NATASHA DEL TORO: Kendra Potter never knew about her birth family or her Native American culture.
KENDRA: I think there's some, a part of my identity that I've created that's a mystery.
DEL TORO: Years later, she embarks on a journey full of surprises and revelations.
KENDRA: Being Lummi, part of that is also then owning that this is what has happened to my people.
DEL TORO: "Daughter of a Lost Bird," on America ReFramed.
♪ PEOPLE: Four, three, two, one!
♪ (cheering) KENDRA: It's 8:50, that's not too late to call somebody.
(entering number) (quietly): She's not going to answer.
APRIL (on voicemail greeting): Hi, you've reached April... Do I leave a voicemail?
(greeting continues) KENDRA: Um... Hi, April.
This is Kendra Potter, your, uh, birth daughter.
I don't know if leaving a voicemail is too weird.
I, I just, uh... (breathes deeply) Hi.
I like the sound of your voice.
Um, I, I thought, I would try you, um...
If you would like to call me back, I encourage you to do so.
(laughs) Uh, I'll be up, I don't know, for probably, like, another hour or so this evening.
(object clicks) That was the lamest voicemail I ever left.
(laughs) (laughs and snorts) "I like the sound of your voice"?
(laughing) Now I guess I just, like, hang out in case she calls back?
(cellphone ringing and buzzing) (ringtone and buzzing stop) Hello.
♪ (children talking in background) DAD: Kendy Bear.
(laughs) DAD: Kendra, look.
KENDRA: I always felt really lucky that I was adopted.
(laughs): In my head, I always thought that my life was actually a little bit better than everyone else's.
(singing indistinctly) DAD: Come and stand on the rug, Kendy.
- Now what?
You spent half the time looking at the cat, not looking at me.
DAD: Well, I'm looking at both of you right now.
Is that your favorite kitty?
KENDRA: I grew up in a super-, super-, super-white community.
DAD: Get the cat off the stupid couch there, look at it.
- (playing slowly) KENDRA: The Native-ness didn't really come up for me too much, because I felt like I always blended well enough.
- (singing hymn) KENDRA: A princess.
CLOWN: You wanna be a princess?
MOM: My concern, especially when you were little, is, you looked enough different from all your cousins, the little blonde towheads, that I didn't wanna do anything more to distinguish you.
(boy yelling, toy guns playing imitation gunfire) We tried to treat you as though you had our ancestry, until the point where you went after your own.
People said, "She looks Italian."
Several people had said to me, "She looks Italian or Spanish," and I said, "Yeah, she, she kinda does," and we just let it go at that.
This is her adoption pictures.
DAD: Picture, right there.
MOM: This is one of the earliest pictures of... DAD: That's a very early...
MOM: That's, like, the same day, or the, couple days later.
That's a very, very early picture.
DAD: I think that's my first picture with her, right there.
DAD: Is that one.
♪ BROOKE SWANEY: Ten years ago, Kendra and I made a short film.
I cast Kendra as a Native character who had been adopted.
Which turned out to be a strange coincidence, because as we made the movie, I learned that her own story was actually the same as her character's.
Both were raised outside of their Native culture and by a white family.
A lot of the professional work Kendra gets as an actor, she plays Native characters.
- Now, don't change the subject, did you bring her back?
- She's at the house if you wanna come see her.
KENDRA: You know, I've really struggled with how to be, and then whether or not I'm ethically breaking rules-- which, I know, you and I have had this conversation.
You've always been, like, "No, it's fine."
(chuckles): "You are Native, you can say you're Native, it's okay."
(sniffs) But I don't, I don't really know if I know what that is.
- Marker... SWANEY: I'm Blackfeet and Salish, and grew up in Montana, both on and off my mom's reservation.
Elders from my mom and dad's tribes always talk about how important it is to know who you are.
The way my family and other Native families keep track of relatives, I thought, if we could find out Kendra's tribe, we could go there, ask around, and find her Native family.
KENDRA: I think there's a, a part of my identity that I've created that's a mystery, and so, the idea of uncovering the mystery gets a little wonky.
Because then I have this, this different identity that's probably gonna feel just fine, but the anticipation of it's pretty... Terrifying.
Okay, birth date.
I mean, birth name.
WOMAN (on phone): For adoption services, press 2.
ADOPTION AGENT: I'd like to get into the database so I'm clear on what we're talking about here.
So I've got the registry from your birth mother.
So okay, well, good.
KENDRA: So the email that she sent, "Your birth mother, she's also adopted.
"Her father was full Native American from Lummi tribe.
She is attempting to enroll in the Lummi Nation."
I don't know, like, just sit on it?
(waves lapping) ♪ LUTIE HILLAIRE: Everybody that comes to Lummi, I always say, "Well, who are you and what are you doing here, "and how come you're here and away from home?
What do you want?"
