By Minnesota Adoptee
Being removed from biological family is trauma. In my first family, it happened to every child at different ages. It leaves a deep wound and a separation from our relatives who are like us. They look like us, they have mannerisms like us, they have ancestors who are like us. With our Indigenous heritage, we lost the connection to our culture as well, and are floating between two worlds not fitting into either one.
It took decades for me and my siblings to find each other again. To start with, the adoption agency had some incorrect information about birth family. And I was told I was removed from my mother’s care when I was a newborn, but it was not true, and she actually had taken me home for several months. I became a ward of the state and I was also in foster care for some months until I was adopted. It was clear I was not the top class of available adoptable children, not newborn and first mother with severe mental health problems.
For those reasons the agency may have let me go to a family that said they were only adopting to have help. Help with a blind brother who was a natural child of theirs, help with adoptive mother’s diabetes, help with housework and yardwork. My adoptive father later laughed about this being naïve when they went in looking for a child only for their own needs. Then he told me they did not know they couldn’t bond to someone else’s child and did not love me. They were told they had a one-year trial period and could give me back if it didn’t work out. They seriously considered it. They were very abrupt. But then they were also abusive in so many ways. I often wondered if I would have been better off with my first family.
My siblings had similar stories. Next born was my brother. Our mother signed relinquishment papers and he became a ward of the state when he was just under a month old. He grew up in foster care and was not adopted. Though there was one family he thought were his ‘real’ parents, and one morning when he was about 5 years old, his suitcase and shoes were by the door, and his ‘mother’ told him he would be going to another family home. That was the most traumatic part of his childhood. He lost a mother, father and brother (their own), he felt loved there and didn’t know what he had done wrong. He had seizures however, and we guessed that they couldn’t handle that. He died when he was 38 of a seizure. I often think he would have lived longer if he had a permanent home.
Next my two sisters lived with our first family for a year and a half to two years. They were removed to foster care and, in the records, it says they were neglected. Our first parents did not visit them, then after about a year, our mother went to see them and they cowered behind the foster parent and appeared afraid of her. They were placed together in an adoptive home.
Finally, our youngest sister was born in our family’s apartment, an ambulance was called, and she was apparently not taken home again. Her history is the most obscure of any of us.
It took decades to find each other. My brother and I found each other coincidentally by contacting the same search person. Our last name was unusual, and so she thought he might be my brother. His birth certificate was not altered, so when he got it, I could see we were siblings. Our mother also signed so I could get my original birth certificate too, and everything matched up perfectly. We were so happy to have a biological sibling. For many years we had him join my husband, daughter and me for holidays. It was wonderful.
The others took longer, though I met our 3rd sibling for a few minutes when the state contacted me about her. It’s really a blur, because it seemed so unreal that there were more siblings. I learned that she had grown up with our 4th sibling, a sister.
Then when I was living in Europe after our daughter was grown, our 5th sister called me and said her son was being checked for a genetic condition and the state gave her my name and contact information because of the serious nature of the condition. She had grown up in Germany with her adoptive family and couldn’t believe I was now living there in the area she felt was home.
It was a strange and twisted story, but it meant that we all grew up in very different families, with different culture and values than our first family. We missed out on connections to relatives and our tribe. And for some of us even lacking the recognition that we all have Indigenous heritage from both sides of our birth family.
We were welcomed home in a wonderful ceremony and teachings from tribal members. Though only two of five siblings had that opportunity. It was one way to heal.
Being taken from our first family was a traumatic loss that we have spent most of our lives working to heal. It’s been stressful and difficult to make connections with relatives, our tribe, and even with siblings at times. Because we feel like outsiders to them and to ourselves.
This is why ICWA Indian Child Welfare Act is an important law even now.***
If you wish to contribute a story to Why ICWA Matters, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will publish it on this website.