Edward S. Curtis
'Mother and Child (Apsaroke Indian)' by Edward S. Curtis

Woman Crush Wednesday (WCW) No. 1: Native Mothers

Gyasi Ross

See, almost every single one of our moms from my generation—roughly 1960-1980—were encouraged to 1) abort their Native child, 2) tie their tubes (and in some cases were tricked into tying their tubes) and/or 3) give away their kids to non-Native families. All these things were encouraged in the name of trying to “make their children’s lives better.” Since many of our dads weren’t present, it was almost 100% the mom’s call whether or not they gave away the kids or aborted us or got their tubes tied. This was pre-Indian Child Welfare Act, and so there were a lot of Indian babies that got taken away and a lot of Native women’s tubes that got tied against their will. Now, some of them agreed to these things—it made sense; they were poor and uneducated and oftentimes with no real opportunities to make things better.

“If it will make my child’s life better.” 

Mom and me.

No judgment to those who did give their children up—it was absolutely an understandable decision at the time. But thankfully most of those Native moms did not. They kept the faith that things COULD and WOULD get better. As a result, Native people are still here today and growing in numbers and opportunities every single day. I thank God everyday that my mom didn’t and I was able to grow up with the richness of being raised by a wonderful Native family in amazing Native communities.

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mizzy's picture
Submitted by mizzy on

mizzy's picture
Submitted by mizzy on
I wonder if I might suggest that you take a click trip over to Land of Gadzillion Adoptees for the perspective of adults who have been adopted. I read your blog just on Mother's Day and was deeply saddened by your use of what is a painful subject for many as an opportunity to be thankful that you weren't given up and raised by someone other than your mother. I was equally saddened by your description of women who you believe gave up their children 'for the better'. It was a confusing post: on one hand you say you don't blame mothers who did make the choice to give up children and then in the next you thank your own mother because she didn't make that choice because she and others knew things would be better. I was left wondering why someone would choose to honor their mother for mother's day by saying "Thanks mom for not giving me up for adoption." I suppose it would be odd if it weren't a reality for so many Native people of a certain generation, and so I can only surmise that you thought would get some mileage out of it politically... at least from folks who like you weren't adopted-out. I was doing some reading on Land of Gadzillion Adoptees today and came upon this story titled, Twisted Logic, a phrase which summed up my critique of your Mother's Day blog nicely. The personal reflection that followed was equally enlightening. "Too many times to count, someone has either accused me of being an irresponsible whore or glorified my act of relinquishment as that of a true family-building angel. These are obviously completely opposite points of view that most likely are based upon the speakers’ level of experience with adoption. For the person whose connection with adoption is mostly on a superficial level, his or her understanding is oftentimes based on the sensational: the stories that make the news, the celebrity tabloids, or popular daytime talk shows. As the more publicized stories grab the headlines, “facts” can be based on either true adoption nightmares or saccharinely sweet adoption stories. So a person’s developed viewpoint could be more extreme. Whereas, once in the safety of Adoption Land, the politically correct mode of honoring and respecting the birth mother grows in value. It’s almost like the two varied adoption extremes come closer together but more tightly layered. Both stereotypes are still there, yet only the positive is visible and acted upon openly. Of course, the underlying feelings of shame and judgment exist still, even if no one talks about them. I wonder what is left unsaid. It can feel like people hope the birth mother is a saint, while being afraid she is really a sinner. It is even more confusing when, depending on the timing and the circumstances, birth mothers can be viewed as both saint and sinner at the same time."