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Monday, July 30, 2012

Identity: One man’s search after adoption

Thomas with this adoptive parents (family photo)

An interview with Thomas H. Pierce (Menominee)
By Trace A. DeMeyer

Thanks to a growing community of adoptees on Facebook and the internet, I interviewed Thomas H. Pierce, now 58, a member of Menominee tribe of Keshena, Wisconsin.

Thomas explained that he is listed on their descendent roll (there is a 1/16 blood quantum requirement) though his tribal brother told him he has more. Like many adoptees learn, it’s a matter of proof and finding lost relatives after years of being lost and separated by a closed adoption.

The following testimony is graphic but very important as it’s related to the Indian Adoption Projects and their intended outcomes. Thomas is not the only adoptee I know from a Wisconsin reservation, including his Menominee rez, who was taken to Pennsylvania for a closed adoption.

Tell us a bit about your tribal affiliations…

Thomas: I am 3/16 Menominee and also 3/16 Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican. I believe my father was Native American but I can't find him, even though I know his name. I lack the 1/16 each tribe requires for minimum full tribal status.

Do you know why you are adopted?
Thomas: I was adopted when I was 5 days old. I found out my adoption was due mostly because my grandfather would not allow my birthmother to bring me home. My mother was a Navy Corpsman. (My birthfather may have been also.) I was born at the Naval Hospital in Camp Pendleton on the Marine Corps military base in California.

 What was your childhood like?

I was adopted by a career Marine, Lt. Col. Herbert E. Pierce, a soft spoken “hero” in every respect. My adoptive dad was Cherokee, 1/4 blood, but his family denied it because of racism in Oklahoma. He was a WWII and Korean veteran and highly decorated.

Then there is my adoptive mother, an alcoholic, pill popper, ETOH abuser. (ETOH Abuse: When it is said that an individual is suffering from ETOH abuse what it means is that they are abusing alcohol. Most people have not heard of alcoholism being referred to as ETOH abuse and this is because this phrase is predominantly used in the medical and rehabilitation sector. The word ETOH is short for ethanol, which is the primary ingredient in alcohol.)

My mother, I believe, just hated kids. She treated us shabbily but she held a special hate for me. When she was angry, she sailed on about me being a bastard.

My father wasn't around much due to his postings so I was raised by my older sister who was eleven years older than me. When I was about 8 years old, she went off to school.

Because of my mother’s ETOH abuse, she slept in everyday until 10 a.m., so I never had anyone to rely on for getting breakfast, getting dressed or ready for school. As a result, I was a wild child, feral in some ways.

I do remember my adoptive parents were going to adopt a Navajo boy but he was violent - he grew up on the street eating from garbage cans, taking care of his younger brother, so they sent him back. I took that to heart and realized my tenure with my family was tenuous at best.

They always seemed to be sending me off somewhere, every summer vacation. I went to camps or to relatives and finally to a children's home where corporal punishment was practiced liberally.

I even made many trips to psychologists, until they told me my mother was to blame for my problems. I don't blame my Dad though he enabled her and then he was dying, very sick, and passed away at age 54. At that time, I lost my only defender. Then my relationship with my mother turned for the worse, if that was even possible.

She sent me for a summer to an acquaintance where I was sexually abused and where my own alcohol abuse started. She would do things out of spite, like setting me up with a friend for a weekend, telling this friend of hers I was gay, which I am not; but at least by this time I was old enough to fight off my attacker.

Then later, she phoned child authorities telling them I was abusing my own son, all proven untrue.

I was written out of the family will and received no inheritance or money. She gave away land which we had bought but by then I didn't care. Our relationship was irretrievable. I just wanted the few possessions my father bequeathed to me, the only things that would have mattered; and she ignored my sons with their inheritance.

But believe it or not, I mourned at her passing, mostly for the lost opportunity of a decent relationship she threw away.

 Did you have any Indian friends growing up?

I had no Indian friends growing up; there are not many Indians in the snooty environs of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, known for its wealth and society types. In fact, Wyomissing was a great place to learn how to fight. I was teased relentlessly. I learned to fight three or four guys at a time, just to survive as my tormentors waited for me with a beating and racial slurs.

