The Stealing of Our American Indian Children

Donna Ennis
December 22, 2012

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.



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!
"....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.
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.
"....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.
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.
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...

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