“You must know where you came from yesterday, know where you are today, to know where you’re going tomorrow.” – Cree saying
I’m over 50 now. Helen, my birthmother I never met. I know she was 22 when she had me and gave me up. I know this since I read my sealed adoption file.
She was not what I expected. Ok, I’m not what I expected.
Getting this life and this experience is no coincidence. This makes me an adoptee uniquely situated. I experienced two worlds growing up, American and Indian, being raised in rural northern Wisconsin. Today I’m a journalist and write exclusively about Indian Country. I’m good at chasing ghosts.
But how do I write about Native American genocide? I ask Indian friends. They say, “Well, it’s not exactly the Jewish Holocaust. It’s bigger.”
I did not see film footage when a ship pulled up on Turtle Island, but the story lives on. There are no photos of when early invaders arrived here and began their land grabs, collecting bounties on Indians, conducting military massacres. Indians fought long and hard. Tribes did Winter Counts, a kind of Indian Census and narrative. Photos and papers exist of Indians signing white man treaties to enact removals to lands called reservations. I’ve been to the graveyard of the last Indian uprising, the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.
As for the Indian Adoption projects, I needed a calculator. If the Native American population was 2 million and if just one quarter of all children were removed before the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, then on-paper, 80,000+ children were removed from their families during the early to mid-1900s. If the population of American Indians was 3 million, then over 100,000 babies were removed. I hated this math…85 percent of children were removed by adoption in 16 states. That’s genocide.
Genocide, by my definition, means a community of people were culturally killed, wiped out or literally made dead for political and/or economic reasons. Strong words but true. Some of us are your next door neighbors. Some of us are not correctly listed on the census. Some of us are Indian only when we look in the mirror.