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Saturday, September 9, 2023

Assimilation Vacation?

In the 1960s, Zepeda’s grandmother protected her from being taken away on an “assimilation vacation” in the San Francisco Bay Area, where children would “learn how other families live” and potentially be adopted away from their rightful families.  Zepeda and her siblings lived with a constant fear of being taken from their home, often being told by their grandmother: “You better behave because if you don’t, white people are going to take you away.”  It wasn’t until 1978 that the Indian Child Welfare Act prohibited the removal of Indigenous children from their families.

Further alienating Indigenous people from their roots was the repression of their spiritual beliefs and practices going back to the 1850s.  Until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act passed in 1978, many people practiced secretly while participating in mainstream religion.  For example, Zepeda’s great grandfather was a tribal medicine person, but also an altar boy for a Catholic priest.

Owning land contributes to economic and societal stability as well as long term wealth. While the United States government was obliged for many generations to honor treaties and debts with native tribes, the Termination Act of 1953 sought to disband tribes, sell their lands, and relocate American Indians. For Zepeda, this meant that she was no longer Indian and was not eligible to receive services from the Indian health clinic.  The policy also had long-term and devastating economic consequences for tribal communities who lost their land.

In 1983 with Hardwick v. United States Government, Zepeda was considered Indian once again. “We have reorganized and reestablished ourselves.” Now, she lives again on the land that had been her grandma’s.

Understanding Indigenous Communities to Support Their Health Needs



For thousands of years, the Klamath Tribes have had a deep physical and spiritual connection to southern Oregon. But in 1954, the U.S. government took over their tribal lands there. The trauma of losing their land, and the racism and discrimination they confronted in the years after, are at the root of health challenges that still affect tribal members at higher rates than other ethnic and racial groups in Oregon.  Monica YellowOwl, a prevention specialist for Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services, and other tribal members are working to restore their people’s connection to the land in order to improve their physical and mental health. “We don’t always want to be seen as the traumatized Indians. We want to be seen as resilient Indians, powerful people, connected to our homeland, practicing our traditions and our cultures,” Monica says. 

Place Matters Oregon is an effort of the Oregon Health Authority to get people talking about how place affects our health—as individuals and as a community. Check out the link above to explore more connections between place and health and join the conversation. 


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