And I do that to everybody, no matter who they are.
I guess because, uh, we've been hurt so many times in our lives, as Native people.
And we have the mistrust.
We have to, you have to gain your trust in order for some of us to speak.
- (talking faintly in background) ♪ HILLAIRE: We were forbid to do our traditional beliefs, and our people were put to, put in jail for practicing our belief.
And it's not easy thing to talk about.
We were forced to go to school.
Kids were pulled out of their homes, some of them not even knowing, the families not even knowing where their children were.
The churches and the government took our kids and put them in foster care, foster homes.
SWANEY: I grew up knowing the terrible history that the U.S. has with its Indigenous people and my family.
After centuries of stolen land and genocide, our people did not die out.
We survived, an obstacle to Manifest Destiny.
♪ So the U.S. came up with a solution to get rid of us: absorb and assimilate.
- On the one hand, we have the Navajo as we find him in the desert.
Few of these boys and girls have ever seen a white man, yet, through the agencies of the government, they are being rapidly brought from their state of comparative savagery and barbarism to one of civilization.
- ♪ John Brown had a little Indian ♪ ♪ John Brown had a little Indian ♪ ♪ John Brown had a little Indian ♪ ♪ One little Indian boy SWANEY: The Indian Adoption Project began in 1958 as a government effort to remove Native children from their families and place them in white homes.
MAN: For decades, Indian parents and their children have been at the mercy, abusive action of local, state, federal, and private agency officials.
- Between 25% and 35% of all American Indian children are removed from their families.
MAN: Welfare agencies seem to have operated on the premise that most Indian children would really be better off growing up non-Indian.
It has been called by some cultural genocide.
ADELE KINLEY: As you get older, you realize the significance of that.
My four siblings that were shipped off, all of them have passed away.
The only ones of us who survived were the ones who grew up on the reservation.
SWANEY: These kids weren't unwanted orphans.
They were a pawn in a war to end tribes.
One of the most effective ways to bring a people to its knees: get rid of the children.
But Indigenous people kept fighting back.
In the late '70s, Native grassroots activists pushed through legislation called the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA.
The law prioritizes keeping Native kids within their own tribes.
DAD: What is it?
KENDRA: My birth mother is also adopted.
- (singing) KENDRA: So, when I was put up for adoption, I was, like, a special case, because there wasn't a tribe.
(people talking in background) SWANEY: Kendra's birth mother was born during the years when a lot of adoptions had no paper trail.
This generation of kids later became known as lost birds, named after Lost Bird, a Lakota woman who was adopted and raised by a general who massacred her family at Wounded Knee.
♪ Having headaches ♪ I am imitating Indians KENDRA: Because of the politically gray area surrounding my adoption... - (continues singing) KENDRA: ...I understand they didn't feel like it was safe to explain to a three-year-old.
To be, like, "Oh, you're Native, but we also don't know where from."
But I am curious about ancestry and about how ancestry shapes us.
Does anybody have any injuries or special circumstances that we should-- oh, sorry-- chat about briefly?
KENDRA: There's this desire to be recognized as Native, but what is Native anymore?
Like, what, how do we... You know, if, if you are a Native American person living in an urban environment who's never set foot on any kind of, you know, reservation, knows nothing about your culture and heritage... (music playing) ...and I'm standing proud in that Native-ness, but, like, what is that Native-ness?
I don't know.
It's elusive to me what it is, and I would like to know what it is, so that I can try to possess it.
...right leg back behind you as far as you can.
Exhale, step that right foot between your hands.
Lift your heart as you inhale.
Exhale, step your left foot up to meet your right.
Fold over your legs.
It's a crazy thing that I'm, like, I've never seen my own blood.
(people talking in background) - Okay, now I wanna take you and your mama.
- Yeah, good idea.
(all talking at once) - ♪ You must have been a beautiful baby ♪ ♪ You must have been a wonderful child ♪ WOMAN: Who is this one from, Kendra?
- My mom.
WOMAN: Actually not, but... KENDRA: But it's your handwriting and it says "Kendra and Child"!
(all laughing) WOMAN: There's a box of tissues in the kitchen.
(laughing) KENDRA: I can't fathom how somebody would go through this experience of feeling someone move inside of them and not be... ...changed forever.
♪ - (babbles playfully) KENDRA (on voicemail): Hey, Brooke, it's Kendra.
I just got an email from Lynn at Boys and Girls Aid, and the email says, "Your birth mother, she just called me.
"She is so delighted to know "that you made the decision to register.
"She agrees that starting your reunion through letters is a good idea."
Oh, man, it's all happening!
♪ KENDRA: When I get really honest with myself, the idea of meeting my birth mother, I'm terrified of what I might find.
(chuckles) (laughs) (wind blowing) (phone ringing and buzzing) KENDRA: Hello.
APRIL: Hi, Kendra, it's April.
