Tag Archives: adoption

Rescuing Children or Homogenizing America? — Part 2

Carol A. Hand

 (Part 1 Questions)

… Grandfather Thomas focused on helping others. He took me under his “left wing” and shared his stories, photos, and the amazing beauty of his art (paintings, wood carvings, drawings). I wondered what his life would have been like if he had been able to grow up with his family. I wondered what his life would have been like if he had been able to attend a school that provided more than abuse, discipline, and training for farming and manual labor. And I wondered what his life would have been like if the government had apologized and offered reparations to the children and families who had been traumatized when agents were sent to kidnap children and place them in abusive institutions simply because they were Native American.

Part 2

State and Federal Child Welfare Initiatives (1935-1978).

The answer to these questions is suggested by the life stories shared by Uncle Raymond, born 20 years later than Grandfather Thomas. Although the boarding school era had ended as an enforced policy in 1935 about the time Uncle Raymond was born, some families still did opt to send their children to Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools in Kansas or North Dakota so they would be away from the new threat posed by state and county child protection agencies. The BIA continued its efforts to assimilate Native children through the “outing system” – the removal of Native American children from their homes and families permanently and placement with white families. State and county child welfare agencies joined these efforts. The Child Welfare League of America spearheaded a movement for placing Native children with white families, and in 1958, partnered with the BIA on the Indian Adoption Program to place Native children in white adoptive homes (Fanshel, 1972; Goodluck & Epstien, 1978). Increasingly, state and county workers, rather than BIA staff, intervened to rescue Native children and placed them with white families through either foster care or adoption (Pevar,1992). The evidence suggests that removal was largely due to poverty and cultural differences: cases of child abuse remained rare (Blanchard, Denny, Levy et al., 1979; Byler, 1977).

When Uncle Raymond was a child, removal was still a risk. He shared an account of his narrow escape from removal on my first day in the community. He was at the elders’ center when I arrived with Cousin Linda, and he was one of the elders she introduced. We joined his table, and when I explained my reason for being there, he invited me to come to his house later in the day.

I did go to his house, a house filled with children’s laughter and so much light on this lovely August day. I shared the handout Cousin Linda had helped write, and Uncle Raymond began sharing stories about his life. The first story he shared was about his narrow escape from the attention of county police and child welfare authorities.

When I was a boy, there were only about twenty-eight families that lived in the village here. All of the families were poor, but we hunted and shared what we gathered. Deer were divided among all of the families, and my friend and I snared rabbits as young boys and would share what we caught with everyone. [Laughing] I remember one time when I was a young boy, it was winter time, and all of us were really cold: we didn’t have any fire wood. So I had gone off to find some wood, and there was little to be seen. It was cold, and it was getting dark when I came up to a white farmer’s fenced in land. I thought “those fence posts would burn nicely.” So, I cut them and brought them home. We had a fire that night. The farmer was really mad when he saw that his posts were gone and wanted to have the thief arrested. [Ogema] found out about it and figured out who had taken the posts. He came to wake me up early the next morning, and he took me out to the woods to gather cedar trees and he taught me how to make posts. When we were finished, we brought the posts to the farmer and helped him repair the fence. I apologized for taking the posts. [Ogema] persuaded the farmer not to report me since I realized what I had done was wrong and worked hard to make up for my mistake. The farmer agreed. After that, [Ogema] knew families in the village were cold, so from then on he made sure that the community worked together so there was enough wood for everyone in the village. (Uncle Raymond, August 28, 2001)

Ogema is not the name of a person, it is the Ojibwe word for “leader” or “chief.” [3] As Uncle Raymond’s account underscores, it is a title earned through generosity, wisdom, and actions that protect the community. Uncle Raymond’s story also documents the enduring legacy of a culture that valued children highly and had developed sophisticated techniques for ensuring their education and well-being (Broker, 1983; Johnston, 1982). Sadly, adults also felt the need to protect children in ways that meant the loss of their language.

