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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
This child will one day want to know her natural Native American family. She may live with who the Supreme Court deems worthy of her parentage however, like every adopted child she will want to know the truth about her heritage and culture. It can be very confusing when someone asks which tribe do you belong to, and you can't answer. .. That should be a given. Instead, they seal adoption records up so no one can find their own beginnings. The ICWA was put in place because people were taking Native American children without first trying to find a Native American Family member. A childs first memories are so very important from infant to four years old. They need to retain their identity with the culture . So many are displaced and never find out about their true heritage. To know where you are going you must know where you come from... Keep the ICWA, improve it, make it better for the life of all adopted children like Veronica Brown. AS an adopted out Native American child I know how hard it is to piece together the puzzle of a displaced childs background and find out my own tribal identity. It has taken over fifty years. No one tells you where to look or where to get answers. In my particular case, I had my adoption records opened by a the juvenile court Judge where I was adopted. She was so helpful and she changed my life. Not knowing is the killer. I personally, hope the Supreme Court sides with the Biological Father. I never knew my natural father and he was full-blood Kiowa. At least, Veronica got to meet her real father and she seems to smile with happiness. She is such a beautiful child.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
"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." Baby Veronica is not "a Native child." She is 50% Native. She could just as well be referred to as "a Hispanic child." Doesn't the birthmother have any rights in this case? Where do you draw the line?
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
this has happened to my family as well, my sister had moved to michagin with her ex fiance and he left her for a younger woman and she could care for them and got takin from her, when she had move to missouri 2 started a new and out adopted out without the notification of the hopi tribe. Upon, finding this out their grandmother has been fighting to get them back for many years and still have yet to hear any news
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
"....the dominant culture values of possession and ownership are so strong that it leads to a sense of entitlement." "When the early invaders wanted our land" Is the contradiction of these two statements not obvious? No one owns another human being. No one owns the Earth.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Very good essay, thank you. The people that seek out and become obsessed with specific kinds of babies that they see as "exotic" are like the people who will pay huge sums to get a fancy breed of dog. It is not about wanted to adopt an orphan who has no family - it is about wanting to own something unique that they can show off to their friends. It needs to stop.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I am sorry to hear of this story but I hope all who read this are aware that these times are a time of unrest in this nation. We are not all one people. The ones who call themselves conservatives are being led to only see one side of any story. They will see the side that mainstream media wants them to see. BUT (I'm not sure exactly how to say this) there are also many intelligent, liberal minded progressives that believe that each group of people have their own particular rights, each situation is different. What some Americans believe is "normal and traditional" is not necessarily correct. I have read enough to understand that it is important that we do everything in our power to keep children of Native Americans with their families...with their tribe or culture. I do not mean to insult anyone with this comparison, but I think about all the different species of animal and plant that are being lost and this endangers the balance of nature...the differences of each animal or plant is what makes this planet wonderful. This too applies to peoples of the earth. I enjoy learning about each culture..wishing I could understand them all more. I wish you good luck in your endeavor to show the courts and the people the importance of this issue. I hope you can find a way to raise awareness in the Native community and also to share with as many people as possible. Mainstream media is difficult to contend with, but I believe Social media can be a great tool. A lot of "white" people will appear to be against you, but please keep in mind that we are not all that way. I myself will continue to vote in every election..and will NOT vote Republican. ...I'm just sayin...I believe that party is part of the problem. I could be wrong about that...but I don't think so. ;)
Anonymous

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