Kill the Indian: Why ICWA still matters

“A nation that does not know its own history has no future,” is a quote I read recently by the late activist Russell Means, Oglala Lakota.


By Trace A. DeMeyer

Being an adoptee myself, someone who ran into major obstacles trying to open my adoption files, it’s very important that Native American adoptees (and all Americans/Canadians) know the history of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA).  Thousands of children (no one knows exactly how many) were taken from their tribal families and placed with non-Indian parents since the late 1800s. This was government-planned ethnic cleansing, a coercive form of assimilation, a way to erase tribal connections to make the children white and not Indian.  “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” was a motto by Capt. Pratt. of Carlisle Indian Boarding School in PA.  It was intentional to train and civilize children.

Native American and First Nation Children, intended victims of assimilation programs, are now and forever called the Stolen Generations.

You might think assimilation worked – and in some ways it did.  But I can tell you adopted children do grow up and want to know who they are and meet their tribal family. I know this because I lived it. I did find my way back after a closed adoption. I know many other adoptees who agree: adoption cannot erase our blood or history.

In my new anthology TWO WORLDS: LOST CHILDREN OF THE INDIAN PROJECTS (with my co-author Patricia Busbee), we gathered stories from survivors who opened their adoptions and went full circle back to their tribal families after adoption. Some of these stories are heart-breaking and astonishing.

One thing is clear: adoption did not kill our spirit.

Where-ever there were Indians in North America, there were programs to assimilate, conquer, colonize and civilize Indian people. They couldn’t kill all of us, but they tried to kill the Indian in us.

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