Sunday, December 05, 2021

Polson director’s film explores Indigenous adoptions

Lake County Leader | October 20, 2021 11:15 PM

“Daughter of a Lost Bird,” the first full-length documentary directed by filmmaker and producer Brooke Pepion Swaney of Polson, is screening Sunday, Oct. 24 at a virtual film festival. The film will be available for North America audiences to stream for a short time.

The film follows Kendra Mylnechuk Potter, an Indigenous girl who was adopted into a white family, on her journey to reconnect with her birth family. Through the course of the film, Potter finds and connects with her birth mother, April, also an adoptee, for the first time. The two of them then reconnect with their Lummi heritage in the Puget Sound area. The film was more than eight years in the making, as Potter’s story unfolded in real time. She and her mother grappled with their pasts and with learning of a tribal history and identity they had never known.

“The film explores identity, adoption and the social conditions that created these environments for them to be removed from their families,” Swaney said.

The viewer learns, along with the women, of their inherited cultural trauma as well as some of the beauty of the Lummi ways neither knew while growing up, according to a synopsis of the film. “We watch both women navigate what it means to be Native, and to belong to a tribe, from the outside looking in. The film explores the gray areas of ethics surrounding transracial adoption, specifically Native American adoption, via a singular story as an entry point into a more complicated national issue.”

"Every crew member, from the subject to our music composer, in some way brings their own stories and issues of identity to the project,” Swaney said.

Potter, an actress, connected with Swaney during the making of another film, “OK Breathe Auralee,” which was accepted to the Sundance Film Festival. The main character of the short, played by Potter, was an adoptee seeking to connect with her Native roots.

“The backstory of that film actually echoed Kendra’s own life, which I didn’t know at the time,” Swaney said. This led to Potter looking into her own heritage.

“Somewhere along the line we decided to make a film about it,” Swaney said. “I am really honored to be able to walk with her on her journey.”

Potter is also a producer on the film.

Swaney is a Blackfeet Tribal member and a Salish descendant. She lived on the Flathead Indian Reservation as a child, but moved to Helena during her school years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stanford and a master of fine arts from New York University. She moved back to Polson after film school.

Swaney said the project received a lot of support from the community as well as from Big Sky Documentary Film Festival sponsors Big Sky Institute and Humanities Montana. The major producing partner, Vision Maker Media, is a part of Corporation for Public Broadcasting, focusing on telling Native stories. Vision Maker expects the film to air on PBS this fall.

“Daughter of a Lost Bird” premiered in March at Maoriland, an Indigenous film festival in New Zealand, and had its North American premiere at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto. It has been shown at several other festivals on the circuit, including as the Closing Night film at the 2021 New York Human Rights Watch Film Festival. At the recent Woodstock Film Festival, Swaney received awards for Best Female Director — Documentary and Feature Documentary — Best Emerging Filmmaker.

“Daughter of a Lost Bird” will screen virtually at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival on Sunday, Oct. 24. Viewers throughout North America can stream the film online for 48 hours on demand, starting at 8 a.m. Mountain Time, with a Closing Day Pass ($6 Canadian) available at

For future screenings and additional information, visit


Kendra and her birth mother reconnect with their native Lummi culture in a scene from "Daughter of a Lost Bird." (Courtesy photo)