When I was growing up, my cousin and I would follow the elders when they went out into the woods. We would hide behind brush so we could listen to them speak Ojibwe. The elders would come and chase us away so we wouldn’t be able to learn the language. They told us they didn’t want us to suffer the way that they had. (Uncle Raymond, September 10, 2001)

Uncle Raymond also shared stories of hardship. His mother struggled alone in later years to care for more than a dozen children.

I dropped out when I was a junior in high school. I was kicked out of the house when I turned 18. My sister … took me in, but there was no support to finish high school. So I went into the military, and sent money home and hoped they wouldn’t drink it all up…. When I dropped out of school, I got a job and I realized that I needed more education. I went to night school for highschool and college credits. I didn’t want to go through the process of getting a diploma with younger kids, so I took the GED test and passed. I went to [technical schools, a university, and a college]. A few were paid for by the BIA, but not through tribal education. Most I paid for myself. I had military benefits I didn’t even know about that would have helped. I took courses in business, accounting, English language, tribal history. I wanted to be able to do my job better. I went as someone who wanted to learn, not for a degree….

I never wanted to be dependent on any authority. I provided for my family, and I provided for myself for years. I still believe this. I don’t believe the tribe owes me a thing. (Uncle Raymond, October 26, 2001: SN)

Despite adversity, or perhaps because of the resilience he developed along the way, Uncle Raymond learned to value children, education, generosity, and kindness. He described the sense of responsibility he felt for all children in the community, not just his own, and some of the ways he has served as their advocate, foster parent, or provided financial support in times of need. He and his wife have taken in children from the community when their families were having difficult times. When Ojibwe children were expelled from the local public school, he made arrangements for them to complete their education elsewhere. He passed these values on to his children who all work together to make sure all of the grandchildren have the care, supervision, and financial support they need. Because of Ogema’s actions, he was able to learn many traditional skills and values – hunting, harvesting, and sharing – and now teaches those skills to the youth.

The childhood memories Auntie Lucille shared were very different. Auntie Lucille, also in her 60s, worked at the elder center that I visited regularly. She helped set up the dining room for meals and cleaned up afterwards. And although I saw her almost every time I visited with elders, she remained friendly but distant. As she became more used to seeing me there, she asked me to help her with small tasks – cleaning the tables, sweeping the floor, or counting donations. She was reluctant to talk with me initially, saying only that hers was not a happy story. It was not. When she finally began to share her life experiences, she talked for several hours.

Ogema was not able to protect all of the children at risk of removal, particularly in situations of family disputes. Although it would be easier to blame outside oppressors, Auntie Lucille’s childhood turned into a nightmare because of petty jealousies and disputes among siblings. Her aunt was mad at her sister, Auntie Lucille’s mother, and called welfare agents to get back at her sister. This allegation of abuse set in motion a tragic situation, not only for Auntie Lucille, but also for her siblings and other children from the community.

When I was little, with grandma and grandpa, when it was time for doing canoes, I went with them to get bark for the canoes, for the wigwam. I went with grandpa. He always did that. Grandma always taught beadwork. I had to tan hides (I’m glad I didn’t have to clean them). They were spread out on frames in the house – I would scrape them [she lifted her hand and moved it through the air with back and force motions] until they were nice and soft...

The big drum was here and grandma and grandpa were part of it. The drum was presented to grandma. Every time they would have a feast, she’d take me and my brother. I sat on the right side of grandma, and my brother sat on her left. As long as the drum was out, we couldn’t get up or say anything. My job after school was to go to all of the elders’ houses to see if they needed anything, any work done or water or wood. My job was to do whatever they needed. I guess that’s why I do it now. I always got along better with elders. If they ask for help you give it, or you offer. I could sit and visit with elders and I always felt better….

