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The Stealing of Our American Indian Children

Donna Ennis
12/22/12

I have been thinking a lot lately about Baby Veronica and how it came to be that this Native child was placed with white adoptive parents. I have been thinking that the dominant culture values of possession and ownership are so strong that it leads to a sense of entitlement even when it comes to a child’s life. In this way of thinking you simply need to want something so badly that you can employ any means available to obtain/possess it.

This is how it was with our lands at the first point of European contact. When the early invaders wanted our land they had just taken it and if there was resistance there were Wars waged and the land was taken from us. Eventually these ways became more streamlined and instead of taking the land through violence they used methods of trickery and deceit. In this way they took advantage of our traditional values of cooperation and sharing. Before long we naively signed treaties in the hopes of retaining our way of life and the ability to live a long life as good neighbors.

It was just a matter of time before they came after our children in this same way. Beginning in the 1870’s they simply began taking our children from us. The methods of taking our children were ones of trickery and deceit. They brought our children to boarding schools to be raised in harsh environments devoid of any nurturing or semblance of our Anishinabe values. These attempts to “civilize the savages” through acculturation have had intergenerational effects on the structure of the Native family. By the time the era of boarding schools came to an end our way of life was almost extinct.

Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes. The intent was to protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian Tribes and families. Despite state and federal laws designed to decrease the disproportional representation of children by race and ethnicity in the public child welfare system, 30 years later in 2008 Native children continue to experience the greatest disproportionality and the rates of over-representation are expanding.

Collaboration at the state, county, tribal and community level that build upon the strengths of Native families and Native communities will need to be pursued. In other words, we need a foundational change.

If Native people violated federal and state laws in order to adopt or foster a white child the outcry would be deafening. Here again is the double standard that we see across systems. In the book Brother of the Senecas by Walter E. Butts, Jr., a conversation gives us insight into how Native people might deal with this situation. One night in the year 1782  baby Polly was snatched by the Mohawks and her mother spends the next several years trying to locate her daughter…..Tall Chief argued: “This Polly, if she is alive, has grown up among her red brothers and loves them as her own people, for she knows no others. Would it not cause more sorrow than happiness to uproot her now and return her to a mother she has never known?”  “An Indian mother’s love is just as great as a white mother’s,” said Slender Fern with a flash of spirit. “To take Polly from the Indian mother, who has raised her as a daughter, would cause her just as much sorrow as the white mother has known. Her sorrow would be a fresh wound. The white mother’s sorrow must have known the healing balm of time. Why cause two mother’s to suffer where it was only one before?” Nate Answered “But Jennifer Harlowe’s sorrow is not healed,” he answered Slender Fern. “It will never be healed until Polly is found.”

American Indian Child Welfare Advisory Councils (AICWAC) are tasked with “strengthening policies and laws that protect Indian children through the sovereignty of tribes with in the State” among other things. Recently there have been renewed efforts to undermine the work that is being done to protect Native children by groups calling themselves names like Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children, and Families and Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare. These groups allege that the ICWA law is destroying loving, stable families and placing children in harmful difficult situations. The groups that are encouraging white families to adopt Native children and proposing amendments that will make it easier for these families to adopt cross-culturally are the ones that are destroying Native families. We are undermined when programs like Dr. Phil portray Native people in a slanted way even when they are provided with the correct information. The message today is the same message we gave 150 years ago: The best setting for a Native child is within one’s own culture and relations.

Donna Ennis is currently the chair of the Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council, as well as the eastern regional director and cultural director for North Homes Children and Family Services, a professional foster care agency.