But I was proud to be an Indian and I knew I was adopted from my first recollections. Despite the denials of being Indian from my father’s side of the family, they told me to be mum because they were still hanging Native Americans in Oklahoma and Missouri.

 What did you learn about your adoption and your adoptive parents?

Thomas:  I was adopted nine years after the end of World War II and my adoptive parents had been trying to have other children. My father wanted a boy. Since he was part Cherokee, a Native child seemed natural. One of my two sisters (their biological children) looked particularly Native American. After I was adopted, many of my father’s friends remarked, in their words, “You certainly can't deny him, Herb.”

We looked remarkably alike, even when I was in my 40s. I wished I was his but alas I am not.

I was told by my mother that due to father’s military service (malaria/jungle fevers) my dad was lacking enough sperm. I believe it was her who had medical problems and she had a hysterectomy in 1956-57. With her alcohol and drug abuse, as well as deep-seated psychological problems, perhaps she felt inadequate.

I was psychoanalyzed three times. The psychologists keep saying my problems were a result of her. She had a vicious temper and would assault me many times over the years, like a woman possessed, often when she visibly intoxicated.

My father and I had a good relationship, he was a mellow thoughtful man whom I could confide anything.

After my father died no one could modify her behavior. She kept an article on a blackboard about a theory that some children are “Bad Seeds.” This was pointed out to me constantly. She even blamed me for my father’s death.

She also had a way of pitting sibling against sibling to achieve her aims.

In early 1977, when she accused me of child abuse, I got so angry I threatened to kill her if she ever stuck her nose in my business again. I was written out of her will and had no contact with any family until the early 90s.

It was established there was no abuse of my children. I have raised six and never raised a hand in anger to any of them. I became my adoptive father.

There was not religious or financial reasons for them adopting me. When they sent that Navajo boy packing, that did affect me. I knew I could also be sent away. I acted out in my older years. I felt my mother just did not want me around.

 What’s your life like now and what type of work are you in?

Thomas: I have been married three times. It took me three to get it right.

I have been clean and sober for 18 years now.  I served in the military, Marines and Navy, as a corpsman. I boxed as an amateur. I love fast cars and motorcycles. I was Pre-Med in college but ran out of money. I’m studying for my Masters in Labor management, converting credits from my B.S. degree in nursing.

I have worked at everything: carpenter, boilermaker, sheet metal journeyman, and have lived all over this country. I’ve visited 49 of 50 states, lived in 15 states, and visited 25 different countries, as military, or working in the trades, or just for fun. One can never get enough travel, knowledge or evolve and involve oneself politically.

All the lessons I learned from the Colonel, early life with him, was a great civics lesson. He was a born teacher. He taught at Yale and had his PhD in History and also taught ROTC. He taught high school after he retired.

When did you decide to open your adoption or did your adoptive parents have info for you?

Thomas: I always knew my first mother’s maiden name and was curious in 1995. I felt I wasn’t disrespecting my adoptive parents. When I finally found her, my mother and I corresponded, wrote letters. She never told anyone about me so I never met her in person while she was alive, so as not to embarrass her.

Can you tell us a little about your tribal family reunion?

Thomas: About four years ago I reached out to my family in Keshena. Our reunion was grand. I come from such a proud and large family. I am still getting to know them and regret not doing it sooner.

Dr. Verna Fowler is a nun and she started the tribal college. I greatly respect my aunt and admire how she helped Native colleges everywhere. She’s truly a beautiful strong woman.

Also, my Aunt Shirley was instrumental in regaining our Nationhood back. (The Menominee were terminated but it was restored.) *see history below

I learned my own mother took in and adopted many children, as well as raising my two other half-brothers.

Unfortunately, due to many health issues and funds, I haven’t been able to travel back to my rez often. Mostly it’s my health. I almost died a year ago which awakened me to my own mortality, realizing I may have waited too long. It took many attempts to unseal my records and finally be recognized by my tribe.