APRIL: Oh, my God!
- Oh, my God!
(laughing) (sniffles): Hi!
(laughing) APRIL: I, like, wanted to send a ton of pictures and I wanted to send some of my dad's stuff, and I was, like, "No."
(sobbing) I don't wanna overwhelm you, I just, I just wanted you to know that you're so loved.
(sobs, exhales deeply) You are the one thing that I did right... (Kendra cries) ...for many, many, many years.
You are the one thing that I did right.
- (sobbing) (April exhales deeply) - (sobs) APRIL: And I'm so honored that you came back just to let me know.
- I'm gonna puke, I'm gonna puke, I'm gonna puke... GPS: Arrived at The Grotto.
- I'm gonna puke, I'm gonna puke, I'm gonna puke, I'm gonna puke, I'm gonna puke, I'm gonna puke, I'm gonna...
I'm gonna puke.
(elevator chimes) WOMAN (on elevator speaker): ...green garden setting to be reminded of the presence of God in nature.
The gardens, chapels, and artwork... - I don't want it to open, I feel really anxious.
WOMAN: We're sure you will enjoy your visit.
(doors open) ♪ APRIL (chuckling): Hi.
KENDRA (chuckles): Hi.
♪ (heartbeat thumping) (laughing) KENDRA: Hi.
KENDRA: I love your earrings.
APRIL: Oh, thank you.
(Kendra chuckling) APRIL: It's really hard to wrap my mind around.
KENDRA: I know.
APRIL: It is, like, I'm not getting it right now.
Like, I'm... (sighs) KENDRA: I, yeah, I think it's too much.
APRIL: I have a million questions.
KENDRA: Start, let's go.
Dive right in!
(sniffles) APRIL: I never allowed myself to believe that I would be able to meet Kendra.
It was a closed adoption.
Back then, it was all very hush-hush.
I had spent my entire pregnancy truly believing that, for whatever reason that I cannot grasp, that Creator chose me to carry her for nine months for her parents.
I knew that I was not capable of, of doing anything but bringing her to her parents.
So then, when we contacted each other, I was scared.
I was afraid that, that I would create more questions for her than provide answers.
- You have not asked about... KENDRA: My birth father.
It's coming-- I mean, yes, tell me about him.
APRIL: I don't have much.
I've not been able to find him.
He was my first love.
APRIL: I was in high school.
I ran away from home to be with him.
And I have looked for him.
(crow cawing, train horn blowing in distance) Do you smudge?
KENDRA: Yeah, but I don't think I do it right.
(laughs) APRIL: Because, what I wanted to ask you before, like, I brought my shell, and I brought smudge, KENDRA: Uh-huh.
APRIL: And I brought some other stuff to mix, if you were okay with... KENDRA: Yes.
APRIL: ...with smudging.
- I just have my own, what I've been taught.
Not trying to portray myself as some great, big, amazing Native American.
(April laughs) APRIL: But this was Dad's.
This was my dad's, and I got it after, after he passed.
(April murmuring) Do you know about praying and offering to... KENDRA: I know about it, but I don't, I don't have any.
Do you have some?
APRIL: And that was Dad's.
So, I've had that for 15 years.
I don't even know if it's even open.
But that's, that's for you.
That's for you to take, and then, um... (April chanting) ♪ APRIL: I was adopted at birth.
My birth mother's mother had really tried to erase any paper trail back to her side of the family, and she did not want anyone to know that there was a Native American child that was connected to her family, so she had had the names changed on the birth certificate.
SWANEY: April's birth mother was white and an unwed teenager.
She was pressured by April's grandmother to give her up for adoption because April's father was Native.
APRIL: My birth mother spent the entire pregnancy hearing things like, "You've been ruined by Indian seed."
And because my adoptive parents had no idea, I ended up with three different birth certificates in my life, and two adoptions.
And there is a piece of me that really loved my family, but at the same time, I didn't look like anyone.
I didn't think like any of them.
I was a real wild card, and...
There was abuse.
I spent some years going to school with whipping marks on my legs, and, um...
When I see that, I don't see myself.
No, but I have no memories of any of that time.
So, I look at it and it's like looking at somebody else's little girl.
KENDRA: When do you have memories?
APRIL: Mm... After I was nine.
- I was constantly looking out here for something to fix that hole that was inside, and no matter where I reached, it always dissipated, and it didn't work, until...
I started doing drugs and alcohol.
KENDRA: You're beautiful.
So, where were you living at this time?
APRIL: On the streets.
KENDRA: Just, like, downtown, like, in... APRIL: Probably, yeah, downtown.
♪ APRIL: From 15 to 21, those were the years of really hard drug usage and working the streets.
The life that I was living was not working at all.
Not long after I got clean, I was, um...
I was raped for the last time.
And that was the first time that that happened when I was sober, and when I was physically, mentally, and spiritually present.
