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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Colonizer

The lesson (is) to realize the value of an alternative perspective. And that is why we are here. That is why the Creator allowed some of us to remain, in spite of all the attempts to destroy us.
- Tall Oak (Everett Weeden), Absentee Pequot/Narragansett, 500 Nations documentary

Not all tribes are alike, mind you, but many share beliefs and bloody conflicts. America is clearly in denial about its conquest of Turtle Island. It’s easier not to know.

But long ago the colonizer used bad medicine to hasten treaties, to subdue warriors, to ensure internal conflict within tribes. Alcohol, the bad medicine, killed many prisoners, men, women, even children, on and off the reservation.

To add insult to injury, high-sugar, high-fat commodities and processed foods are boxed and delivered by truckloads to each reservation, compliments of the American government. This treaty diet causes obesity, bad skin, bad health and slow starvation.

For more than 100 years, Indian Country has been dealing with weakened immune systems, sugar diabetes, amputations and heart disease. Genes do remain a factor as an adult. Without medical records, every lost child-adoptee is like a time bomb. If we don’t know our medical history, we are at greater risk.

Tribal leaders do struggle to make things right or better, but it’s not easy in this “conquered” Third World, fighting for the scraps we call food, sovereignty and dignity.

After an avalanche of alcohol, then an ever-increasing supply of new (sometimes) illegal drugs, reservations are facing new epidemics: fetal-alcohol syndrome, high suicide rates, drug addictions, crack cocaine, arrests, high prison populations and more than their fair share of domestic violence.

This “image” tarnishes reservations when typically these stories and photographs fill American newspapers.

Despite all this, there is hope. Each child brings renewed hope.

I make no claim to be an expert on any culture but I have lived on and near reservations most of my adult life. I cover Indian Country as a journalist. I’m part of a world community, a part of this tribalism, no matter where I live.

Being a Native person means everything to me but my birthfather Earl did not live in ancestral territory or on the Cherokee reservations in Oklahoma or the Carolinas. He was assimilated into American culture, lived in Pana and Chicago, Illinois, and died an alcoholic.

In any tribal culture, my relatives would need to invite adoptees to ceremonies, to teach and offer friendship. I have not lived on the Cherokee reservation. To live there, I’d need to be invited by my relatives. I sent one Cherokee newspaper a letter looking for my relatives but no one wrote me or emailed.

It felt funny knowing that many people claim some Cherokee ancestry. I needed to be certain so I asked my father when we first met. He and my aunts are proud of our ancestors and explained after Cherokee removals, people scattered all over the Midwest and south, when my paternal great-grandmother Mary Francis Morris got married and moved from Missouri to Illinois.
Mary and her daughter Lona Dell Harlow lived our culture. Until relatives assimilate me back into my culture, I remain Tsalgi, Cherokee.  It doesn’t take an ID card for me to be Indian.

It’s just as important to understand what these removals and adoptions accomplished in America and Canada as it is to see where Indians stand today.

Some American Indians say if we keep our languages strong and return to our ceremonies, our tribal nations and people will grow strong again. Reservations did change dramatically after treaties, when Indians were forced to buy food or rely heavily on Indian agents for rations and treaty commodities. For those living on their rez, they too have experienced upset and turmoil in ever-changing traditions, living in their two worlds.

Oppression creates new victims every day.

In contrast to the biblical book of Genesis, in which God creates man in his own image and gives him dominion over all other creatures, the Native American legends reflect the view that human beings are no more important than any other thing, whether alive or inanimate. In the eye of the Creator, they believe, man and woman, plant and animal, water and stone, are all equal, and they share the earth as partners — even as family. Recurring themes include the idea of Mother Earth as life host, the relationship of reciprocity that exists between human beings and animals, and the Indians' dependence on animals as teachers. The plots are often complex, take numerous twists and turns, and commonly include humor. But any comic elements never detract from the story's sacred purpose. 
-The Spirit World, Time-Life Books

