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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: One Small Sacrifice

Review: One Small Sacrifice

By Cris Carl

Trace A. DeMeyer’s most recent book, “One Small Sacrifice,” expresses the experience of adoption in a well-researched and brutally painful light.  Focusing primarily on the travesties of U.S. adoption policies relating to American Indian families and children, DeMeyer carefully illustrates the damage done to a “tribe” of lost children.  These children often referred to by some tribal peoples as “Lost Birds,” suffer more than potential neglect and abuse.  Even in the most loving and well-intentioned adoptive families the sense of lost identity and abandonment can and has created generations of damaged Indian children, according to DeMeyer.

DeMeyer states that the U.S is one of the world’s biggest adopters, with 20,000 children adopted from around the world in 2002 alone.  Adoption rarely makes headlines, but on February 4, 2010, 10 Baptist congregants from Idaho attempted to steal 33 Haitian children. According to the New York Times the children were held in intolerable conditions, they had no relevant paperwork, and some continued to cry that they had parents until Haitian authorities captured the kidnappers.  The practice of removing non-white children, placing them with white American families has a long and well-established history.

Stealing American Indian children has been an accepted and legal practice in the U.S. since the early 1800’s.  DeMeyer notes in her book that congress passed the “Civilization Fund Act” in 1819, the first in a series of laws and acts intended to assimilate American Indian people’s and undermine tribal customs.  The act “authorized grants to private agencies, primarily churches, to establish programs to ‘civilize the Indian,’” states DeMeyer.

DeMeyer goes on to note the advent of the “large, militarist boarding schools or institutions where Indian children were placed involuntarily  and forced to abandoned their beliefs, customs, and traditions.”  The schools, which were established by the U.S. government and private agencies, lasted well into the 1980’s before they were shut down.  “Severe punishment, in the form of beatings, being chained and shackled, bound hand and foot and locked in closets was not uncommon,” said DeMeyer.  Remember, we’re talking about children here.

DeMeyer speaks often of the government policy known as the Indian Adoption Project, which in the 1950’s used pubic and private agencies to remove and place hundreds of Indian children into non-Indian homes.  The practice lasted until 1978 with the creation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.  “By 1900, after decades of forced removal of Indian children from their families and communities, and the stripping of their culture from them, the natural child protection system that once flourished in every tribal community began to break down,” as DeMeyer quotes Terry Cross.

While DeMeyer carefully spells out elements of genocidal government policies that have been destructive to American Indian culture for hundreds of years, far more powerfully, she tells her own story.  At times, reading One Small Sacrifice, I felt I was watching a disaster in the making. 

Painfully, I sensed what was coming with the foreboding that there was nothing I could do but be a witness. 

However, I also found a far-reaching underlying psychology that can be applied to a wide-range of identity and trauma issues – particularly relating to abandonment. 

One Small Sacrifice is a must-read for anyone dealing with not only the aforementioned issues, but for clinicians who wish to look deeper into adoption’s effects.

Cris Carl, (c)2010, All Rights Reserved


  1. Case in Washington proceeding- hopeful for public apology and recognition of damage

  2. Randy, thank you and please let us know more!


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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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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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