Header

Stolen Generations: Adoption as a Weapon

Peter d'Errico
1/2/13

Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects is a new book about the campaign to break indigenous social structures by removing the children: "Governments…paid agencies and churches to remove and Christianize children… and raise them to be non-Indian."

Edited by Trace A. DeMeyer and Patricia Cotter-Busbee, themselves adoptees, the history is told through chronicles by those who lived through it.

Ethnic cleansing by child removal is a counterpart to the boarding school system, aimed to "kill the Indian and save the man." Boarding schools take children away from home for months and years at a time, returning them as "civilized." Adoption projects take children away permanently, to assimilate them into non-Indian society via non-Indian families.

A common element of the stories is painful curiosity, children trying to figure out who they are, and why their biological parents gave them away. Answers are sometimes never discovered. What is learned may compound the pain, when the child's displacement turns out to be a subchapter in the parent's (or parents') own survival struggle.

In many cases, the birth parents' generation was already victimized by the Dawes Act and the Indian wars: one wore the face of "friends of the Indian," the other the face of outright hatred. The "stolen generations" is only part of the trajectory of Indian genocide.

Two Worlds shows that the pain of the non-Indian adoptive families often compounds the pain of displacement. For whatever reasons—many are discussed in the multitude of stories—adoptive parents may be trying to escape from their own pain when they take an Indian child into their homes. Those who try a to fill a void or carry out a messianic belief by adopting an Indian child cause pain that multiplies pain; everyone is scarred.

Given the fact that thousands of Indian children are adopted out of Indian communities, it is possible—as some adoptee stories show—that a displaced life is not pain-filled. But even in those cases where adoptees live a comfortable life with loving parents, the stories point to an inchoate pain shared by adopted children of any culture: the pain of not knowing one's origins. Adoption agencies exacerbate this by policies of secrecy, as if self-knowledge were a bad thing.

As if all this pain were not enough, the stories tell of a whole new world of pain that may open up at the end of the genealogical quest, when the search for the past has led to the present: the pain of re-assimilation; or worse, the pain of not being able to re-assimilate into one's origin community.

Sometimes the pain at the end of the quest is caused by absence: the birth parents have passed on. Sometimes it's caused by rejection: the birth parents don't want to revisit their long-ago decision to give away a child, or believe that the reasons for their previous actions are still viable today.

Sometimes, it's a mixed bag: one or more biological relatives welcome the returning child, while others spurn the reunion. The variations and permutations are many. They don't fit into neat pigeonholes, though they do show certain patterns.

One pattern is the difficulty of re-assimilating not simply to a birth family, but to a birth culture, where language is crucial. As anyone who has learned a foreign language knows, it is easy enough to learn how to make small talk, and much more difficult to learn enough to talk about life (or politics, or spirituality, or anything truly intimate). In these instances, the past remains past, no reunion is possible, and the lost way of life is water under the bridge.

At a hearing in 1974, the Congressional Subcommittee on Indian Affairs learned that in states with large Indian populations, about 25 percent of all American Indian children are taken away from their families by adoption, in addition to the thousands removed into boarding schools. About 85 percent of Indian adoptees were placed in non-Indian homes.

By 1978, Congress felt sufficiently concerned to enact the Indian Child Welfare Act. Unfortunately, this legislative response to the genocidal policies of the adoption projects is more honored in the breach than the observance. A 2011 investigation by National Public Radio found that "32 states are failing to abide by the act in one way or another."

Each of the storytellers in this collection has survived displacement, battles with adoption agencies, the reflected pain of their adoptive and birth parents, and the confusion of not knowing their origins. Many suffered through abuse, self-abuse, and substance abuse, as they struggled through doubts and difficulties of genealogical discovery. The path to discover the past is not easy.

The storytellers display courage, commitment, and compassion. The fact that their stories are being replicated today by more stories we have not yet heard is testimony to the ongoing assault on indigenous peoples.