Um, so that sent me into a really hard tailspin that, um...
I struggled for the next ten years.
(siren wailing in distance) (child yelling, siren getting louder) APRIL: So it was the dead set of winter, it was snowing, but I couldn't sleep underneath the fountain anymore.
KENDRA: Mm-hmm, 'cause it was too cold.
APRIL: It was too cold and the water wasn't running, and so, out of desperation, because I didn't have money and I wasn't able to make money anymore because I was so sick, um, I came here, and in that bathroom right there is where the first night I sat up and kept hitting the hand dryer all night to stay warm, 'cause it's one of the heated hand dryers.
And then the next day, I couldn't move this arm.
So, the next night I came here and hit with the other hand, and then I couldn't move either arm.
So then, the next night I came and I laid on my back, and I kicked it with one foot, and then came back the next night, and kicked it with one foot.
I mean, it was just, it was one of... One of those moments, right?
Where it was just, it was, like, "Oh, something's gotta give.
Something's gotta change."
KENDRA: Did you not have, like, friends?
APRIL: Not by that time, mm-mm.
(voice trembling): I'm so far from who that was.
But I, but I feel for her, right?
Like, it's not, it's not even feelings for me.
It's just, I see that part of me, and I just wanna hug her.
(laughs) And I'm so grateful you weren't a part of any of that.
(sobbing) ♪ ♪ (talking in background) KENDRA: Oh, right, I told you about that.
KENDRA: They, like, didn't take me to the mall without covering me up for... DAD: For a while, yeah.
MOM: For a while.
MOM: He said, he said, "Normally, we don't adopt children close to their place of birth."
DAD: Birth, yeah.
MOM: He said, "This is an exception."
Kendra's three weeks old, pushes her feet into my mother's lap, and stands bolt upright at three weeks.
MOM: And my mother says, "Oh, you're gonna have trouble with this one."
(laughing) And she was just standing there, like, and it was, like, it was, like, "I will control my head, I will control my head."
(laughing) KENDRA: I was really hoping that our child would take after Tyler... (laughing) And I, I've been profoundly grateful that she is who she is, but... ♪ (people talking in background) SUKHA: Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep.
Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep.
KENDRA: Cheep cheep!
(footsteps pounding) KENDRA: I've fallen right back into my life, and everything has changed and also nothing has changed at all.
(to Sukha): Why were you doing something silly like that?
KENDRA: Which leaves me in this really confusing space of not knowing.
(sniffs) I'm a wreck.
There aren't very many slugs that I've seen around in Montana, but in Oregon, there's tons of them.
SUKHA: But where can I live?
KENDRA: Well, you can live anywhere you like.
KENDRA: Well, I hope it's always close to me, because I like you.
KENDRA: To have never met anyone who has lived in those kinds of shoes, and then to know that, that within those shoes was the womb in which I grew, it's, like, it was such a heavy weekend!
(laughs) And I was broken.
I mean, I was really broken after it.
I never felt like I needed a mother.
I have a great mom.
It's a relief that it doesn't feel like she wants to be a mom, either.
(birds chirping) ♪ (talking in background) APRIL: Whoo, that wasn't so scary, huh?
KENDRA: You can have the experience of birth, or... APRIL: Carrying a child, but it's totally different to be committed to a child.
APRIL: And being there day in and day out and teaching them.
KENDRA: Right, well... APRIL: And walking with them spiritually, and all of that is... KENDRA: A vastly other level or different thing.
KENDRA: I had this conversation with my parents when I was, like, seven months pregnant, and... And I was having a hard time-- I did not enjoy my pregnancy.
My mom, she was, like, "What's happening?
", and I was, like, "So, I'm, just, I'm scared, I'm, like, really scared."
And she said, "Are you scared about labor?"
And I was, like, "No."
(laughs) "I'm scared that the baby's gonna come, and I'm not gonna love it."
(child calls in background) "I know that the baby will come, and I will "take care of the baby, "but, like, maybe I won't... "That I'm not gonna, like, joyfully give of myself.
I'll just give of myself because I'm supposed to."
KENDRA: And she was, like, "Don't be ridiculous," and I said, "What do you mean?"
And she was, like, "That's... Of course you're gonna love your baby, it's your baby."
And I was, like, "Mom, please!"
And she said, "What do you mean?
", like... And I was, like, "That's not, that was your experience.
Not all parents love their kids."
And she was, like, "What?"
And I was, like, "I'm feeling scared!
I might not love my baby!"
(laughing) But my mom was, like, "Okay.
"If that really, if that happens, "if you have this baby, and you don't feel that love... Then I will be there."
KENDRA: "And I will love that baby.
(voice breaks): And I will love that baby enough."
And I was, like, "Oh, Mom... (sniffles): Yeah, you will, okay."
(laughs, sniffles) KENDRA: Yeah.
