Daughter of a Lost Bird: Review (2022 Indigenous Film Showcase)

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Presented at Native Cinema Showcase 2022, the girl of a lost bird is a documentary revealing the shocking ongoing treatment of Indigenous youth.


The 2022 Indigenous Film Showcase continues, showing Indigenous voices and aspects of Indigenous culture to a wider audience. Such an offer from them is Daughter of a Lost Birda sometimes goofy but revealing documentary about a practice that went largely unreported regarding Native Americans, and the steps being taken to address it. Indigenous tribes putting their children up for adoption is a sad reality in the United States, but the means for them to reconnect with their families is improving, and government action and dedicated research made this movie possible. Director Brooke Swaney takes a disturbing coincidence and turns it into a search for identity with alarming results.

For his 2012 short film Breathe AuraléeSwaney actress Kendra Mylencuk Potter as a native adoptee of a white family. Little did she know that not only was Kendra herself a native adopted from a white family, but her mother April was too. Being a generation removed from her heritage of the Lummi tribe, Kendra felt no connection to her heritage or any problem with modern integration. After some discussions and arrangements with her tribe, however, Kendra decided to reconnect with her birth family. Swaney, herself a member of the Blackfeet and Salish tribes, sympathized with Kendra and turned her search into a documentary.

The name “Lost Bird” is given to Aboriginal adoptees by their tribes as a commemoration. The term was inspired by a woman named Lost Bird found as a baby by General Leonard Colby after the Wounded Knee Massacre. Since then, many Native children have been put up for adoption in hopes of a better life, integration into American culture, or for financial reasons. Some children, like Kendra, managed to integrate without difficulty. Others, like Kendra’s mother, struggle with abusive households and suffer because they come from two worlds. This practice is almost ignored by modern American media. Putting it on film grabs attention and shows many stories like Kendra’s in action. The Indian Welfare Rights Act has made things easier, but for those born before its enactment, it cannot help them.

Daughter of a Lost Bird (Indigenous Cinema Showcase 2022)

Kendra’s search takes seven years. After reconnecting with her mother in Portland, Oregon, Kendra is finally invited to the Lummi reservation. She witnesses the culture with its songs and arts and crafts for the first time and falls in love with it. Despite this, there are still links to be made and she must return to her native country. In keeping with the old American mantra of “kill the Indian, save the man”, Kendra has been saved, but still doesn’t know if she deserves it.

The documentary lasts a little over an hour. It sometimes feels unfinished, with clunky edits and text breaks disrupting part of the story. The ambiguous ending and unresolved storylines may be disappointing, but they show Kendra’s journey continues and can play both sides of the issue. As an actress, Kendra’s representation might seem ingenuous, given the knowledge she’s capable of accomplishing for a character outside of that setting. Since this is Swaney’s first feature-length documentary, some leniency can be given to its flaws, and if his first effort was this remarkable, his second should be even better.

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Globally, Daughter of a Lost Bird does what a good documentary should by presenting a specific subject not known to the public and developing it by telling a story through said subject. The struggles of Indigenous children and their attempts to reconnect are often ignored by the mainstream media, but they are an important aspect of Indigenous culture today. The film presents the modern state of Indigenous peoples in America and investigates why their culture is dying. However, as this film has shown, reconnecting with him is easier now than before.


Daughter of a Lost Bird is available to watch on demand on November 18–25 as part of the National Museum of the American Indian’s 2022 Indigenous Cinema Showcase. Click here to read more reviews of the event.

2022 Indigenous Film Showcase: Trailer (National Museum of the American Indian)

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