I’m American Indian. I’m also a Family Therapist who has done a lot of work with transracial adoptions. Most citizens of the United States and Canada are unaware of a very painful and harmful history regarding federal policies to remove American Indian/Alaskan Native and First Nations children from their biological homes to be adopted into White families. In Canada, this was termed “the Scoop.” About one out of every four American Indian children were adopted out–the percentage in Canada was higher.
The American Child Welfare League had a federal contract to help conduct this “child-stealing”– In a formal apology from the Executive Director of the ACWL: “No matter how well intentioned and how squarely in the mainstream this was at the time, it was wrong, it was hurtful, and it reflected a kind of bias that surfaces feelings of shame,” Bilchik said. He also apologized for the League’s failure to support the passage of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act and for not providing enough leadership and support to Indian child welfare concerns and efforts.
Unlike Mr. Salesses, or Ann’s adopted daughter, as American Indians, we are tracked by the federal government by our blood quantum, exactly the way the American Kennel Club tracks poodles. If we are unable to prove “enough” Indian “blood,” we are not able to be federally recognized, which means we have no access to the promises of the treaties that were signed in exchange for our traditional lands–and this includes health care and education. Many states sealed adoption records, which means an adoptee might know he or she has Native heritage, but will never be able to discover the tribal nation of his/her biological family. I can’t begin to express the sorrow of such young people who show up on our reservation doorsteps saying, “I know I’m American Indian, but I don’t know where I’m from.” We fully understand their pain–many of our families have lost their children in a similar way–but we don’t know how to answer them. The term that’s used in our communities for such individuals is “lost bird.”
Here’s a quote from such an adoptee–as a Family Therapist, I have heard almost word for word the same comments so many times: “I was told that what I came from was horrible, savage, pagan, and that I was so lucky to be taken away from all of that,” White Hawk recounts. “When I became a teenager and went through normal teenage difficulties, my mother told me, ‘Don’t grow up to be a good for nothing Indian.’”
Finally, with transracial adoptions, it doesn’t matter how much love an adoptive family can provide-that isn’t the issue. But if a child is visually different–a White adoptive family will never be able to model for such a child of how to be a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted person of color, just as a hearing family, no matter how much love it can provide–can ever model for a deaf child how to be a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted deaf person. Frankly, we live in a racist society, and there are different skill sets for dealing with racism and discrimination for people of color than there are for European-Americans.
In looking at the records of child removal within out Native communities, 99% were taken away through “neglect.” Only 1% were removed for “abuse.” “Neglect” basically meant anything a non-Native social worker and judge agreed upon. For example, in Washington State, until the state codes were changed, it could be considered “neglect” if each child did not have his or her own bedroom.
Here’s a resource for Canadian First Nations adoptees: http://web.ncf.ca/de723/nahcontacts.htmlhttp://web.ncf.ca/de723/nahcontacts.html”