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Saturday, December 9, 2017

We were not supposed to ‘be’ Indian

Adoptee Susan Harness with her younger brother James Allen in 2012.

An anthropological search for belonging and identity


At eighteen months old, Susan Harness (M.A. cultural anthropology ’06, M.A. creative nonfiction ’16) was removed from her home because of neglect. Notes from the social worker document a hungry infant with infected and bleeding mosquito bites and a diaper that hadn’t been changed in days. Harness and two of her siblings had been left in the care of their six-year-old sister by a mother who regularly disappeared for extended periods of time.

Family and community members on Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana were unable to help since they did not have the economic resources. As a result, in 1960, like over 30 percent of American Indian children in that time period, Harness was adopted into a non-American Indian home.

Transracial adoption

The Indian Adoption Project was a small study interested in understanding the impact of transracial adoption on American Indian children. From 1958 through 1967, researchers spoke with a small subset of American Indian children who were adopted by white families. Proponents of this practice argued that this was an improvement over previous policies which resulted in difficulties placing American Indian children into homes. Harness’ experience and later academic research document a unique perspective on this subject – that of the child adoptee.

“The primary purpose of placing over a third of American Indian children with white families was assimilation,” said Harness. “My adoption, like nearly every other transracial adoption, was a closed adoption. This means our names were changed; our families, our tribes and nation, erased. Our entire identity was kept locked away in files that could be opened only by court order, trusting you could find a sympathetic judge. Therefore, finding our way home would be almost impossible. That’s how it was meant to be. We were not supposed to ‘be’ Indian, we were supposed to become members of the dominant society, with full and complete access to the American Dream.”

"We were not supposed to ‘be’ Indian, we were supposed to become members of the dominant society, with full and complete access to the American Dream."
– Susan Harness (upcoming book Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption, out fall 2018 from University of Nebraska Press.)
keep reading

Susan contributed a story to the anthology STOLEN GENERATIONS: SURVIVORS OF THE INDIAN ADOPTION PROJECTS AND 60S SCOOP   

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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.

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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.