One of my aunts thought I might be after something. She was right: I wanted my identity. My only regret is not starting this process sooner. I am fortunate to have such a wonderful family.

 Any advice for other adoptees…

Thomas: My advice to adoptees is “be persistent.” The laws are there but it’s just getting the system to work for you and it is slow. Yes, you might not be as fortunate as I was. My Aunt Verna gathered up as many relatives as she could and gave me a wonderful homecoming, catered at the College of the Menominee. I was and still am humbled by her kindness and warmth. I am still awaiting my naming ceremony, mostly due to health reasons, but I have no regrets.

The Menominee Indian Tribe’s rich culture, history, and residency in the area now known as the State of Wisconsin, and parts of the States of Michigan and Illinois, dates back 10,000 years. At the start of the Treaty Era in the early 1800’s, the Menominee occupied a land base estimated at 10 million acres; however, through a series of seven treaties entered into with the United States Government during the 1800’s, the Tribe witnessed its land base erode to little more than 235,000 acres today. The Tribe experienced further setbacks in the 1950’s with the U.S. Congress’ passage of the Menominee Termination Act, which removed federal recognition over the Tribe and threatened to deprive Menominee people of their cultural identity. Fortunately, the Tribe won back its federal recognition in 1973 through a long and difficult grassroots movement that culminated with the passage of the Menominee Restoration Act, Public Law 93-197, on December 22, 1973.

Read more here:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cherokee father keeps his baby after #Adoption custody dispute

Split South Carolina SCT Complies with ICWA and Affirms Return of Child to Cherokee Father

by Matthew L.M. Fletcher
Here is the opinion:
An excerpt:
We do not take lightly the grave interests at stake in this case. However, we are constrained by the law and convinced by the facts that the transfer of custody to Father was required under the law. Adoptive Couple are ideal parents who have exhibited the ability to provide a loving family environment for Baby Girl. Thus, it is with a heavy heart that we affirm the family court order. Because this case involves an Indian child, the ICWA applies and confers conclusive custodial preference to the Indian parent. All of the rest of our determinations flow from this reality. While we have the highest respect for the deeply felt opinions expressed by the dissent, we simply see this case as one in which the dictates of federal Indian law supersede state law where the adoption and custody of an Indian child is at issue. Father did not consent to Baby Girl's adoption, and we cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that custody by him would result in serious emotional or physical harm to Baby Girl. Thus, under the federal standard we cannot terminate Father's parental rights. For these reasons, we affirm the family court's denial of the adoption decree and transfer of custody to Father.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Full compliance with Indian Child Welfare Act, not its dismantling, is needed |

Full compliance with Indian Child Welfare Act, not its dismantling, is needed |

Archival Photo
"Those who are quick to call for ICWA's undoing should consider the pleas of the approximately 2,000 American Indian parents who contact our organization each year, as well as desperate family members who feel powerless to stop the unwarranted removal of a child. No family should go through the pain of an unnecessary removal, not a birth family or a prospective adoptive family.

"A failure to comply with the law led to Baby Veronica's original placement outside of her family and the tragic custody battle that ensued. What's needed is full compliance with the law, not its dismantling."

Terry Cross is executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

Read more:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Adoption headlines

Moscow Urges US to Provide Access to Adoptees' Ranch | World ...
Moscow is calling on Washington to give Russian representatives unhindered access to The Ranch for Kids, a Montana respite care home that looks after ...
National Adoption Month 2012: Adoptees Up Against Backward ...
While honesty and equality is the best policy for adoption law and practice New York has an outdated and unfair law discriminating against adult adoptees who ...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rebuilding our families

