VIFF Film Review - Daughter of a Lost Bird (2021)

Daughter of a Lost Bird is a heart wrenching documentary that follows Kendra, a Native American woman, and her journey to connect with her birth mother April. Kendra was adopted as a baby and raised outside of her Native culture by a White family. In adulthood, Kendra began to identify with her Native ancestry and as a young actress she frequently landed roles as Indigenous characters but felt conflicted portraying them since she had identified as only White for so long.

You really get to see the internal struggle that Kendra has as a mixed race individual who was raised with no connection to her Native culture. “I identified as White … this strange confusion of White guilt, Native anger…where does it sit in me and how do I sit with both of these things”. Kendra has a desire to be recognized as Native but is still trying to figure out what exactly that means.

Feelings of anxiety and a bit of fear come up when Kendra finally meets her birth mother April. But watching them get acquainted with each other is so moving. April’s back story is one of trauma, abuse, deep pain, struggle, recovery and resilience. She just glows in the presence of Kendra and it is so beautiful seeing April use her Indigenous traditions of smudging, song, and offering medicines to build a relationship with her daughter.

Connecting with the Lummi Nation offers healing for both Kendra and April but it also brings up conflicting feelings for Kendra. Even though she is welcomed “home” by every person she meets, it doesn’t feel like home to her and she feels like a visitor amongst her new found family.

I imagine this is true for so many Indigenous folks, myself included, who grew up off reserve and being raised without learning your culture and traditions. There’s a deep feeling of lost identity and wondering if you really belong. And when you connect all of that back to the realization that so many Indigenous people have lost their identity as a direct result of colonialism it brings great sadness. “As I’m slowly finding my own way through identity, realizing that I am actually a perfect example of assimilation, …it’s tragic. I just don’t know how to be with that”.

On the surface this documentary is about an adoption story and the journey of two women reconnecting with their lost culture. But truly this doc goes much deeper than that, touching on incredibly important issues that face Indigenous children who were adopted and raised without their culture.

Daughter of a Lost Bird will be available to stream via VIFF Connect and limited in-cinema screenings.

The 40th annual Vancouver International Film Festival runs Oct 1 – 11.

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