I had a lot of good times when grandma and I would sit on the porch. She would talk Indian and I could understand what she was saying. My brother and I always knew what she was saying, but she wouldn’t teach us because she said it was going to be a white man’s world. “They’re taking over and I don’t want you to be beaten up for talking Indian.” And she was right. It was our heritage, but we couldn’t learn because the white man’s going to take over….

We went to ball games. Grandpa would be an umpire and we’d go all over. I was always with grandpa and grandma, going everywhere with them, more than with my mom. Mom didn’t care. She’d come home drunk and chase us out of the house at 3 or 4 in the morning. We’d run to grandma’s – grandma always had a crock pot of biscuits by the door, it was covered with a towel, and we’d go in and grab a biscuit and go upstairs to the bed – they always had a bed for us. When grandpa got up in the morning, we’d hear him say “Well our kids are home again.” I could never figure out how they knew we were there, and then one day I realized that my brother never put the towel over the crock pot after he took his biscuits.

My grandparents got up early. In the morning, my grandpa would say “It’s 6 a.m., daylight in the swamp kids.” My grandpa trapped in the winter time. He’d come and wake me up early and tell me to go with him. I’d ask him why he wasn’t taking my brother instead. He’d say “you’re the oldest so you’re coming.” If I wanted money, I’d have to work for it. I’d cut wood, or pump water if I wanted money. If I wanted a nickel or dime, I had to work for it first.
I could always count on them. They always had something to eat and there was always a bed ready….

I can’t have no hate in my heart. If you can’t forgive, take charge of your life, you’re lost. I don’t blame anyone, I don’t blame my mom – she thought she was doing the best thing for us. Mom drank a lot. There were nine of us kids. She was a good mom, other than going and out drinking. She was not a mean mom, but a lot of the reservation thought she wasn’t a very good mother. Her own sister did it to her – reported her to welfare. She said [the sister] if she had known what was happening in the foster home she never would have done it. (Auntie Lucille, July 31, 2002)

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After I was 9, for 9 years I was away from that love, heritage, pride, life. Where’s an Indian supposed to fit in? When you have those values and are denied a chance to practice them? It was just nine years of hell. How to work was all I got out of it. There was no love – no nothing. (Auntie Lucille, July 31, 2002)

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I was 9 years old when I was told welfare was going to come and take us to a foster home. Grandpa and grandma … wanted to keep us but they were told they were too old. They were not willing to have us go away, but they [county child welfare workers] took us anyway.

I was one of the first ones taken away. They came and picked us up and took us to this farm. I was 9, so I tried to remember the route. I remembered the highway. They said it was 80 miles, but it was more than that. They said that mom could come and see us whenever she wanted but that did not happen.

The home on the farm had three daughters of their own, but we had to do all of the work – we had to wait on them all. We were supposed to get $3 a month for an allowance, but we never got it. We didn’t know anything but work and school. We were not allowed to go anywhere else. We couldn’t have any friends. They were mean to us – we were hit and beat by horse straps. We would tell the social worker at our monthly meetings, but for the 9 years we were there, we never had the same worker twice. They kept changing workers.

After I was there, they started bringing others – my brothers, sister, cousins – from [the reservation community]. My grandma told me “You’re the oldest so you need to watch out for the others.” I took a lot of beatings to protect them so they wouldn’t be hit….

They only took us in because of the work they could get out of us. They never took me to the doctor or dentist like they were supposed to do. I never went to the dentist until I was 18 and I got out of there.

They had these fields of green beans. They took us there to work in the fields picking beans every day in the summer. We were there from 6 in the morning until they came to get us. We earned 3 cents a bushel, but we never got to keep our money – they took it.

My brothers ran away. I got beat until they came back. (Auntie Lucille, July 31, 2002)

Auntie Lucille did not have Ogema to protect her. Her strength came from what she remembered from her Grandmother’s teaching, and from an outside source.

Church was my only out. I was 13 when I accepted God as my savior. That was the only thing that kept me sane – that and what my grandmother taught me – the old Indian way.