teach family history
In October 2001, Dr. Mary Pipher, a noted psychologist and nationally renowned author, spoke to a large audience at the Garde Arts Center in New London, Connecticut about the importance of rebuilding our families. Her presentation was timely, considering the events of 9-11 and its effects on citizens of this country.
Pipher related that Americans are the hardest working people in the world and consequently, some 45 million adults are on some kind of drug for nerves. America’s stressed-out adult population is adversely affecting our families. Less than one third of families have regular meals together. Parents are overwhelmed. Children develop behavior problems. We are not happy people.
“We must be the change we wish to see in this world,” Pipher said. “We must talk about values and teach our children to value the right things.”
According to this expert, we are missing social skills. We interrupt, act rude and use inappropriate behavior. Television teaches us to buy things. There are some 3,000 ads a day, which is having a cumulative effect on all of us. How many computers and televisions do we need? Do houses really need to be castle-size? We are isolated in big houses. We are becoming dissatisfied and narcissistic, self-obsessed.
In this ever-evolving world, technology is determining how we interact in society. And the way it’s going now, we’re not getting emotionally stronger but more isolated, dejected.
However, Pipher offered some solid solutions to our general unhappiness. Reacquaint your children to large family celebrations. Children need their relatives, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Little ones learn to negotiate and navigate best with family members around the house regularly.
Pipher says the antidote to despair is being helpful. Take an interest in other people’s children. Parent other people’s children, not just your own. Teach children to find pleasure in being helpful. Spend time outdoors. Connect children to useful work. Redefine the meaning of wealth. Teach children to be responsible.
Pipher believes in teaching family history. Tell stories about the ancestors and where they came from. Have a family ritual every night that might include reading poetry, family memories or stories of hope and heroic behavior. If adults behave well in difficult times, children will, too.
Make good conscious choices in two areas: protect from what is harmful and connect to what is beautiful.
We also need to protect our children from the media, from too much television, too much news and even adult conversation. Their developing minds cannot rationalize or discern between daddy’s or mommy’s upcoming business trip and the plane crash on television. Protect the children from violence on television. Teach your children by your own behavior; stress calmness and safety.
Pipher said create quiet time, family time. These tools will rebuild our family in times like these.

...Trace (this was an editorial I wrote for the Pequot Times and it's still relevant now)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Adoption headlines

Adopted from China: Finding identity through heritage
When Maia Stack returned to the pagoda, or tower, where she had been abandoned as a baby she was overwhelmed by what had happened there 11 years earlier.
See all stories on this topic »
Mixed Roots Foundation Shoots for the Stars in Public Service Announcement ...
San Francisco Chronicle (press release)
Michael Reagan, adopted son of former president Ronald Reagan and actress Jane Wyman will make a call to action for the public to help identify positive role models and streamline more post adoption resources for adoptees and their families. [.
See all stories on this topic »

San Francisco Chronicle (press release)

Web1 new result for adoptees
A Push to Open Connecticut Birth Records to Adult Adoptees - News ...
Old secrets, new fears and emotional highs and lows — they all come into play when you talk about adoptees finding the truth about their roots. And the feelings ...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

New and Adoption Headlines (2012)

Adoptee searches for her long-lost birth mother in Colombia ...
Adoptee and Adoption Mosaic executive director Astrid Dabbeni finds her birth mother after 36 years.
US Couple Accused of Tormenting Russian Adoptees Goes to Trial
RIA Novosti
A US couple accused of tormenting their adopted Russian children will be going to trial, news portal said on Saturday. Court papers say Kathleen ...

Friday, July 6, 2012

We are not the past: Overcoming Stereotypes

The Ponca Tribe, Second Edition
James H. Howard
Introduction by Donald N. Brown
New introduction by Judi M. gaiashkibos
Judi M. gaiashkibos, an enrolled member of the Ponca tribe of Nebraska, is executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and president of the Governor’s Interstate Indian Council.
Her mom was one of the students at the Genoa Indian School, a federally operated boarding school where Native American children received vocational training. The school was open from 1884-1934 and now is a museum.
It served as a training ground for assimilation into white society. Unlike some children, gaiashkibos’ mother went to the school willingly....

“When you say Native American, usually something comes to mind. It is an image, a stereotype. We are very limited in your mind what we can do,” she said, adding that it isn’t a challenge that European descendants have to face.
But one of the messages that she preaches is overcoming preconceived notions.
“Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, but you can’t paint us all with one paintbrush. All Indian people are not all one thing, but we can be everything we think we can be,” gaiashkibos said.

