Review of Little Bird series by Wendy Millstine

I watched the miniseries of Little Bird (2023), based on a true story, which follows a young Indigenous woman from Canada, who was adopted by a Jewish family, as she reconnects with her past and finds her birth family. According to The Guardian, in an article titled, “Cultural genocide: the shameful history of Canada’s residential schools – mapped”, more than 150,000 children were taken from their homes between 1883 and 1997. Before I even started the series, I asked my usual questions: Who is the director? Is this another white interpretation of the stolen Indigenous children from families? Are there any Indigenous actors? How was this film received by critically aware reviewers?

Here’s what I learned: This film is directed by Elle-Máijá Apiniskim Tailfeathers, a Blackfoot and Sámi filmmaker, actor, and producer from the Kainai First Nation in Canada. It was co-written by Zoe Hopkins, an Indigenous filmmaker, writer, director, Mohawk language speaker and teacher. The series received several accolades, including Representation of Race and Ethnicity – Scripted at MIPCOM’s Diversify TV Awards, the audience award at the 2023 Series Mania festival, and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series. The lead actor Darla Contois is from the Misipawistik Cree Nation in Manitoba, Canada. And there are other supporting Indigenous actors in the series.

Little Bird features an Indigenous woman who is removed from her childhood home on a Saskatchewan reserve during what was called the “Sixties Scoop” and adopted into a Montreal Jewish family. The series follows her quest to find the truth about her birth family. The Sixties Scoop refers to the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families into the child welfare system, in most cases without the consent of their families. It was common practice in British Columbia in the mid-sixties to ‘scoop’ from their mothers on reserves almost all newly born children. Aboriginal children were seized and taken from their homes and placed, in most cases, into middle-class Euro-Canadian families. Little Bird is the story of one indigenous child who was stolen from her family and siblings on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Regina, Saskatchewan Canada and adopted by a Jewish Holocaust survivor mother. From what I learned in the film, even though significant changes have taken place in child welfare laws to address this issue, Indigenous children are still vastly over-represented in welfare care cases and children are still being taken away similar to those seen during the Sixties Scoop persist today.

A striking component of the film is the haunting songs and lyrics throughout. The intro song to each episode is by one of my favorite folk singers, Buffy Sainte-Marie, with the featured track, “Hey, Little Bird.” The lyrics immediately drove me to tears and reminded me of how few Native People’s voices are known or supported in the mainstream music industry. If you haven’t heard of this American singer, I would encourage you to check her out. She’s also a social activist who writes on issues facing Indigenous peoples, including themes on love, war, religion, and mysticism. Though she is not native born or Indigenous, she is an honorary member of the Piapot First nation.

I highly recommend this film series, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Each episode involves highly charged emotional and psychological topics like police brutality, violence, drug abuse, and so on. I found that I could not watch more than one every couple of days. It also helped to watch it with my mom, so we could process our heavy feelings, questions and utter devastating consequences of these tragic familial ruptures.

This series also reminded me of movie, “The Rabbitproof Fence,” which tells of the horrors of Maoris and Australian Aboriginal children kidnapped from their birth families and forced into White colonial assimilation.

All I can really say is that we can’t be silent or complicit when we learn about these injustices. We need to do better. We need to not wait to speak up or act on pressuring our governments to right the wrongs. There needs to be international tribunals and racial reckonings.

And just as an aside, RJA tackled this topic in a free community dialogue back in July of 2022. We shared a short but powerful documentary titled “First Light”, which documents these practices from the 1800s to today and tells the story of an unprecedented experiment in a truth and reconciliation process for Wabanaki people and child welfare workers in Maine. Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more:

I’ll end this blog with some closing questions for myself:

  • What stereotypes do I have about indigenous and Native people?
  • How has this series opened my awareness about racism and cultural genocide?
  • What can I do to be a part of ending this kind of discrimination?
  • What are the organizations that are working to end this type of white colonization and systems of oppression?
  • How do we as a community participate in racial awareness and support, promote and uplift the voices of marginalized people?

Little Bird series is streaming on Amazon Prime, in case you’re interested.

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