WOMAN: Here we go!
(exclaiming, Sukha giggling) (acoustic guitar playing) APRIL: You like popcorn.
BOY: Mm, mm, yeah.
(men talking indistinctly) APRIL: Hey-- snake, I have a snake, does that bother you?
MAN: If it bites me.
MAN: Mark, set, go!
I got you, I got you!
No, it doesn't work like that.
(laughing) APRIL: At six years clean, I got two letters.
One was from my birth mother and one was from my birth father.
Cha-das-ska-dum's letter started out with, "I hope this talking paper finds you in a good place.
"My name is Cha-das-ska-dum Which-ta-lum.
"The mountains call the name of Cha-das-ska-dum Which-ta-lum."
And I'm reading this and going... (woman laughing) "What the hell is this?
Like, I, I... - (chanting) APRIL: "I come from the Lummi Nation."
And all of a sudden, it says... - (continues chanting) APRIL: "I believe I am your father."
And here I was, this young woman that had been fatherless my whole life.
(voice breaking): And all of a sudden, here's this man that was saying he had never stopped looking for me, that he'd never, ever gone a day without looking for me.
♪ Two weeks later, one of my ex-boyfriends drove me up to Bellingham.
Showed up at 2:30 in the morning, and then my dad showed up the next morning with my brother.
He came with a lot of salmon, and he was wearing his ribbon shirt, dressed to the nines.
(voice breaking): Tears of gratitude, um... And the first thing he did-- he was, like, six-foot-four, 385 pounds, just this huge, barrel-chested man-- and he walked up, and before he said anything to me, he took his left hand and he swiped me down from shoulder to hip.
I mean, it...
I was totally freaked out-- PTSD-- um... And then he explained that he was claiming me, and that it was like a bear paw.
(voice breaking): And that he was... (breath trembles, April exhales) And my brother hugged me and said... (breath trembles, April exhales) (voice breaking): "Welcome home.
"We've been looking for you... (sniffles) ...my whole life.
You don't need to search anymore."
- (talking in background) APRIL: We got to the reservation, and there were 300 people.
What I didn't know is that it was a family powwow.
- (drumming, chanting) APRIL: And there were all these tables of food.
So, in my mind, "Oh, my gosh, "they all brought this Indian food to celebrate my existence!"
For the little girl that didn't belong, that was amazing.
(people talking in background) - Oh, hi!
APRIL: At one point, I looked at him, and I said, "Dad, who is that man?"
'Cause there were all these gorgeous young men at this, at this powwow, and he would say, "Mm."
And he would point with his lips.
I learned later, you don't point, so he's, he goes, "Mm-- that's a relative."
And I go, "Ugh."
(woman laughs) "Dad, Dad, Dad, who's that?"
And he'd go, "No, no, no, no."
And I'd say, "Okay, who is that?"
And he would say, "Oh, that's another relative."
And he did that for half of the day, and I'm finally, like, "Who is not a relative?"
And he's, like, "The ugly ones."
(laughs): I was, like, "Oh, my gosh."
And then, August 17 of 2000, my dad died.
(breath trembles) (birds chirping) - (chanting) APRIL: My dad did a lot of music.
They were gonna be releasing a CD that year that was Dad's, and Dad had wanted me to...
He wanted he and I to sing together, so they came to me after Dad passed, and they asked me if I would lay tracks on the CD.
And, um, there were some members of my family that really, really had a hard time with that.
(man talking indistinctly) - (chanting) APRIL: I think what happened is that there were some traditions that might have been broken, so there were some members of the family that picketed when we had the CD release party, and so, that was really hard.
Then there were times when I would go back, but it just wasn't the same.
(chanting and drumming continue) (voice breaking): It's taken a long time for me to believe that I belong in places.
(chanting and drumming continue) You know, when someone says, "You are Lummi," I can't wrap my mind around that.
I don't know what that means.
(sniffles) I don't know what that means.
What I know is that I'm Cha-das-ska-dum's daughter.
♪ (birds twittering) ♪ KENDRA: We started on this little journey with this film project, and there have been times that making this documentary was, like, so hard.
It's been really hard, emotionally.
Just the journey of, like, finding the birth mother, and finding the family, and moving in these directions.
And there definitely have been times that I would have stopped.
But because I had committed to this project, I continued going, but it's strangely a part of the process for me.
I mean, it's very much a part of my journey of finding out who I am is, is this...
The cameras and the telling it.
SWANEY: This is when I start to become uncomfortable with my role as the filmmaker.
I realized how much I've projected my own desire for Kendra to connect to her Native people.
I wonder what she would do without the pressure of my camera to tell her story, but she's committed to doing it, despite her fear, and I'm not entirely sure why.
♪ (people speaking indistinctly) (Sukha talking indistinctly) Horsie's Halloween is coming up.
