By Trace A. DeMeyer
This week I was contacted by a young woman whose mother Amy is an adoptee, born in 1965. They believe Amy is full-blood Hopi and we hope to prove it. Another adoptee Michael and I are trying to figure out what language he spoke as a child to give us some clue as to which tribe is his family. We believe he’s Apache. Another adoptee Tom contacted me in 2011 and asked me to help he and his sister find their tribal relatives in Washington state since they were brought to Connecticut and placed in a closed adoption as young children. Tom and his sister believe they might be Colville. I haven't been able to connect them to relatives even though I wrote a few tribal newspaper editors in Washington and asked for their help.
I’m not giving up on any adoptee.
All of these adoptees come from the time period of the Indian Adoption Programs and Projects - when the US government and the Child Welfare League of America were funding ARENA (Adoption Resource Exchange of North America) and paying churches and agencies to remove Indian children; they purposefully placed babies and children with non-Indian parents in closed adoptions. (Read chapter 39, Indian Placement Program in my anthology TWO WORLDS.)
Since the late 1800s, adoptions happened before, during and after residential boarding schools (in the US and Canada). It's no surprise that the numbers of adopted Indian children are calculated in percentages, not actual statistics, and left purposefully vague. (Ontario has a class action for adoptees in the works now. We know First Nations children were also brought from Canada to the US as part of ARENA.) These two governments decided assimilation was a very good idea and adoptions far from the reservation would erase the Indian blood and a child's memories of home.
Every email I receive and every phone call I make, I want to give adoptees something concrete, something helpful, something that will work. In truth, I can't because it doesn't exist, not with sealed adoption records, no paperwork or proof, and current laws that prevent adoptees from knowing their tribal identities.
There are things I want to happen and my list grows after each email and phone call...
First, I want adoptees and birthfamilies to write their legislators and tell them, "This is wrong," and we finally get someone in the government to hear us and offer their help.
I want an American government agency to help repatriate adoptees to their tribes. (Canada has three repatriation programs for adoptees.)
I want more people to see this history for what it was: a form of mind control using assimilation to kill culture in children, what could be called genocide of the mind. Our loss was the government's gain.
When I get requests from adoptees, I email ideas. If a state (like Kansas or Oregon for example) has open records, I can guide them to the state agency or registry and then tell them about search angels who will help for free or small fees. I can explain how to order their adoption files and get a court order, etc. I can give examples of how adoptees (like me) got around the laws and what worked for us.
For Amy, Arizona sealed her adoption file. For Michael, New York and New Mexico sealed his adoption file. I want to be able to tell Michael he is Apache, what band of Apache and connect him to his relatives. For Tom and his sister, I want to locate their parents so we can find out why they were taken as children but Washington has sealed their adoption. For all of them, truth is a mystery.
I want to be able to tell them, "This is what we'll do and it will work and in about a week you will get a phone call from the tribe and they will help you." But that would be a lie. Now I can only offer them hope and my two books on this history and this issue.
Finally, I want tribes to do something! Tribes could hire lawyers and legally demand the states and agencies who took children to release their names and adoption files. Tribes could create a list of birthdates of children who disappeared so adoptees could match their birthdate on a database.
Tribes could also create some form of welcome ceremony or reunion powwow or something to help the adoptee meet relatives and hear their family stories.
Right now, adoptees have mountains to climb and laws to conquer and no one to turn to... and knowing which tribe can be a huge obstacle when there are 560+ federally recognized tribes. For them it’s still TRIBE UNKNOWN.
What adoption did was conquer and uproot children and hurt generations in tribal nations. Being adopted ultimately disrupted our rights as sovereign citizens in North America.