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Saturday, February 12, 2011
About The Indian Adoption Projects and Programs
The following is an excerpt from Working Together to Strengthen Supports for Indian Children and Families: A National Perspective, Keynote Speech by Shay Bilchik at the NICWA Conference, Anchorage, Alaska on April 24, 2001
For a long time in the early history of child welfare, many educated middle-class Americans sincerely believed that the world would run smoothly and sweetly if everybody would just make the effort to think and behave like they did. In the name of improvement, Irish and Italian children were scooped up from city tenements that looked crowded and dirty, away from “unfit” single parents and the smells of unfamiliar cooking, taken to the countryside in orphan trains, and parceled out to rural families. Most of them never saw their parents or siblings again.
These were terrible acts, no matter how noble or “professional” the intentions of their perpetrators. Next to the death penalty, the most absolute thing a government can do to an individual is to take a child away. But these were acts against individual immigrant families, and no European national group was singled out for these removals to the point of being imperiled.
One ethnic group, however - American Indians and Alaskan Natives - a people of many cultures and governments, and the original citizens of this land - was singled out for treatment that ranged over the decades from outright massacre to arrogant and paternalistic “improvement.” CWLA played a role in that attempt. We must face this truth.
No matter how well intentioned and how squarely in the mainstream this was at the time, it was wrong; it was hurtful; and it reflected a kind of bias that surfaces feelings of shame, as we look back with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
I am not here today to deny or minimize that role, but to put it on the table and to acknowledge it as truth. And then, in time, and to the extent that each of us is able, to move forward in a new relationship in which your governments are honored and respected, our actions are based upon your needs and values, and we show proper deference to you in everything that concerns Native children and families.
These are the facts. Between 1958 and 1967, CWLA cooperated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, under a federal contract, to facilitate an experiment in which 395 Indian children were removed from their tribes and cultures for adoption by non-Indian families. This experiment began primarily in the New England states. CWLA channeled federal funds to its oldest and most established private agencies first, to arrange the adoptions, though public child welfare agencies were also involved toward the end of this period. Exactly 395 adoptions of Indian children were done and studied during this 10-year period, with the numbers peaking in 1967. ARENA, the Adoption Resource Exchange of North America, began in early 1968 as the successor to the BIA/CWLA Indian Adoption Project. Counting the period before 1958 and some years after it, CWLA was partly responsible for approximately 650 children being taken from their tribes and placed in non-Indian homes. For some of you, this story is a part of your personal history.
Through this project, BIA and CWLA actively encouraged states to continue and to expand the practice of “rescuing” Native children from their own culture, from their very families. Because of this legitimizing effect, the indirect results of this initiative cannot be measured by the numbers I have cited. Paternalism under the guise of child welfare is still alive in many locations today, as you well know.
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