(Sukha talking indistinctly) KENDRA: We are looking for a man named Cha-das-ska-dum Which-ta-lum.
KENDRA: Or Kenny Cooper.
(gasps) (birds twittering) Who's this?
His body was what helped to make April, and her body helped to make me, my body helped to make you, so he would be your... ...great-grandfather.
SUKHA: So, where is he?
KENDRA: Well, he is not in his body anymore.
KENDRA: Because, baby, he died.
SUKHA: Well... Well, then...
I'm still thirsty.
(Kendra laughs) KENDRA: But you're still thirsty?
APRIL: It's interesting to listen to Kendra... (sniffles) ...when she talks to Sukha, because it reminds me of Dad.
(birds twittering) KENDRA: Uh-uh, uh-uh.
Baby, that's not for us-- those aren't for us.
(people singing, drums beating) MAN: We are the Lhaq'temish people, and we need to come up with a plan to identify ourselves as this, as the Lhaq'temish, as the survivors, as the people.
(speaking Lhaq'temish) That means, "I am a survivor of the great flood."
This song is the national anthem of the Lummi Nation.
(percussion playing, man singing) (others begin singing) (song continues) (percussion playing quick rhythm, people singing) - I'm really surprised that your grandfather hasn't, you know, doesn't have something, something to leave, leave for you.
KENDRA: Well, he didn't...
I don't know if he knew about me.
MAN: Oh, really?
KENDRA: I mean, maybe he did, because his daughter, my, my mother, was also, um, adopted out.
And so we were... You know, I was, I was...
When I was born, she didn't know him and he didn't... MAN: Oh, okay.
KENDRA: So, yeah, so, I'm learning.
I was Kenny Cooper's granddaughter.
KRISTEN: Oh, really?
Your grandfather married my aunt.
KENDRA: Who's your aunt?
KRISTEN: My Aunt Willy.
KENDRA: Oh, yes!
She would have been... KENDRA: It's so confusing, everybody's cousins and aunties.
(laughs) KRISTEN: She would have been my mother's... She would have been my mother's aunt, my grand-aunt.
KRISTEN: Originally, when she was married to my uncle.
KRISTEN: 'Cause my uncle was my grandmother's brother.
And I know, you have to draw it all out.
You'll have to stop up there.
KENDRA: I mean, but I can't just go knock on the door.
KRISTEN: Yes, you can.
KRISTEN: Yes, yes, you can.
He would love it.
KENDRA: That seems so strange.
KRISTEN: Tell him Kristen said to stop by.
Okay, are you my cousin, too?
(laughs) Who's Nicole?
NICOLE: I am your cousin.
KENDRA: Hi, Nicole.
NICOLE: Nice to meet you.
KENDRA: I'm Kendra.
It's nice to meet you.
JACKIE: Welcome home.
KENDRA: Thank you so much.
JACKIE: I hope you had a good life, though.
KENDRA (voice breaking): Thank you so much for asking!
JACKIE: That's good.
(Kendra sniffles) JACKIE: I wouldn't even imagine.
KENDRA: Yeah... JACKIE: But I can see some of the resemblance.
KENDRA: Can you?!
JACKIE: Yes, and, because my dad... My dad and your grandmother were brother and sister.
KENDRA: I'm Kendra.
CHEYANNE: I'm Cheyanne.
KENDRA: It's so nice to meet you.
CHEYANNE: Nice to meet you.
You look a lot like your mom.
KENDRA: Yeah, it's weird, right?
CHEYANNE: And she looks a lot like my dad... (Kendra and April laugh) APRIL: An old, old elder.
KENDRA: Is an elder just anyone who's a grown-up?
(laughing) WOMAN: Elders... KENDRA: Or is it, is it about... Like, do you have to be traditional?
Every, every family's a little bit different when it comes to their traditions and culture.
I wanna meet someone that I can just ask all the questions.
It feels like everybody has what they wanna tell me, and, like, I should probably just be quiet and let them... Or not quiet, but, like, you know... Let them tell me what they wanna tell me, and glean information that way, but I just, I wanted to be, like, "Just hold up a sec."
I'm out of my element.
(laughs) Yeah, it's been really a beautiful experience, and it's also...
It's been interesting, because my, my parents are wonderful.
I mean, my adoptive parents are phenomenal.
I had a great childhood.
It's not, you know, it's not from a, you know, a void of being loved or, you know... WOMAN: Mm-hmm.
Well, that's wonderful.
KENDRA: ...being a part of a family.
I mean, they're fantastic, um... My question is: why the Indian name and the English name?
Or what, I mean, why the two names?
Why not just give the children Indian names when they're born?
WOMAN: You can.
KENDRA: You can?
WOMAN: You can give them Indian names, yeah, you can.
WOMAN: Our language was taken away.
And so they put our ancestors, part of my great-grandparents, they put them into boarding schools.
