Get new posts by email:

How to Use this Blog

BOOZHOO! We've amassed tons of information and important history on this blog since 2010. If you have a keyword, use the search box below. Also check out the reference section above. If you have a question or need help searching, use the contact form at the bottom of the blog.

We want you to use BOOKSHOP! (the editor will earn a small amount of money or commission. (we thank you) (that is our disclaimer statement)

This is a blog. It is not a peer-reviewed journal, not a sponsored publication... WE DO NOT HAVE ADS or earn MONEY from this website. The ideas, news and thoughts posted are sourced… or written by the editor or contributors.

EMAIL ME: (outlook email is gone)


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In Other Words: Susan Harness and Sandy White Hawk

REBLOG: listen at links

Recently, I was interviewed for a radio program in Missoula, Montana regarding my research on American Indian transracial adoption. It originally aired on Montana Public Radio ( Tuesday, December 11th 2012, on the program In Other Words, which explores experiences through a feminist perspective. The interview looks at American Indian transracial adoption and its intersection with race, history and class. If you weren’t able to catch it live, click on the link below to listen now.

Sandy White Hawk’s Response to Susan Harness

Below is our friend Sandy White Hawk’s response to the podcast we did with our friend Susan Harness. Enjoy.
Dear Kevin, (Land of Gazillion Adoptees)
I wanted to respond to Susan Harness’ reference to the Southeast Asian tradition the Gifting of a child as an alternative to standard adoption.
In Indian Country a traditional alternative to standard adoption practice is now developing.  It is called Customary Adoption or Custom Adoption. Long before first European contact Indian nations had a custom that kept and maintained balance with their communities; adoption was one of those customs.
Tribes are beginning to reclaim their traditional ways of maintaining family connections for those who would otherwise be separated from their families and communities if the family was struggling in taking care of their children.
The White Earth Tribe Band of Ojibwe of Minnesota has been the leader in developing this practice in its tribal court. Adoption money, SSI and other benefits follow the child in the process just as in a standard adoption. The major difference is parental rights are not terminated. In White Earth they use the term “suspended.”

Termination of parental rights is not a tribal belief. One cannot severe the familial connection. The termination of parental rights adds to the pain of a struggling parent, family and community. Children need to be protected if their parents who are not able to keep their children safe but terminating parental rights do not have to happen to protect the child or help the struggling parent.
Suspension of parental rights allows the mother and or father to re-enter the child’s life if they get on a good path, as a full custodial parent if that is in the original agreement. The adoptive family is often a tribal member and or approved by the tribe. They do their own home studies and adoptions through their tribal court.
Customary Adoption in White Earth has been very successful. In 2009 they had done about 250 adoptions where only 2 have disrupted. I believe this is due to the tribes Home Study Program they developed. The fact that parental rights are not terminated more relatives come forward to help because they will not have to be part termination hearings, which has to be exceptionally painful for families.
In White Earth Customary Adoption the birth mother or father can have a voice in the placement of their children and the adoptee can come get any information in his/her file anytime they wish.
Since parental rights are not terminated, only suspended, (or whatever term a particular tribe chooses) the mother can re-enter the child’s life, if they get on a good path, as full custody parent if that is the agreement.
Tribes from across the country are starting to develop Customary Adoption. Customary Adoption was passed into California law in 2009,
Customary Adoption is based in Native thought – life ways. For the Lakota people it is one of our Seven Sacred Rites, called Hunka (Making Relatives) Ceremony. It is when a child (or adult) is adopted into a family, without severing their original family ties so families expand.
The Making of Relatives binds the adoption through ceremony and is honored until death.
The elders tell us that Hunka happened in many different ways. If a child was lost to disease early in life a family may Hunka another child offered by another family. Adults would make relatives maybe after their family member died so the family would Hunka a young man or young woman to take his place. This helped in a couple ways. The young man or young woman who was adopted would assume the role of the missing family member. That meant contributing by hunting, preparing food, taking care of the children or the old ones; it preserved the family system and strengthened the extended family.  The Lakota people have never stopped Making Relatives in the traditional Hunka Ceremony. It is very common to hear someon say, “This is my Hunka Uncle or Hunka Sister.”
I was honored to witness a monthly White Earth Adoption Day in 2007. Relatives from both the birth family and the adoptive family attended along with community members and the spiritual leader. There were approximately twenty-five people gathered. Words of encouragement were shared by the spiritual leader and then all participated in a traditional pipe ceremony before they went into courtroom. The court room filled up with everyone even the young ones. Both birth mother and adoptive mother are wrapped in star quilts and pictures are taken.  After the formality of law is done everyone gathers for a feast. Another honor song is sung and blessing said. It was beautiful to witness.
I interviewed the young birth mother afterwards and she said that she had five children. The oldest three were placed in stranger adoption (my words) but her two youngest daughters she got to help to choose the parents and visitation was arranged through Customary Adoption.
She admitted that she was not in a place to take care of her babies because she is addicted (as was her mother). Grandmother was a boarding school survivor, distant but tried to be there for her family. She said that she felt good about this adoption.
I know that while she knew she did the right thing for the safety of her children it was still sad for her. When the feast was over she leaned on the large glass window forehead pressed to the glass watching her two young girls walk away with the parents she agreed to let raise her babies.
As a Native American adoptee who was adopted in during the time of systematic removal of tribal children, secrecy and during the time that adopted children were adopted to “have a better life” my heart rested knowing that these Ojibwe children will know who they are, where they come from which will help them understand what they are going to do in life and where they are going to go. The four essential questions in life our elders tell us we have to be able to answer to have balance. Most importantly this generation of White Earth adoptees will remember the drum, the song sung in their honor, the prayers said in Ojibwe, the food, running and playing while the adults visited; a memory of being cared for by a community; no shame, no guilt, only a community of relatives there to support them and their mother.
Another source of information on Customary Adoption can be found at:
Sandy White Hawk 2012

Editor's Note: Both Susan and Sandy (Native adoptees) are writing memoirs. Susan's website:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please: Share your reaction, your thoughts, and your opinions. Be passionate, be unapologetic. Offensive remarks will not be published. We are getting more and more spam. Comments will be monitored.
Use the comment form at the bottom of this website which is private and sent direct to Trace.

Happy Visitors!

They Took Us Away

They Took Us Away
click image to see more and read more

Blog Archive

Most READ Posts


You are not alone

You are not alone

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.

Diane Tells His Name

click photo

60s Scoop Survivors Legal Support


Lost Birds on Al Jazeera Fault Lines

Lost Birds on Al Jazeera Fault Lines
click to read and listen about Trace, Diane, Julie and Suzie


As the single largest unregulated industry in the United States, adoption is viewed as a benevolent action that results in the formation of “forever families.”
The truth is that it is a very lucrative business with a known sales pitch. With profits last estimated at over $1.44 billion dollars a year, mothers who consider adoption for their babies need to be very aware that all of this promotion clouds the facts and only though independent research can they get an accurate account of what life might be like for both them and their child after signing the adoption paperwork.


Original Birth Certificate Map in the USA

Why tribes do not recommend the DNA swab

Rebecca Tallbear entitled: “DNA, Blood, and Racializing the Tribe”, bearing out what I only inferred:

Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

Google Followers