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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Baby Veronica and the fight to preserve Native American culture

Opinions By Ben Shelly, Published: July 5 

Ben Shelly is president of the Navajo Nation, which is headquartered in Window Rock, Ariz.

The recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the fate of a young Cherokee girl has reignited debate about the role of the Indian Child Welfare Act in today’s society.
The law has faced critics since its passage in 1978. But understanding why it was implemented also helps explain why it remains necessary.

For hundreds of years, the official policies of the United States were to eradicate American Indians from their homelands. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny did not have room for the first peoples of this land. While the practice of genocide gave way to assimilation policies, the goal was still the same: to remove the Indian or Indian culture from these lands. As a result, Native Americans have been forcibly removed from their homelands and forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture. In the 1970s, a study by the Association of American Indian Affairs found, as many as 35 percent of Indian children were removed from their homelands through religious programs, boarding schools and adoption.
I was assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture through such practices. The cost to me of learning mainstream American values was the loss of my understanding of the Navajo belief system. I had to work very hard to reconnect to Navajo culture later in life.
When I was knee-high in the 1950s, I began my Bureau of Indian Affairs schooling in my home town of Thoreau, N.M. I entered a school system that drew many of its philosophies and practices from the 1870s, when boarding schools first became a tool of the federal government to “fix” the Indian problem.
Other programs were designed to help Indian children become acculturated, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Indian Placement Program, which began in 1947 and ended in 2000. This program took Native American children from their reservations and placed them with foster families. The children were supposed to be gone for only a year, but some still haven’t returned.
While it’s good for young people to learn about different cultures, it is just as important for youths to gain identity by learning about the culture they are born into. This is especially true when long-standing U.S. government policies have sought to eradicate that culture.
Teachers in my schools washed out our mouths with soap or openly punished us in other ways, sometimes physically, if we spoke our native language. I witnessed this until I graduated from high school in Snowflake, Ariz. As an Indian, I learned to be ashamed of a language and life that were designed to be my strength in times of greatest need. I never liked the taste of soap.
For decades, many of our young people were denied the right of cultural inheritance because of programs and adoptions eager to take American Indian children and assimilate them into the larger, dominant American society. Most of these efforts probably stemmed from people’s desire to help children. In reality, however, these actions resulted in confusion and mental trauma about identity, and many American Indians lost a basic sense of self. The tribes’ fundamental right to determine the best teachings for our children were denied.
This is why the Indian Child Welfare Act continues to play such an important role for American Indian tribes. Whether the children are Potawatomi, Seneca, Umatilla, Navajo or Cherokee, the law allows tribes to give our children the opportunity to experience the beauty of their culture and to ensure that we as a people survive.
I have been disturbed by the blood quantum discussion that has been part of the debate, sparked by the lawsuits about Baby Veronica, over whether a child is considered American Indian. Tribal membership is a sovereign and sacred right. A child determined to be a member of a sovereign nation is just that. Arguments of whether a child is “Indian enough” based on an outsider’s concept of what it is to be American Indian have no bearing.
American Indian people have long fought for our rights and practices to have a place in U.S. society. Our language, culture and traditions are as sacred as the air we breathe. Despite attempts to remove us in one form or another, we remain intact and culturally strong as ever. The chance to teach our children the ways of our ancestors is a sacred honor and duty.
The Navajo Nation has more than 320,000 tribal citizens who can call a 27,000-square-mile area home. In our home, our language flourishes, our culture remains intact and our ceremonies are performed. We live according to the beliefs and traditions bestowed upon us by our Holy People, our deities.
It’s a beautiful way of living.

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Takeaway Podcast ICWA

What our Nations are up against!

What our Nations are up against!
Survivors, write your stories. Write your parents stories. Write the elders stories. Do not be swayed by the colonizers to keep quiet. Tribal Nations have their own way of keeping stories alive.... Trace

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Indian Country is under attack. Native tribes and people are fighting hard for justice. There is need for legal assistance across Indian Country, and NARF is doing as much as we can. With your help, we have fought for 48 years and we continue to fight.

It is hard to understand the extent of the attacks on Indian Country. We are sending a short series of emails this month with a few examples of attacks that are happening across Indian Country and how we are standing firm for justice.

Today, we look at recent effort to undo laws put in place to protect Native American children and families. All children deserve to be raised by loving families and communities. In the 1970s, Congress realized that state agencies and courts were disproportionately removing American Indian and Alaska Native children from their families. Often these devastating removals were due to an inability or unwillingness to understand Native cultures, where family is defined broadly and raising children is a shared responsibility. To stop these destructive practices, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

After forty years, ICWA has proven to be largely successful and many states have passed their own ICWAs. This success, however, is now being challenged by large, well-financed opponents who are actively and aggressively seeking to undermine ICWA’s protections for Native children. We are seeing lawsuits across the United States that challenge ICWA’s protections. NARF is working with partners to defend the rights of Native children and families.

Indian Country is under attack. We need you. Please join the ranks of Modern Day Warriors. Please donate today to help Native people protect their rights.

where were you adopted?

where were you adopted?

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.