They took everything away from them.
That's when their names were taken away, and they were given English names.
Since the past probably 40 years... KENDRA: Yeah.
WOMAN: ...we've had to research and bring them back, and that's what Uncle Cha-das-ska-dum did.
WOMAN: This was so wonderful.
Now you know where I live, and you know how to get here.
KENDRA: Yes, I do.
KENDRA: People were so welcoming.
Like, hugging me and crying, and saying how important it was that I was back, and how grateful it was that I was back, but there was also something about, "You're back," that implied that I was, like, staying.
For me, I thought, "I'm meeting people."
And for them, they thought, "This is the beginning of, like... "This is, we're meeting a relative who's, like, now a part of this family."
(drum beating) I wanted to be a tourist, and just kind of, like, quietly observe.
♪ ♪ (drums pounding, people singing) TYLER: It's easy to think of this sort of past idea of Native people, but it's, like, the people are still going.
They're here, you know?
And they're in a modern world.
I don't really feel a connection to any sort of past.
It's just the way we were brought up.
It's hard to feel like there's any history behind America.
♪ There's no resource more important to the continued existence of American Indian tribes than their children.
And your citizens are vital to your continuation as a people.
So, this is about whether or not, you know, tribes are gonna exist or not, into the future.
MAN (on speaker): Make your way to the starting line.
(crowd cheers and applauds) (shouting, cheering) - (shouting) KENDRA: When I was adopted, my mom says, the agency had said to her, "Be careful."
If someone, like, saw her and was, like... (laughing): "That's a Native baby.
You're white, you shouldn't have her."
She was terrified someone was gonna try to take me.
(people talking in background) CHILD: I can!
(Kendra laughs in video) KENDRA: Did you guys ever consider our adoption to be a transracial adoption?
DAD: No, it was...
MOM: Not at all.
Not even for a second.
DAD: Not at that time, certainly, yeah.
We were just desperate to have a family.
MOM: And, and we really didn't...
I mean, because they had put the Native thing in such tentative terms with us... DAD: Yeah.
MOM: ...they didn't say, you know, "This is a Native child."
They said, "This is a child who's, one parent is not, and one parent may be."
DAD: I was kind of hoping we wouldn't be sharing her, if you were, at a very young age, with another family or, you know, any other group, if you will.
WOMAN: One, two... Dad?
DAD: This is your daughter.
One, two, three, go!
ALL: ♪ We wish you a merry Christmas ♪ ♪ We wish you a merry Christmas ♪ ♪ We wish you a merry Christmas ♪ ♪ And a happy New Year MOM: I'm appalled that I've known for years about what the Indian schools did and how they did it, and how brutal it was, and, and that it was, that it was clearly an attempt to destroy the Nations.
You know, kill the culture... DAD: ..."savages."
MOM: ...kill the culture by taking the children.
DAD: That's right.
MOM: And I get that.
KENDRA: Making macaroni.
MOM: I've never equated Kendra with that.
(drums beating slowly, people singing) CROSS: This past that we were just, we were talking about, there's so much historic trauma, so much disruption of families, that the consequences of that are seen in the current disproportionate number of suicides, and child maltreatment, particularly neglect, and high rates of substance abuse.
It's, you know, we're not bad people or sick people.
We are people that terrible things happened to and we are in a recovery process.
♪ APRIL: I think there's generational stuff that happens.
Things that are handed down emotionally, physically, spiritually.
SUKHA: You will keep me safe?
KENDRA: I will always keep you safe.
SUKHA: From the cars?
KENDRA: From everything.
APRIL: She was not raised in the same way that I was raised, and she's parenting from a completely different place than I would have with her.
I look at Sukha as this amazing little spirit that is completely separated from some of the darkness.
♪ And at the same time, I know how healing it was for me to come back to my tribe.
And so I, my prayer right now is that that will be a very healing peace for her, as well, and that that healing will transfer to Sukha.
♪ (talking in background) WOMAN: Your ancestors are here.
They led you here.
They led you here.
Now this, you can come home anytime now.
KENDRA: Thank you.
♪ KENDRA: It's over, I mean, it's overwhelming, um...
But it's been... really beautiful.
I mean, people have been so kind.
KENDRA: I've been really touched by...
Most, most of the relatives that I have met say, "I love you.
I don't know you, but I love you."
KENDRA: Which feels pretty incredible.
Don't be ashamed of who you are now.
(Which-ta-lum speaking Native language on recording) WHICH-TA-LUM: I have been to the land of the angels and I have returned.
(Which-ta-lum speaking Native language) I have come back to finish making my tracks, in song with my family.
(drums beating in distance) ♪ ♪ ♪ KENDRA: Being Lummi, part of that is also, then, owning that this is what has happened to my people.
♪ All of the trauma that has gone on.
(voice breaking): Being Indigenous means that I have this in my own history and that it's living there someplace.
