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Support Info: If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419. Additional Health Support Information: Emotional, cultural, and professional support services are also available to Survivors and their families through the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program. Services can be accessed on an individual, family, or group basis.” These & regional support phone numbers are found at https://nctr.ca/contact/survivors/ .

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Sunday, January 2, 2022

'I had to be prayed home'

Thousands of Native children were adopted in the 1960s as a government plan of forced assimilation. This woman was one of them.

Kelley Bashew was adopted at the age of 3 months and taken from South Dakota to Glenside. She is shown on a hillside near her Meadowbrook home in April 2021.CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

While visiting the Tekakwitha Nursing Home to sing for residents, 13-year-old Denise Owen was led away from the rest of her boarding school group by a nun. A special surprise awaited her.

There, in another room in the Sisseton, S.D., facility, was her newborn sister, Rose Anne. Denise got only a glimpse of the infant, lying in a bassinet in a long-sleeve shirt and a diaper, before another nun ordered her to leave. Denise was not supposed to see her sibling, soon to be adopted.

It would be 50 years before they saw each other again.

Rose Anne, who would be raised by a Glenside dentist and his wife, became a child of the country’s American Indian adoption era, a decades-long forced assimilation of Native children first established under the Indian Adoption Project, which started in 1958 and evolved to include 50 private and public placement agencies across the United States and Canada, where the so-called Sixties Scoop was coined to describe the mass removal of children from Native homes. During the next 20 years, almost 13,000 Native children would be adopted.

Bashew experienced a loving childhood. But she always knew she was different, and felt isolated in white suburbia. Here, a series of photos from those times.CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

According to a 1969 report by the Association on American Indian Affairs, between 25% and 35% of all Native children were placed in adoptive homes, foster homes, or institutions; and about 90% of those children were being raised by non-Natives.

That was the case for Rose Anne, who, at the age of 3 months, was handed over to Salvatore and André Petrilli. The white couple of Italian and Irish descent had struggled to have their own biological children, and it was André's interest in American history and a phone conversation with a priest from St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, S.D., that led her to seek a Native adoption through Catholic Charities.

Eventually, a new birth certificate reflected the new name of Kelley Elizabeth Petrilli, the child of two Caucasian parents. Her American Indian heritage was wiped away on paper. A Montgomery County Orphans Court clerk with the last name of Custer gave the final stamp of approval to the adoption.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be white. I still feel guilt about that,” said Bashew, who lives in Meadowbrook. “I just wanted to fit in and be like my sisters. … I did not like being tall and brown and different.”

Kelley Bashew was born Rose Anne Owen in Sisseton, S.D., but was adopted by Salvatore and André Petrilli, a suburban Philadelphia dentist and his wife.CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

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Canada's Residential Schools

The religious organizations that operated the schools — the Anglican Church of Canada, Presbyterian Church in Canada, United Church of Canada, Jesuits of English Canada and some Catholic groups — in 2015 expressed regret for the “well-documented” abuses. The Catholic Church has never offered an official apology, something that Trudeau and others have repeatedly called for.

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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.

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Did you know?

New York’s 4o-year battle for OBC access ended when on January 15 2020, OBCs were opened to all New York adoptees upon request without restriction. In only three days, over 3,600 adoptees filed for their record of birth. The bill that unsealed records was passed 196-12.

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ADOPTION TRUTH

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.

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