My grandma told me “You’re a survivor – you’ll make it no matter what.” And that kept me going. I had a couple of nervous breakdowns – when I was raising my own kids everything that I went through at that farm – it all started to come back. (Auntie Lucille, July 31, 2002)

Her assessment of the child welfare system is certainly legitimate given her experiences.

I don’t have anything good to say about the welfare system. I don’t care that much for foster homes because there is no one who oversees the homes. I don’t think Indian children should be raised in a white man’s home. They don’t share our culture, and they don’t want to understand us. The only way is their way. I don’t think that’s right for Indian children. (Auntie Lucille, July 31, 2002)

Grandfather Thomas, Uncle Raymond, and Auntie Lucille all began their stories with the same statement. “This is my story. Other community members wouldn’t understand it because it is something only my generation lived through.” Each adapted to lives made more difficult by the legacy of discrimination because of their ancestry. All struggled economically, yet all returned to the community that gave them a sense of roots and belonging. All contributed their skills to others to improve the community. Auntie Lucille, the one whose suffering was perhaps the most profound, told me the reason she decided to return and to share her story was because she hoped “to make a difference in at least one person’s life. That will make all my suffering worthwhile” (July 31, 2002). My reason for sharing each of their stories, like Auntie Lucille, is the hope that their stories will touch other hearts as they did mine. I wish I could say that their assurance that other generations did not suffer as they did was correct, but tragically it has continued, as accounts from the next generations demonstrate.

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Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Authors Cited:

Blanchard, E., Denny, G. M., Levy, P., Robbins, M., Milligan, D., & Ryan, M. (1979). Keeping children out of foster care. Practice Digest, 1(4) 11-13.

Broker, I. (1983). Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway narrative. St. Paul: Minnesota Historic Society Press.

Byler, W. (1978). The destruction of American Indian families. In S. Unger (Ed.), The destruction of American Indian families (pp. 1-11). New York: Association on American Indian Affairs.

Fanshel, D. (1972). Far from the reservation: Transracial adoption of American Indian children. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Goodluck, C. T. & Epstein, F. (1978). American Indian Adoption Program: An ethnic approach to child welfare. White Cloud Journal, 1(1), 3-6.

Johnston, B. (1982). Ojibway ceremonies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press.

Pevar, S. L. (1992). The rights of Indians and tribes: The basic ACLU guide to Indian and tribal rights, 2nd edition. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

 

Endnotes:

3. Ogema is not the name of the person described in the account. Ogema, which means leader in the Ojibwe language, is used in place of a name to maintain the confidentiality of individuals and to mask the specific location of the community.

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Indian Child Removal and the Ga-Ga

Carol A. Hand

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Recognizing the special relationship between the United States and the Indian tribes and their members and the Federal responsibility to Indian people, the Congress finds-–

… that Congress, through statutes, treaties, and the general course of dealing with Indian tribes, has assumed the responsibility for the protection and preservation of Indian tribes and their resources;
… that there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children and that the United States has a direct interest, as trustee, in protecting Indian children who are members of or are eligible for membership in an Indian tribe;
… that an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families are broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by nontribal public and private agencies and that an alarmingly high percentage of such children are placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions; and
… that the States, exercising their recognized jurisdiction over Indian child custody proceedings through administrative and judicial bodies, have often failed to recognize the essential tribal relations of Indian people and the cultural and social standards prevailing in Indian communities and families.
(The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978)

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Years ago, the director of a child welfare agency asked me to do an in-service training for her staff about Native American child welfare issues. She added “Don’t tell them about the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. They already know it. What staff need to know is why they should care.” Because I left my position before I had a chance to respond to her request, this essay is my belated way of addressing her concerns.

boarding school adoptionstar dot com

Photo Credit: Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1879-1918) – adoptionstar.com

The most effective way to conquer a nation is to acculturate their children. Although the removal of Native American children from their families by the federal government, under the guise of education, did not become official policy in the U.S. until after the Civil War, it was not a new practice. From the earliest accounts of Spanish and English colonizers, Native American children were a special focus of assimilation policies. Removal by force and kidnapping were sanctioned ways of dealing with the children of people who were viewed as heathens and savages, and who were certainly in the way of the foreign advance forces that were only interested in claiming indigenous territory and resources.