(April singing softly) KENDRA: I mean, and I understood, in this completely different way, the anger.
I, I didn't know the specifics around the terrible things, I just understood that, you know, this is... (sniffles) ...an entire race of people who'd been handed a bad...
I don't know the term, something terrible.
But, like, we are where we are, so we should just move on and try to be kind and loving to one another.
That was sort of the place I was coming from, is, like, "Let's be compassionate.
"You're in the place you're at, I'm in the place I'm at, I didn't do it to you, so, let's move on from here."
I understand now, and I don't really know what to do with that comprehension.
♪ I identified as white.
(chuckles) This strange confusion of, like, white guilt, Native anger-- where does it sit in me?
And how do I sit with both of those things?
(people talking in background) Because I love my parents and I love my life.
So how do I reconcile those two things?
Because it's not my mom and dad's fault.
Like, it really isn't.
(waves lapping) ♪ (Kendra exclaiming playfully) SUKHA: I don't wanna do this.
KENDRA: You don't wanna do it again?
'Cause I feel good and strong right now.
"I didn't want road trips and craft projects.
I wanted her to buckle down and fix everything."
KENDRA: People who were raised within a tribal community feel a loss on my behalf.
I haven't yet felt the kind of loss that would make me regret the life that I have.
SUKHA: But now I have a little bit.
WOMAN: Yeah, I know.
(laughing) (people talking and laughing in background) GROUP: ♪ Happy birthday, dear Kendra ♪ Happy birthday to you (cheer and applaud) WOMAN: Yeah!
Blow 'em out.
WOMAN: Oh, watch your hair!
Watch your hair!
(laughing) (cheering and applauding) KENDRA: Yeah, that was good.
SUKHA: Cut it up, Mom.
(people talking in background) KENDRA: Thanks for my life.
SUKHA: She has to cut this to cut it up.
(people talking in background) KENDRA: That's your plate, Sukha Belle.
(people talking in background) ♪ Mom!
I love you so much, and it's not just because this cake is amazing.
♪ ♪ KENDRA: There was, like, a form that I had, but I didn't see that the DNA... MAN: If you were adopted in Washington State... KENDRA: I was adopted in Oregon State, 'cause my birth mother was also adopted out.
MAN: Oh, I see.
That's the requirements for it.
KENDRA (crying): Okay.
(sniffles) MAN: Not that, I mean, it's not that... KENDRA: Oh, no, no, no, it's fine.
I'm sorry, like, let's... Just ignore the tears.
I mean, if I can't get my birth father's DNA, is it gonna be valid if I don't... CHEYANNE: I don't see how that's any part of it.
This is where you're from.
CHEYANNE: And this is where your ancestors are from.
This is your tribe.
That has to sink into you, you're from here.
You don't live here but you're from here.
KENDRA (crying): I know... APRIL: Absolutely.
CHEYANNE: See, that's how, that's how, that's how we are.
♪ MAN: I'm trying to get as much... KENDRA: You're doing great.
MAN: ...skin cells as we can on that, you know.
MAN: All right.
♪ MAN: We should get the results back in the next ten to 14 business days.
KENDRA: Thank you so much.
MAN: You're welcome.
Sorry I cried.
MAN (chuckling): Oh, no worries.
♪ KENDRA: Going from, like, "There are Indians "and they live on reservations and life is hard, but I don't know how or why," to, to learning about the boarding schools, forced sterilizations, the intentional decimation of, of communities everywhere, First Nations people are finding themselves in these circumstances, and they're not accidents.
They're completely, totally, like, planned.
And knowing that, like, okay, so as I'm slowly finding my own way through identity, realizing that I am actually a perfect example of assimilation, a perfect example of, "Kill the Indian, save the man," and I'm a saved man and a dead Indian... (exhales) (voice breaking): I mean, it's, it's, like...
I don't know, it's tragic, it's... (sniffles) ♪ I just don't know how to be with that, I... ♪ WOMAN: At this time, we have a little ceremony that we wanna do, because I know that that hole is still there for both of you.
So, what we're going to do is that when they ever feel like, they feel like they're alone, or they don't have a sense of belonging, they can wrap themselves in this blanket.
Auntie and Uncle are gonna sing an honor song, and then I want everybody to come and I want you to welcome them home.
(April sniffles) WOMAN: Not record.
♪ SWANEY: This story that we've been telling now for seven years can't be wrapped up in a neat bow.
Because it's such a complex experience to be Native in this country.
♪ And sometimes painful, but also beautiful, and powerful, and a million other things.
♪ And this is Kendra's journey, not mine.
Neither one of us know the end of the story.
(Lucien cooing) ♪ Lucien ♪ Lucien Moon (imitates explosion) ♪ Lucien Moon Potter (Lucien cooing, April laughing) Yes!
(Lucien cooing) ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