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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

About the First Nations Repatriation Institute

My Conversation With Sandy White Hawk, Sicangu Lakota Adoptee 
By kostvollmers | September 13, 2011 

The following chat with Sandy is lengthy and so I’ll keep my comments
brief.  We here at Land of Gazillion Adoptees are huge fans of the
Adoptees Have Answers (AHA) Advisory Group.  Sandy and the advisory
group’s other members are certified rockstars, and I would strongly
suggest all adoptive parents and adoption agencies in MN to take a
close look at what the group and its members are doing for the
adoption community. 
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Parents love talking about their kids.
Would you mind talking about yours? What do they do? What do they
Sandy: I have two children. My daughter, who is 34, just graduated
with her MFA from the University of Madison, WI. She and her fiancé
have a 9-year-old daughter. Right after she graduated they moved from
WI and are now going to make their home in Minnesota. My son, who is
28, graduated with his BA in American Studies from the University of
Minnesota. He also lives here in the state. He has worked in community
development and is currently looking for work in the nonprofit sector. 
I started using when I was 14 years old and became an addict. I got
clean when I was 28; my daughter was 5. It took five years sobriety
for me to begin to heal enough to parent in a healthy way. 
I am proud of my children for many reasons. What I am thinking about
today is how both  of my children have accomplished more than I had
when I was their age. They both are confident and living drug and
alcohol free lives. They have chosen to live our Lakota way of life --
a life of balance and drug and alcohol free. They made this decision
when they were in college. I think this amazes me so much because I am
a recovering addict. I have been sober for 30 years. The cycle of
addiction and abuse stopped with me, and now I can grow old knowing my
grandchildren live in balanced and loving homes. 
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Thanks for sharing that, Sandy. For
readers who don't know you, would you mind giving an overview of your
work with the First Nations Orphans Association and the Truth Healing
and Reconciliation community forums? 
Sandy: First Nations Orphan Association is now First Nations
Repatriation Institute. It’s basically the same with some additions.
The term First Nations people is used when referring to American
Indians or Native Americans.  An elder advised us that we were a
people of Nationhood pre-Columbian contact; we had governments. We
were the First Nations of this land. And the term repatriation comes
from the Latin word repatriatre – to go home again, to restore or
return to the country of origin, allegiance or citizenship. 
The overall purpose of First Nations Repatriation Institute is to
create a resource for First Nations people impacted by foster care or
adoption to return home, reconnect and reclaim their identity. The
Institute also serves as a resource to enhance the knowledge and
skills of practitioners who serve First Nations people. The First
Nations Repatriation Institute will eventually fill a significant gap
in resources available for First Nations people. There is currently no
organized effort at a local, state, national or international level to
address the needs of people separated from their culture by foster
care or adoption. 
Specifically, the First Nations Repatriation: 
Connects First Nations Adoptees with other First Nations Adoptees;
Supports First Nations people in searches for relatives during family
Assists First Nations Adoptees with tribal enrollment;
Supports emotional, physical and spiritual health of all adoptees/
fostered individuals, their families and communities in accordance
with First Nations peoples’ traditional spiritual heritage;
Provides consultation and education to social service providers and
mental healthcare providers and the legal system in the cultural
traditions and values of First Nations people.
As for Truth Healing and Reconciliation Community Forums, they are day
long events that bring together First Nations adoptees and fostered
individuals with other adoptees, professionals and community and
spiritual leaders to strategize ways to address post adoption issues
and ultimately lower the rate of child removal. 
Truth: At the forums, we have adoptees, fostered individuals and birth
relatives share their stories. Social workers, Guardian ad Litems,
adoption professionals, judges, lawyers and others hear first hand the
long-term effects of being raised outside of culture and away from
family. For many adoptees/fostered individuals and other family
members, their life stories for the first time have a purpose. The
many years they spent wondering why they had to go through years of
isolation, anxiety and often depression are used to educate those who
work with Indian families. 
Healing: At the forums, we do not to blame and attack those who
represent the child welfare system. This brings about great results,
as demonstrated by the following response from a participant: 
“Another circle I was in was powerful as two small brothers told their
stories of being taken from their families and who were still in
placement. Their story of abusive foster homes and what they went
through was painful to hear. A white lady social worker was there and
she broke down. She cried so hard her shoulders shook. She apologized
to the boys, although she had not worked with them. She apologized to
the ones she had taken from their families. She apologized for not
understanding and not listening and just following those policies of
her organization. I cried when one of the little boys got up, went to
her, put his hand on her shoulder and said, ‘It’s ok. It isn’t your
fault.’ He allowed her to hug him. The strength of spirit that little
one possessed amazed me. He was so small in physical form, but mighty
and pure in spiritual form. As she held him she said she would do
things differently (I hope she did and is still doing it).”
Reconciliation: At the forums, the recognition is made that
Reconciliation begins with the individual in a process of sharing. It
is not an event. It is a process that begins after Truth and Healing.
Truth Healing and Reconciliation Community Forums provide a space and
time to establish new relationships, evaluate and reflect for change. 
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Wow. That’s some fantastic stuff... Based
upon your experience, what do you think is the biggest need for
adoptees here in Minnesota? 
Sandy: The biggest need for Minnesota adoptees is access to their
original birth certificates. I would take it a step further and say
that we should also have access to our social work case files. Why
not? It is our history, no one else’s. We have no idea how many birth
mothers and fathers would welcome the release of guilt and shame
through meeting their relinquished children. Access to records could
be a first step in the healing process. 
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Word to that... 

1 comment:

  1. We have adopted 5 children (now adults) from foster care, & made every effort to maintain at least some contact with their birth families. Our oldest daughter came to us from a broken (for good reasons) adoption. We had some mail contact with her birth mom before she died, and considerable in-person contact with her grandmother, so we do have birth names, etc., though the previous adoptive parents seem to have "misplaced" all paperwork. We have tried various routes to establish our daughter's tribal connections, to no avail. She now has a daughter & granddaughter, and we'd appreciate any help you can provide in making those connections, especially since our granddaughter is now attending college and may be eligible for targeted financial aid. Thanks so much!


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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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