Although the agents of removal have changed over time, the consequences have been destructive for families and communities for hundreds of years. According to an Ojibwe elder and social worker, social workers eventually merited a name drawn from Ojibwe mythology, the ga-ga, or bogey man. In dangerous environments, Ojibwe parents and elders met the challenge of protecting children from harm in many creative ways because physical punishment and coercion were rare and culturally discouraged. In the most serious circumstances, parents and elders used “scaring stories” that were passed on through the generations, sometimes taking on new meanings. She said that according to oral tradition, Ojibwe parents or elders used to tell children that the bear would take them away if they did not learn to listen and behave. And then, one child was taken by a bear. In order to avoid offending bear relatives and invoke their anger, the ga-ga, a mythical creature like the bogeyman of European fairy tales, was substituted for the bear in the scaring stories.

No one believed that there really was such a creature, until the imposition of colonial domination gave new meaning to this warning. Canada and the United States implemented sweeping policies intended to civilize indigenous peoples by removing children from tribal communities. The agents of removal, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agents, missionaries, and social workers, became known as the ga-ga. As the Ojibwe social worker recounted, for generations Ojibwe children have been warned.

 I heard the story when I was little. My mother told us that if we did not behave, the ga-ga would come to take us away. They would take kids and put them into other homes or schools. That’s all I remember. (Ojibwe elder, Personal communication, July 5, 2003)

The new nation that emerged on Indigenous homelands didn’t waste much time in asserting their agenda of political, religious, economic, and cultural domination. In 1819, soon after the United States was founded, Congress authorized $10,000 annually to support religious groups and individuals who wished to establish mission schools in tribal communities. Stressing white values, the schools taught boys farming and blacksmithing and girls domestic skills. For the next several decades, Indian education remained the responsibility of the churches, with federal monetary support” (O’Brien, 1989, p. 239).

Day schools proved ineffective at dismantling culture and community ties. When the Civil War ended, a new intervention spread throughout the nation, Indian boarding schools. The first federal school, under the direction of the BIA, opened in 1860 on the Yakima Indian Reservation in the state of Washington. It was not until 1879, however, that the U.S. opened what is probably the most famous boarding school in Carlisle, PA, under the direction of Captain Henry Pratt, a veteran of the Civil War and the Indian Wars in the western United States. By the 1900s, the BIA operated 251 schools, 113 of which were boarding schools, the preferred method for educating Native children even though they were more costly to operate than day schools. “It is the experience of the department that mere day schools, however well conducted, do not withdraw the children sufficiently from the influences, habits, and traditions of their home life, and produce for this reason a … limited effect” (as quoted in Adams, 1995, p. 30).

When children arrived, their hair was cut, they were stripped and scrubbed with disinfectant soap, deloused even if they didn’t need to be, and clothed in the garb of the colonizers, sometimes in cast-off Civil War uniforms. They were stripped of their given names, forbidden to speak their languages, and housed in over-crowded dormitories. They suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and because of crowded housing and poor nutrition, thousands died from tuberculosis, measles, pneumonia, and other causes. They were only taught manual trades, to be farmers, tradesmen, or servants, and indoctrinated to value the morality of hard work and the ownership of private property. Those who did return home “were virtual strangers, unable to speak their own language or understand the ways of their own people” (O’Brien, 1989, p. 239).

