|Near Niagara, Ontario|
By Dr. Raeschelle Potter- Deimel
TWO WORLDS: LOST CHILDREN OF THE INDIAN ADOTION PROJECTS, ISBN: 978-1479318285, Trace A DeMeyer and Patricia Busbee, editors, Blue Hand Books, 2012, paperback on Amazon and ebook $6.99 available for all devices.
TWO WORLDS: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects, is classified as an anthology by the co-editors Trace DeMeyer and Patricia Busbee. The published book, however, exceeds any and every expectation of this label. It not only offers an avalanche of information on the book's very pressing topic, but it includes a multitude of written testimonies showing the ills caused by decades of governmental enforcement of Indian Adoption Projects.
Trace DeMeyer, co-editor, journalist, and former editor of THE PEQUOT TIMES, successfully brought this issue forward in ONE SMALL SACRIFICE, published in 2009. It was a heart wrenching tell-all memoir of the author's own life. We followed the writer along her path of trying to find answers to a lifetime of questions. Now, adoptees DeMeyer and Busbee have succeeded, as co-editors, in bringing together a circle of like souls, "Lost Birds" who have spent their lives wondering if they would ever feel true warmth and belonging. "Lost Birds" of America and Canada have shared their despair with written contributions in excerpts of books, papers, poems and stories on the topic. One most jolting fact, found in the publication, casts a shadow on the persistent governmental use of Trans-racial Adoption. Tribal methods of taking care of their own children, kinship, have always been part of strong cultural traditions. It is all the more astonishing to read: "One quarter of all Indian children were removed from their families and placed in non-Indian adoptive and foster homes or orphanages, as part of the Indian Adoption Projects." Yes, there is great poverty clouding over many tribes which may, for those who support adoption, help condone the practice of taking Indian children away from tribal families to place them in a more economically adjusted environment.
The government continued to condone the system under a shield of haphazard statistics gathered by such researchers as David Fanshel, in 1960. He in turn, preferred to follow earlier methods used in the state of Florida by the researcher, Helen Witmer, during a period of racial polarization. During this period adoption services were eager to rid themselves of discriminatory accusations and were more prone to favor trans-racial adoption. There were multiple considerations which should have been respected but were ignored in order to prove that "white couples committed to racial equality were the most likely to adopt non-white children and succeed as parents." Fanshel felt that there was "little risk to the physical or emotional well-being of individual children and that these adoptions had 'saved many of these children from lives of utter ruination'."(358)
Most adoptees did have access to formal education, but there are also success stories of tribal supported college students. What about rituals and lessons traditionally learned in tribal culture, which could not be passed down to children and grandchildren? What could these generations of children have been able to offer their tribal communities, if their nurturing had been able to continue within their tribal culture? Patricia Busbee clearly poses the alternative to trans-racial adoption. The alternative of governmental planning and financial support of Indian and First Nation child care would have actually been the easier path to follow.
"I am Lakota," a contribution in the book, looks into the life of a trans-racial adoptee and defeats stoic assumptions that Native children grow to become totally adjusted in non-Indian families. Here, the adoptee did not know about her Native heritage throughout her childhood. The pool in the backyard, the new car, and the possibility of having a good college education, was not enough to fill the constant emptiness felt throughout Diane's young life. It was also just not enough for her to feel "devoted and proud to be an Irish Tommaney."(12)
A term of endearment comes to mind, when pondering these adoptee narratives and findings, which has come to be the labeling of helpless spirits held bondage under the ills of Indian adoption. The description is of 'Split Feathers;' those innocently caught up within two worlds. Their search to simply find themselves comes from not having known the world they were born in. They were unable to experience comfort of belonging in the world of trans-racial adoption. Bravery to step forward and find their way home did not come easily, with their efforts thwarted by closed files and records. Success of tribal family reunion was not a promise, only another hurdle to conquer for having been placed on a too distant path, too long. Still, reports of forced adoption continue, as small voices cry out, lost and in despair. Even Fanshel, in final conclusion of his early research believed that "only the Indian people have the right to determine whether their children can be placed in white homes." (359)
Those who seek answers to the many baffling issues surrounding Indian Adoption Acts will become well-versed, within the pages of the anthology, on the history of these acts that were forged under well- known efforts of the country's acts for Assimilation.
As a special bonus, the co-editors have presented specifics for viewing problems suffered by First Nations of Canada. We find that a Canadian survey actually focused on families and their problems, after the removal of their children by provincial child welfare authorities, from the late 1960s to the early 80s. The six-month study report was compiled by Native Child and Family Services and titled OUR WAY HOME. The staff writer of "WINDSPEAKER" magazine, Joan Black, reports that the survey not only shows effects of adoption and foster care on Indian adoptees. "It also identifies a variety of obstacles that Aboriginal people face in trying to re-establish family ties, and sets out a four-phase strategy aimed at easing repatriation for those who desire it."(331) The question is, will they and other American adoptees, be given necessary documents for proving their identity?
Natives and First Nations of Turtle Island are the only people required to prove their ethnicity. With modern day research, and access to more adequately translated chronicles and diaries, written by early explorers, it is clear that Native People of the New World were always very diverse in physical features as well as cultural traditions. DeMeyer's article on "Blood Quantum" is truly an eye opener as it confronts the core of ethnic prejudice which has been nurtured and continues to stifle North America today. Native people often say, "It was never easy being Indian!" Thus, we remember other aspects of ethnic intrusion. The scope is wide: from Indian slavery and breeding, followed by official record keeping written by unknowing and illiterate census takers; to the confines of Indian schools; and certainly of course forced or coerced Indian adoption. All of these intrusions have remained under a cloud of constant propaganda favoring assimilation. No, it has not been easy being Indian!
The 31st chapter in the book, "Congressional Testimony" proves that the most helpless, the Lost Children of these Indian Adoption Projects and Programs were most vulnerable, as government presented a sure method for forcing assimilation upon children. William Byler, Executive Director, Association of American Indian Affairs stated that “The disparity in rates for Indian adoption and non-Indian adoption is truly shocking.” He presents statistics beginning with the state of Minnesota where “Indian children are placed in foster care or in adoptive homes at the rate of five times, or 500 percent greater than non-Indian children.”(183) His statistics move on through other states which show even greater numbers. Indian Adoption Acts have continued to be an acute disruption of tribal culture through many decades while Religious groups, with help from federal and state government, have held fast to ill-fated convictions. With every effort made by Lost Children, seeking out a way home, more problems emerge. "Our American government still defines us today, using census reports that are highly suspicious and definitely untrustworthy to define sovereign status or what degree of Indian blood or blood quantum exists."(Suggested reading: Blood Quantum, 185)
With the disappearance of children from our tribes, generations have been lost and therefore, in some cases, tribal existence has become threatened. Some Lost Birds have been able to find their way home and have been accepted by their tribal families. Others, some still not aware of their tribal bloodlines, continue to search for a place of belonging and sovereignty.
The anthology answers many questions, but it also presents the urgency for those in power to recognize failed concepts. The book is in a total thumbs-up category and highly recommended.
Dr. Raeschelle Potter-Deimel received her PhD from the University of Vienna in Austria in Cultural Anthropology and lectures on North America and Native American topics. An independent researcher and Fulbright scholar, Dr. Potter-Deimel frequently travels for lectures and master classes to America and throughout Europe. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.