / Chip Colwell


We shall remain : America through native eyes

500 Nations


By Jill, WFPL Adult and Reference Services Supervisor

1.  http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/inv_inn.usm/orwell3.html
Feature image: Georginia Sappier-Richardson sharing her story at a TRC community visit, Ben Pender-Cudlip, Photo (screen grab) courtesy: Upstander Project

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