Photo Credit: My Mother before Catholic Boarding School (“Mom age 7 – Grapes of Wrath”)

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norma 2

Photo Credit: My Mother after Catholic Boarding School (“My 1st Communion”)

After the Great Depression (1934), the federal government shifted the focus of Indian education from the assimilation of Indigenous children through boarding schools to a broader integration approach within the public school system. The Johnson-O’Malley Act of 1934 provided funding to cover education for Native youth within local public schools in the White communities that bordered tribal communities. The agents of child removal also shifted, from federal agents to state and local child welfare workers.

By 1976, an alarm was sounded by tribal communities and advocacy groups. The number of Indigenous children who had been removed from their families and communities had reached staggering proportions. Surveys conducted by the Association of American Indian Affairs in 1974 estimated that “approximately 25-35 per cent of all Indian children are separated from their families and placed in foster homes, adoptive homes, or institutions” (Byler, 1977, p. 1). The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs established a task force to investigate Indian child welfare issues and discovered that foster care placement rates for Native American children were more than five times higher than those of non-Indians. Adoption rates for Native American children, predominantly by non-Native homes, were also significantly higher than those of non-Indians. The task force concluded that “the removal of Indian children from their natural homes and tribal setting has been and continues to be a national crisis [,] … seriously impacts a long-term tribal survival and … Non-Indian public and private agencies, with some exceptions, show almost no sensitivity to Indian culture and society” (U.S. Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs Task Force Four, 1977, p. 52).

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) was passed the next year to end the destruction of tribal cultures through policies that encouraged keeping Native American children who were removed from their families within their tribal communities or Native American homes. In reality, the law only granted tribal courts some say in decisions affecting children, and allowed tribal governments an opportunity to place some children who were removed with families on the reservation rather than with Euro-Americans families in other locations. The law did not return total jurisdiction to tribes to design the types of practices they defined as best to promote safe and healthy families. Despite ICWA, child welfare policies and best practices are still largely dictated by federal and state governments. The illusion of control represented by ICWA, however, has kept many tribes from challenging an oppressive system. And the backlash to ICWA from counties, states, and Euro-Americans who desperately want to adopt Native American children has been unrelenting.

Tribal child welfare workers with caseloads of 50 to 120 families struggle to keep children safe and families intact. Their clients span multi-county communities, states, and the nation as a whole. One of the biggest obstacles they face is the appalling ignorance of the general U.S. population about tribal histories and cultures. An even greater obstacle, however, is the rock-solid assumption among most non-Native child welfare experts and practitioners that they really know what is best for all children. Culture doesn’t matter. Community is irrelevant. What matters is being adopted as part of an insular nuclear family. They argue that nuclear families give children a sense of “permanency,” at least until they reach the age of 18.

Yet culture matters a great deal. Being part of a community with which one identifies matters as well. An exercise designed by Vera Manuel, First Nations author and teacher from British Columbia, demonstrates the profound difference between the Euro-American concept of “permanence” and an Indigenous sense of belonging to a community and culture. She engaged participants in sculpting the organization of a pre-contact tribal community. She placed a small pouch on a chair in the center of the room, explaining that it contained things that were sacred to her. The sacred pouch represented the spiritual beliefs that were the center and foundation of the community. She then asked for volunteers to act out the role of children. She asked them to form a circle facing the sacred bundle. Next, she asked for volunteers to role-play parents and form a circle around all of the children. The next volunteers, encircling parents, were aunties and uncles and other adults in the community. Elders formed the final circle of those community members who were facing toward the children and the sacred center. Around the periphery, facing outward, were the volunteers who agreed to represent leaders and warriors who were responsible for protecting the community from harmful outside forces. Next, a few brave volunteers agreed to play the role of “child stealers,” the ga-ga.

In early times, the ga-ga were federal BIA agents or missionaries. In later times, they were state and county child welfare workers. These agents of churches, the federal government, counties, and states broke through the protective circles to forcibly remove the children. Despite resistance by the leaders, warriors, elders, aunties and uncles, and parents, children were removed from their place at the center of the community and taken away by strangers using threats and force. Participants in the sculpted exercise were asked to act out their reactions to losing their children. Without their children, parents, adults, and elders cast their eyes down and turned inward, wrapped their arms over their heart, turned their backs to the center, or left the circle. Warriors and leaders were deeply shamed by their defeat and also turned inward or left. Their meaning in life was lost. When some of the children returned as adults, the community was often disorganized and unrecognizable. Without a purpose, the circles of care that had surrounded them as children were in disarray.