Peter d’Errico graduated from Yale Law School in 1968. Staff attorney in Dinebeiina Nahiilna Be Agaditahe Navajo Legal Services, 1968-1970. Taught Legal Studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1970-2002. Consulting attorney on indigenous issues.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page

13

POST A COMMENT

Comments

Anonymous's picture
MY husbands mother was forced to give her child up for adoption this was over 55 years ago. We have been tiring to find her daughter but we have no where to go. My mother in law has passed away 25 years ago and told her other children about the lost one. The adoption happened around Montreal, the family wont speak about her but we were told that she went to a uncle to find her family and was turned away. My husband Uncle was speaking for himself and not my husbands siblings, they feel lost with the eldest missing and never knowing who she is. If you can direct me to where we may start looking it would be greatly appreciated.
Anonymous
candyo's picture
I was sold by "Butterfield" who was a Methodist preacher to another family. After both adopted parents passed away, I decided to find my roots. I went to the juvenile court in Oklahoma County and a Judge Carole Hubbard opened my adoption records and told me who my real parents were and what tribe I was from in Oklahoma. She said there was a law in Oklahoma that said I had a right to know... I then, went to the Deaconess Hospital where I was born and asked for my birth records since I had my birth mothers name. They gave me those records which told me the circumstances surrounding my birth. I also, contacted people who were involved with my placement, social workers, people in the adoption business at the Everlasting Light. They were very helpful. I was able to enroll in my choice of two Federally, Recognized Tribes since both of my parents were full-blood. Many pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I contacted NARA out of Fort Worth which is an archive for the Plains Indians and holds many documents about census records and where people were living and who lived with them and particular times in history. I contacted Senators to assist with acquiring documents that I was unable to get on my own... It was a long, drawn-out journey to unveil what the government tries to keep secret from adoptees. To know who your birth parents are should be a given right from birth! To know who your grandparents were, should be a given right to every child born. Adopted children are worthy to be treated with God given rights like every other human being born. I know now that my mother gave me away because she was an alcoholic, from my birth records it told me I was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, she may not even known she gave birth to a child but I do know she had to sign the custody papers to relinquish her custody rights to me when my parents adopted me because it was a legal adoption. Both of my grandparents were alive at the time but I talked to my birth mothers sister and she said even though she was married to my father who was in the Navy she gave me away a week after I was born. Then, when I contacted her she denied giving birth to me. Which she still denies today. She even named her second daughter by another man my same name on my original birth certificate... It has been a long and winding journey but now I know where I came from and I'm really glad I found out.
candyo
Anonymous's picture
Finding truth later was just as traumatic as the fear of hell fire and brimstone threats given.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
After spending several years in foster care, white homes, with people I could not connect with for many reason's though non status, I knew I was Native American, but any chance of me ever knowing anything about my Native Ancestry was delayed for too long. I knew I was different, I was told that I was different, and that my biological parents did not love me or I wouldn't be in foster care..the psychological damage that was done to me by those words cannot be suppressed after many more decades, I still suffer with "identity problems" , I resent deeply anybody dictating to me what my heritage is no matter what race they are coming from. I know who I am, I am a genocide product of the First Nation's descendants a watered down "First Nation" Survivor! We are still here, my grandparent's blood run through my veins every second of my life..And I will not let anybody take this from me..I Represent MY individual ancestors and I'm Proud of who I am.. I wont allow Quantum to steal my heritage. Algonquin's Nation's Makwa Ini, Mic Mac, Canadian Abenaki, Attikamek, and originally "Huron". The more people try to dictate to me who I am, the more I resist their judgement's...I'm ready for any DNA testing.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
WA State is guilty of allowing CPS on non-rez lands to rip Native children from birth parents becuz there are still racists in the police force as well as in CPS and the various other agencies involved with STEALING Indian children....
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I was adopted at birth in one of those states in which papers were sealed, still to this day I can not obtain my own birth certificate as it is sealed 40 years later. When my adoptive parents pass away, I do not know how I will be able to obtain a birth certificate, If something ever happens to the copies I now have.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
This is sad and wrong. I being of mixed bld understand. I am Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee and Poarch Creek, scotch, English and french. My mother was able to trace both her Great Grandmother's Creek heritage and stand before coundi to be sknowledged as a member of the Creek Nation. But my father who was the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee has not been able togind an proof other than his grandmother's bible states the heritage
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Look first in the county court records. Then if you want to find baptism records go to the church they attended. Search the internet for marriage documents around the time of birth. Go to the Hospital where you may have been born. Also, you can get court documents with foi or freedom of information documents. Some things are public record.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Once in a while, an adoption is done out of love. A friend of mine (Looks white and was raised white, but probably has Native blood) adopted a Native child years ago because she loved children and had several of her own. Every year, the adoptive Mother and the child went back to the res for several weeks and both learned about the child's culture.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I mean no disrespect but I don't know any family mixed straight whatever that doesn't have some of the same issues. I just think that I'd rather grow up with someone who wanted me and loved me and have those issues than grow up alone and have those issues. I have friends white with black children and white with asian, I would like to have a house full of all children to love and learn with them ab
Anonymous

Pages