4.0: In the family way

6/29/09

I’ve always considered myself lucky to have so many adopted Skin uncles and grandpas. “Indian way,” they say. What “Indian way” means, by the way, is that I’ll never get to drive my dear uncle/grandpa’s 1978 Ford pick-up or be able to hit him up for a job. This is a very unfortunate development because I also will never get to mate with their daughters/nieces/granddaughters because now the womenfolk are my aunties/cousins/sisters by adoption. And that would be incest. And that’s just wrong.

So it’s a lose-lose.

Anyway, it’s safe to say that I will never a) get any loot, or b) get to snag up as a result of these adoptions. Still, it’s really quite flattering when an old Skin friend wants to be your uncle/grandpa. It means that unlike my biological family, they cannot say – as my biological family actually has said on a few occasions – that they did not choose for me to be related to them. It also means that I can feel justified in eating for free at their house whenever I want, and when I stay over at their houses I can lie on their couches in only my boxers while watching “Family Guy” and “Reno 911.”

‘Cause that’s what I did at my biological grandparents’ house (although they wouldn’t let me borrow their 1978 Ford pick-up, either). But I digress.

The reason why I bring up adoptions is because there has been some hubbub recently about a report from CNN. The report contained some interesting thoughts, as well as some arguably offensive reporting about Skin adoptions and the Indian Child Welfare Act. Since the report came out, many Skins have gotten up in arms and advocated boycotts of CNN. Some others have asked for air-time on CNN (I wonder if Skins would boycott the proposed ICWA show?).

The report in question concerned a non-Skin reporter telling a story about a non-Skin couple who had to return a Skin baby to the Leech Lake Tribe per the Indian Child Welfare Act. The reporter raised legitimate questions about whether the child is now in a better position than he would be without the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Fair enough. No law is perfect – we’d be naïve to think otherwise.

The problem was, from my purview, that the reporter has no context as to why the Indian Child Welfare Act is such an important law for Native people. She obviously didn’t understand that the law was enacted because in some states with large Skin populations an estimated 25 – 35 percent of Native children had been in out-of-home placement or adoptive homes at some point in their lives. She obviously hasn’t been around Indian country long enough to know that the terrible situation that created the need for the Indian Child Welfare Act wasn’t an accident – there had been a concerted effort to break up Native families.

The Indian Child Welfare Act was created to help, along with solidifying social services on reservations, put those families back together again.

We should be thankful for the Indian Child Welfare Act’s enactment. We should protect that effort. That’s what the Skins who demanded boycotts of CNN, air-time on CNN and denounced the report were doing. God bless them for that.

Still, I think that some of the responses were slightly off-target. For example, I don’t think that the report shows any media bias against Skins, even though it definitely shows ignorance and unfamiliarity with Skins. Let’s be serious – aside from an occasional commercial for a tribal casino or John Redcorn on “King of the Hill, the media isn’t concerned with tribes. We’re simply not a big enough audience. The media cares about the bottom line – dollars – and so it’s surprising, frankly, that a report was even done on Skins on CNN, factually incorrect or not. When’s the last time that’s happened?

Unfortunately, the report that did come out – the one causing all the furor – was flawed and based upon a lack of information. Of the potential remedies for this situation, boycotting, going on CNN to correct the record, or denouncing the report as racially biased, I have to think that our best option is to try to get these folks better information. I mean, if we merely boycott, who cares? Seriously – we’re half of one percent of the U.S. population, and really – how many of us have cable? I’m not sure that it’s enough to scare ol’ Teddy Turner. My guess is that we should get these outlets as accurate of information as possible. But that’s just me.

What do you Skins think?

Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. He is a lawyer, a warrior, a teacher, an entrepreneur and an author. He is co-founder of Native Speaks LLC, a progressive company owned by young Native professionals which provides consultation and instruction for professionals and companies, as well as young adults. Gyasi is currently booking dates for his presentation, “The Best: An Indian Theory of Existence.” E-mail him at gyasi.ross@gmail.com.

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