Read more:

We are not the dead, we are not the past, we are still here... Trace

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

RI opens records #ADOPTION

New R.I. law allows access to birth certificate

Effective JULY 2, 2012! (With conditions, of course!)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island is for the first time allowing people who were adopted to see their birth records. The state Office of Vital Records on Monday will allow adoptees age 25 and over to get copies of their original birth certificates. For some of them, it will be the first time they learn the names of their biological parents.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee (CHAY'-fee) was on hand to personally hand over records to four people. More than 200 certificates are being mailed and 55 have been preordered for pickup.
The new policy is the result of legislation passed last year designed to give adult adoptees more information about their birth parents and health history.
Birth parents are allowed to submit forms stating they do not wish to be contacted.

From the Norwich Bulletin:

"...Formal implementation of the law, signed in 2011, was held off for a time to enable the state to inform birth parents about the legislative change. Paul Schibbelhute, executive director of the American Adoption Congress, said Monday’s ceremony was a big step in the evolution of adoptees’ rights.
“It is a basic human right to have access to a birth certificate,” he said. “All of us have the right to know who our families are.”
Schibbelhute, who reunited with his birth son in 1998, said his group has lobbied for years to loosen access to adoptive records. Rhode Island is the third state, after New Hampshire and Maine, to allow an adoptee to view their birth certificates. He said his group “continues to struggle” to get the same law passed in Connecticut..."

For those birthparents reading this: do not deny us our name, history and ancestry, even if you do not meet us - do the right thing!   Trace

Monday, July 2, 2012

What to do if your child is taken: contact NARF

I have been asked what can an Indian parent do to protect their child if the state has taken them into custody. Obviously on reservations, poverty is often cited as a reason. Well, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 is a federal law supposed to prevent the state from removing children to non-Indian homes.

If you are a parent, contact the Native American Rights Fund and their lawyers - first!

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) is the oldest and largest nonprofit law firm dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide.  NARF's practice is concentrated in five key areas: the preservation of tribal existence; the protection of tribal natural resources; the promotion of Native American human rights; the accountability of governments to Native Americans; and the development of Indian law and educating the public about Indian rights, laws, and issues. 

The online edition of "A Practical Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act" is intended to answer questions and provide a comprehensive resource of information on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). 

Those unfamiliar with ICWA are encouraged to first read the introduction to the Guide
While the topical sections are identical to the print version, the electronic copy has links to thousands of state and federal resources (cases, laws, etc.), updated through September 2011, not found in the print copy.

  1. Application
  2. Jurisdiction
  3. Who has rights under the Act
  4. Notice
  5. Intervention
  6. Emergency removal
  7. Transfer
  8. Role of tribal courts
  9. Recognition of tribal law
  10. Tribal-state agreements
  11. Foster care placement and removal
  12. Active efforts requirement
  13. Termination of parental rights
  1. Expert witnesses
  2. Access to records for tribal enrollment purposes
  3. Placement
  4. Voluntary proceedings
  5. Adoption
  6. Application of other federal laws
  7. Enforcement of ICWA requirements
  8. Application of standards higher than ICWA requirements
  9. Resources
To obtain a print copy of the Guide you may either download a PDF copy for research or educational use or purchase one for a nominal fee.
Federal resources
State resources
Case index A to Z
Tribal Resources
Flow charts
NICWA Training
Additional Content:
DHS Title IV-E Policy Sample Title IV-E Agreement
Brochure Copyright
NARF Publications
Practical Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act 
Also read: Fort, Kathryn, Waves of Education: Tribal-State Court Cooperation and the Indian Child Welfare Act (April 6, 2012). Tulsa Law Review, Forthcoming; MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-06. Available at SSRN:

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You are not alone

You are not alone

To Veronica Brown

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.

Diane Tells His Name

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60s Scoop Survivors Legal Support


Lost Birds on Al Jazeera Fault Lines

Lost Birds on Al Jazeera Fault Lines
click to read and listen about Trace, Diane, Julie and Suzie


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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