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Anonymous's picture
I would have to agree,STRONGLY, with this article that Native children should NOT be adopted out by white families-PERIOD! I am an African-American women an I can assure you that this practice of GENOCIDE is the Context of White Supremacy. This is being perpetrated against African peoples worldwide and has caused immense damage to the m inds and hearts of it's victims. These children, like so many before, will be subjuceted to sexual abuse, cultural identity issues and psychological issues to say the least. White people are totally aware of this and chose to do this as it supports the system- RACISM/WHITE SUPREMACY!
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
"....the dominant culture values of possession and ownership are so strong that it leads to a sense of entitlement." No. The biological father's complete rejection of parental responsibility led to a biological mother finding a loving home for a child.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I find it hard to believe that there are no decent foster families among our own peoples. I find it hard to believe that white families who do not know our ways & beliefs can instill our values, culture, language & beliefs. It is wrong to take our children & place them in a non-native home when I would guarantee you our own people have decent & loving homes for our native children. Tribal CFS caseworkers, place ALL our children among our OWN peoples. Anyone who says there are no decent families in our lands are lying to others. If a native home has beds to sleep in, warmth in the cold, plenty of food & clothing for these youngsters then place OUR children among OUR peoples. Do not be as the Invaders & take our children from among our own peoples. Non-native homes most generally are not familiar with our cultures, languages & beliefs, etc. To take a child from their culture is the same as robbing their soul. It's OUR ways that make us who we all are. Our children are all our future for keeping our ways, languages & beliefs going on forever.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
"....the dominant culture values of possession and ownership are so strong that it leads to a sense of entitlement." No. The biological father's complete rejection of parental responsibility led to a biological mother finding a loving home for a child.
Anonymous
monkette's picture
Thank-you for your article. As an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe and 4th great grand daughter to Chief Flatmouth, I can assure you that nothing has changed. Their modern laws provide only loopholes for them. In our family, my children are the 5th generation the United States government have successfully and permanently removed in once again, "the best interest of the child". Everyone talks about this topic as if it is a distant problem, noticed and acknowledged but have you ever spoke to anyone that has been directly affected by this? I can tell you that my children are the fifth generation to have been successfully removed from their mother by the United States government and still no one cares because all they care about is their loopholes in the law, not the law to protect our heritage. I think America might care about the "idea" of the American Indian but I can attest to you that this government and it's courts want to do nothing but destroy us as people and will use any excuse to do so...and while doing so, these courts and judges, like Sobel out in Los Angeles can continue to drive around with dreamcatchers hanging from their rear view mirrors, while my children live with court assigned heroin addicts and non citizens of the United States in a foster home. Really, America, if you're going to whine about it, help some of us individually.
monkette
candyo's picture
My daughter passed on from an asthma attack, then, my granddaughter was given to a non-native couple who was barren and could not have their own children. As a Full-blood Native American my rights were not considered, I was not invited to the hearing after my daughters death and the man who stole my granddaughter also, lived in my daughters house which was in my daughters name on the Oklahoma Property Tax website at the time of her death. The man who stole my granddaughter lied to the Judge Brian Upp and told him he was not a convicted felon on court documents when he had pled guilty in Federal Court for Banking Fraud of a Bank in Tipton Ok to get funds fraudulently. This same man kidnaped my own children from Florida and would not return them. He is connected to the Politico and Mobsters. Judges in Oklahoma would bend over backwards for him. I drove to Oklahoma for a hearing to remove him as guardian and the Judge would not even hear our case. I have not seen my granddaughter since 2004, when my daughter went into a coma and they had to pull the plug on her because she had gone too long without oxygen and declared brain-dead. This was probably, the same court system who violated Veronicas rights to be with her birth father. It is the same corrupt system who takes away the parental rights of the Native American peoples for the last 200 years. I hired two attorneys - one with Crow and Dunlevy a Mr Kent Meyers and a Mr Nicholson who was with an organization who professes to help children in these situations but they were no good...
candyo
Anonymous's picture
The white man came with their bible.Native America helped them showing peace sharing land,harmony with the children and elders. The white man said.LET US PRAY.!! The Native American prayered then opened their eyes to find the bible in their.The land and children gone.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I am sad to hear this. I was born of mixed blood. I cannot explain what it is like to look white on the outside but feel red on the inside. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be both Native inside and out and be raised by white parents with white ways and no understanding of the Red road and what it feels like to be Native American. They will cause this child great pain because you cannot change what someone is on the inside.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
We need to encourage more adoptions or build alliances or funds for adoption within the same race, or some type of social services to help young mothers or exception cases to help the mothers to keep their own children. I am Asian and I have seen many Koreans, Chinese children adopted by American parents in NYC , most are who wished to have their own children but couldn't or wanted more. As a mother, it must have been hard to see and trying to understand what undercircumstances that the mother or parent gave up their own children ( were they too young or too poor to raise their own children ? ) or could it be the health and social issues?, It is definitely un natural settings, I often noticed that those children were looking at me with their own question marks on their eyes. Why are they walking with caucasion parents etc. Though I am sure that many can provide with much better standard of livings, and educations. Some we may never known how they were raised. A lot of those parents discouaged the adopted children to interact or social with their previous families and same ethenics. Another type of adoptions I have seen are from offer the free education to poor families but in exchange to convert the religious to either muslims or christians. I encouage more American Indians and Asian societies to praise or awards to those who adopt many children of their own races. It is sad to learn from adoption lawyers that in practice, money can buy any type of babies you desire, colors, sex, characters.. etc. I don't know about others, but I really felt pathetic to actors who adopted children all around the world as the symbols that money can buy anythings. Most of us just didn't talked about and let the medias gave the wrong values to the society. Last, I don't watch Dr. Phil all the times. what was the message that you want to relay ? please elaborate more,thank you. I am older now and have a few children of my own, it was hard but I am going to rethink or help more adoption to keep people within their own races.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
But if a Native person did NOT violate a federal, state or tribal law and ICWA is still used by that person's tribe what is everyone's answer to that? Because it has, it is, and continues to happen. The native child, placed by white services with the tribe's blessings in a native home of the same tribe can be uprooted just because of political power and no checks or balances. The birth mother doesn't want this daughter and the home she is living in is a tribal home but still 7 years later this child has been placed 13 different times and is still being bounced around. So what is the answer to this situation? The child is emotionally damaged because of the tribe and ICWA and she has been placed back with the only two parents she ever knew for the 5th time but she remembers that 4 other times social services said they were and then they weren't her parents but oh now they are again. No child deserves this!! And ICWA does not protect native children even when placed in licensed native tribal member homes. The children are the future they should be treated as such. This law is wrong and the examples never take into account what is really happening out there in Indian Country. It's not only the Veronica's of the world that have their entire lives changed because of this law.
Anonymous

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