Difficult conversations are exactly that — difficult. But, more often than not, they are vital to have, so that all parties involved can learn, atone, heal and grow.
That’s one of the reasons why Maulian Dana, Dawn Neptune Adams and Tim Shay, all members of the Penobscot Nation, decided to collaborate with the filmmakers at the Upstander Project on a short film, “Bounty,” that details one of countless painful chapters in the history of Indigenous people in North America.
“Bounty,” available to watch for free online at bountyfilm.org, shows Dana, Adams and Shay reading aloud to their children the Phips Proclamation of 1755, one of the dozens of government-issued bounty proclamations that directed colonial settlers to hunt, scalp and kill Indigenous people for money.
In the proclamation, Lt. Gov. Spencer Phips of the Massachusetts Bay Colony gave colonists license to indiscriminately kill Penobscot people for the entire month of November in 1755. The reward was the equivalent of about $12,000 in today’s dollars for the scalp or body of a man, half that for a woman’s scalp and a bit less for a child. It’s not known exactly how many Penobscot people were killed, but 68 other similar proclamations were issued in New England in the 18th and 19th century.
“We talk about the genocide that happens in other places, but we don’t talk about the genocide that happened right here,” Dana said.
The film was directed by Dana and Adams alongside Adam Mazo of the Upstander Project, the nonprofit film organization that produces documentaries about social justice and accompanying educational programming. Upstander was also responsible for feature-length documentary “Dawnland,” about Maine’s Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which won a 2019 Emmy Award for Outstanding Research.
Adams, one of the many Penobscot and Passamaquoddy people who as children were involuntarily removed from their homes by the state of Maine and placed with white foster families, grew up in Brewer, where she felt disconnected from other Penobscot people. She did not learn about the sorrowful history of Indigenous people in New England until after graduating from Brewer High School.
“I learned so much about my family history from a Penobscot Nation genealogist, Glenn Starbird, who had a copy of this scalp proclamation framed on his wall,” Adams said. “That was the start of my learning. It has been a really intense journey.”
Adams did a lot of work with Upstander around the release of “Dawnland,” including talkback sessions after screenings of the film, and said unpacking both the historical trauma and her personal trauma in public was really hard.
“Ultimately, it was very beneficial to me to go through it,” she said. “I can’t say I recommend doing that kind of therapy in front of an audience, but, it happened. All of it happened.”
“Bounty” was shot inside the council chambers of the old State House in Boston, where the proclamation was originally signed 266 years ago, a symbolic choice that makes the film even more powerful.
“Things like this live in the collective consciousness of the community,” Mazo said. “We deserve to know the full truth of our history.”