Carol A. Hand
The most difficult part of any new initiative for me is figuring out where to begin. What is it I hope to achieve with this newest project – a book about Indian child welfare? What can I say that hasn’t already been said, and what do I really know for sure? Who would be the best audience – the audience that would be most receptive and most likely to act in thoughtful ways to address continuing oppression? These are some of the questions I have been pondering as I look at the blinking cursor on my empty computer screen.
“Start somewhere,” I tell myself. “You have a title, so draft a title page.” (Yes, I often refer to myself in third person language in my thoughts. I’m not sure why even though I think it’s rather odd …)
Photo: Draft Title Page
But how should I begin? Here’s my most recent beginning. I really do welcome your honest comments and suggestions.
Imagine that you were a five-year old boy or girl walking along the road in your village. A village where you knew everyone, where you felt safe because the villagers all watched over you and kept you from being hungry or harmed, until that one day when no adults saw the strangers that drove by and enticed you into a car. You had never ridden in a car before and were curious as many children your age would be. Now imagine that it would be more than a decade before you would see your family or community again. You awoke from the long journey to find yourself in a strange place with many other strange children. More than seventy years later, you still carry the scar on your hand from that day when the adults in that strange new place where you found yourself hit you with a sharp-edged ruler because you asked another child where the restroom was in the only language you knew, “Indian.”
Imagine what you would feel as a parent or grandparent if your child suddenly disappeared. You knew he or she was not the first to be taken by the strangers who had invaded your homeland more than a century before. And he or she would not be the last to be taken by the descendants of strangers whose language and ways were different and who had the power to take your land and confine you to a small “reserved” area of your original homeland after they clear cut all of your trees. Strangers who had the power to outlaw your language, spiritual practices, and ways of life. Now they were taking your children and there was absolutely nothing you or anyone else in the community could do to get your children back or stop the kidnapping. Imagine what all of the relatives, elders and warriors of your community would feel and how profoundly it would forever change the community and how you felt about life.
This is only one of the stories I heard from Ojibwe community members whose childhoods were spent in places far from their families and community. This book shares some of their stories and describes the historical events and contemporary consequences for a system that claimed to be rescuing children from neglect and abuse. I leave it you as the reader to determine if the inhumane and traumatizing child welfare policies that were and are still imposed on Indigenous peoples in what is now the United States are something that should remain unacknowledged, unchanged, and unchallenged.
1. For those who haven’t read prior posts, the photos on the title page are of my mother before and after Indian boarding school.
2. I was inspired to write this reflection after a conversation I had with a dear friend yesterday. She asked me what my purpose for writing the book was and who the intended audience was. This is my first attempt to respond to those questions. I hope you will share your views.
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