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian

Every Indian I’ve met has heard, “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man,” or “the Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian.” Both were uttered by Capt. Richard C. Pratt, the head master and founder of Carlisle Boarding School.
Beginning in 1887, the federal government attempted to “Americanize” Native Americans, largely through educating young Native boys and girls. By 1900, thousands of Native Americans were studying at almost 150 boarding schools around the United States. Schools called Carlisle, Flandreau, Hampton, Haskell Institute and others were built. The U.S. Training and Industrial School founded in 1879 at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, was the model for most of these schools. Carlisle provided vocational and manual training and sought to systematically strip away tribal culture.
Schools insisted students drop their Indian names, forbade the speaking of their languages, and cut off long hair. Cutting off the hair was done in many tribes when a relative died, otherwise you wore it long. For these children, cutting hair meant cutting off contact.
Not surprising, some schools met fierce resistance from Native parents and youth. But some young people like athlete Jim Thorpe, responded positively, or at least ambivalently, to the boarding schools. Some students said the schools fostered a sense of shared Indian identity that transcended tribal boundaries.
Carlisle’s founder Captain Pratt, said the following to an 1892 convention, and spotlights his pragmatic, frequently brutal methods for “civilizing” the “savages.” A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man. Again, Pratt implies Native traditions are wrong. Using God to defend the willful destruction of families in any culture is reprehensible to me, as I’m sure it is to God. Didn’t God create all nations and all skin colors?
Tribes strongly disagreed with the American/Canadian government’s system of boarding schools, removals and adoptions. The tribes felt their placement and enforcement are always best for their children. Tribal leaders took action and fought for the Indian Welfare Act which was passed in 1978. (It seems so recent.)
Our culture is our tribal family.
Yet in the past 100 years, tribes lost two or three generations to the government’s system of removals and adoption.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Just so you know...

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of any employer or business or industry. 

Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

This is my friend Desi (Anishinabe) and me in a photobooth (circa 1972)
UPDATE (2020)
we have a domain name ( just in case

HANAI: Why all adoptions should be open

Since I was writing a memoir about being adopted, in 2005 I started to intensely study adoption and read blogs by adoptees, birthparents and adopting families - the triad. I looked for examples of good, even great, adoption experiences.
In 2010, finally, more and more adoptive families are becoming more sensitive to the children of "mixed race" they adopt. This example of HANAI was particularly striking to me, since I was in a closed adoption and knew nothing about my birthfamily or their names or tribal origins. I wish I had known something and had been given respect for my Cherokee-Shawnee-Delaware ancestry.
It took me many years to know my own name and the names of my grandparents and their parents...

One blogger wrote this review of The Family of Adoption* by Joyce Maguire Pavao

This book is a bit more academic than Birthmother, but still an important read. It examines the adoption experience from all three perspectives, giving special attention to the children. It devotes a chapter to each important developmental stage in the adopted child’s life – exploring common issues and conversations they will have as they grow up. Pavao’s years of psychological training and experience have given her some powerful insights into what makes adoption a successful, enriching experience. Once particular passage in the Epilogue really stuck with me – it was upon reading this that I really became convinced of the beauty of adoption:

Many years ago in Hawaii, I was one of two keynote speakers at a conference, both of us adopted. The gentleman went first. He was native Hawaiian, and in Hawaii there is an ancient custom of adoption called hanai. In a Hawaiian marriage, when you become “related” to the in-law family, you are then considered one family, and you would not “war” against each other. The same is true in hanai — if you place your child with another family, the two families become connected, and are considered one large extended family. This Hawaiian adopted person opened the conference with loud drums and chanting. It was beautiful—stunning—and it went on for quite a while. The entire audience sat very still and listened, mesmerized.

When he had finished, he stated that he had just recited the names of his ancestors. He had chanted the lineage of both his family by birth and his family by adoption. He said that it is a great honor to be a hanai person, as you are the reservoir that holds the lineage of two great families; you are the place and the person where they connect and become one extended family. It is a prestigious position to be the connector of two families.

~~ If adoptive parents read this, please show this respect to the blood and origin of your adopted child. Give them all the information you can to spare them the trauma of not knowing....
Trace, author of ONE SMALL SACRIFICE: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects (2009)
(birthdaughter of Earl Bland and Helen Thrall)
(adopted by Sev and Edie DeMeyer)

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Veronica, we adult adoptees are thinking of you today and every day. We will be here when you need us. Your journey in the adopted life has begun, nothing can revoke that now, the damage cannot be undone. Be courageous, you have what no adoptee before you has had; a strong group of adult adoptees who know your story, who are behind you and will always be so.

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As the single largest unregulated industry in the United States, adoption is viewed as a benevolent action that results in the formation of “forever families.”
The truth is that it is a very lucrative business with a known sales pitch. With profits last estimated at over $1.44 billion dollars a year, mothers who consider adoption for their babies need to be very aware that all of this promotion clouds the facts and only though independent research can they get an accurate account of what life might be like for both them and their child after signing the adoption paperwork.


Original Birth Certificate Map in the USA

Why tribes do not recommend the DNA swab

Rebecca Tallbear entitled: “DNA, Blood, and Racializing the Tribe”, bearing out what I only inferred:

Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

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