Indigenous Peoples’ Day event draws a packed crowd for documentary screening with filmmaker

Zoe Fraley
Office of University Communications

There were laughs, tears and a standing ovation as a packed crowd gathered to commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day Monday night.

The event, which brought more than 300 people to Whatcom Community College’s Syre Center, started with a traditional Coast Salish dinner of barbecued salmon, salad and fry bread, a warm welcome and a performance by the Westshore Canoe Family.

The focus of the event was a screening of the documentary “Daughter of a Lost Bird,” which follows protagonist and producer Kendra Mylnechuk Potter as she meets her birth mother, learns more about their history and her mother’s adoption, and grapples with her identity as she explores her Native origins on the Lummi Nation. Following a long standing ovation, Potter and the film’s director, Brooke Pepion Swaney, took questions after the screening, as students from Bellingham Public Schools read questions submitted by the audience.

They talked about the long process of creating the film as the story unfolded; Kendra was pregnant at the start with her daughter who is now 9. Potter talked about the connection she still has with her birth mother and shared that she is now an enrolled member of Lummi Nation.

“I am really lucky to be Lummi,” she said of the welcome and love she felt when she visited for the first time. “I thought I was looking for my birth mother, and I found my tribe.”

Swaney shared her concerns about an upcoming Supreme Court case that will challenge the Indian Child Welfare Act, the 43-year-old federal law explored in the documentary that governs the removal and out-of-home placement of Native children, enacted to end the systematic removal of Native children from their homes to be placed with non-Native families.

“We need to do all we can as a community to keep Native kids tied to their culture,” she said.

Both speakers talked about the importance of telling Native stories, with the hope that their film can move viewers and get them thinking and talking about other people’s experiences.

“If you have a microphone — if you have a phone anymore — you can tell your story,” Potter said. “So keep telling them.”

Supporting partners for this event include Western Washington University, Northwest Indian College, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, Swinomish Education, Bellingham Public Schools, City of Bellingham, PeaceHealth, Children of the Setting Sun and Skagit Valley College.

A video from the event will be posted on Western’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day page when it is available.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022
Western's Laural Ballew presents blankets on the stage for Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Laural Ballew, Western's Executive Director of American Indian, Alaska Native and First Nations Relations & Tribal Liaison, took part in the Indigenous Peoples' Day event and shared an update about Western's Longhouse project.