Most agents of removal may well have sincerely believed that Native children would be better off away from their families and cultures. Removal and outplacement continued for generations, funded and encouraged by federal policies and religious institutions. However, for the Ojibwe community members of all ages who have shared their stories with me, the life-long consequences of removal are clear. Each told me that the experiences he or she shared with me were unique and too painful for others in the community to hear or understand. They suffered silently, alone, with the legacy of self-doubt, pain, and anger. Their families and communities suffered as well. Most internalized the shame and blamed their removal on their parents’ substance abuse or irresponsibility. Few recognized that their experience was part of an enduring and deliberate federal agenda to eradicate tribal cultures, a repetition of what their parents, grandparents and more distant ancestors had survived.

Healing the legacy of widespread government-sponsored abuse of Native American children, families and communities is not an easy prospect. Children who were removed from their families and communities, warehoused and abused in federal and religious institutions, or placed with families of non-Indian strangers who were at best not able to help children be integrated into their tribal communities and cultures, and at worst were cruel and abusive, face special challenges as parents. Each generation has stories to tell about their experiences:

• being kidnapped from a village road at the age of five and delivered to a federal boarding school more than 100 miles away still carrying scars more than 70 years later from punishment inflicted on their first day for speaking the only language they knew, “Indian,”
• being the first of many community children placed in a white foster home where Native children were beaten and sexually abused from the age of nine until they were 18 and old enough to exit care,
• running away at the age of 15 to fend for themselves because system interventions only intensified their abuse,
• returning “home” to the tribal community only to find that the mythic culture they created in their imagination to survive years of exile was not there to welcome them and enfold them in a healing circle.

Tribes have done their best to rebuild communities of care despite centuries of destructive policies, and they have made significant strides. There is much yet to do and tribes need allies who understand the harm that has been done and are willing to work in partnership to help banish the ga-ga once and for all. As I write this essay in 2014, Native American children are still more likely to be removed from their families and communities than children from other backgrounds (Summers, Wood, & Donovan, 2013), and the ICWA provisions that offer some protections have suffered serious setbacks. Still, I believe it is within our power to prevent future generations of Native Americans from losing their connections to family and community, to their languages and cultures, and to their self-respect. It is possible to create policies, institutions, and practice paradigms that prevent abuse and neglect while also preserving families, communities, and cultures if we care enough to engage in constructive dialogue and work together as advocates in whatever ways we can.

circles of care samhsa dot com

Photo Credit: Circles of Care – samhsa.gov

Chi miigwetch to the community members who made me feel welcome and shared their stories, laughter, and pain, and whose inspiring work to improve the lives of the next generations will continue to give me hope despite these troubling times.

Works Cited:

Adams, David Wallace (1995). Education for extinction: American Indians and the boarding school experience: 1875-1928. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Byler, William (1977). The destruction of American Indian families. In Steven Unger (Ed.), The destruction of American Indian families (pp. 1-11). New York: Association on American Indian Affairs.

O’Brien, Sharon (1989). American Indian tribal governments. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Summers, Alicia, Steve Wood, & Jennifer Donovan (2013). Disproportionality rates for children of color in foster care, Technical Assistance Bulletin. Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Available from http://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/Disproportionality%20Rates%20for%20Children%20of%20Color%20in%20Foster%20Care%202013.pdf

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs Task Force Four: Federal, State and Tribal Jurisdiction (1977). Final Report to the American Indian Review Commission, In U.S. Senate Reports, Vol 1-11, Miscellaneous Reports on Public Bills, XI, 95th Congress, 1st Session, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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