A case before a federal appeals court last week could upend an historic adoption law meant to combat centuries of brutal discrimination against American Indians and keep their children with families and tribal communities. For the first time, a few states have sued to overturn the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which Congress enacted in 1978 as an antidote to entrenched policies of uprooting Native children and assimilating them into mainstream white culture. Now, in a country roiled by debates over race and racial identity, there’s a chance the 41-year-old law could be overturned by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the country’s most conservative court. (The law applies to federally recognized tribes.)
“This is about attacking Indian law and Indian sovereignty,” said Chrissi Nimmo, deputy attorney general for the Cherokee Nation. “This is just the first step.” The Cherokee, Navajo, Oneida and Quinault Indian Nations, as well as the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, asked to be included as defendants in the lawsuit.
A poetic short by Detroit-based director Keenan Wetzel, “Yellowtail” tells the story of a young Native American cowboy (Stephen Yellowtail) searching for purpose amidst a chaotic lifestyle. (previously featured here). Shot in Wyoming and the Crow Reservation in Montana, “Yellowtail” tells the story of a young Native American cowboy (Stephen Yellowtail) searching for purpose as his chaotic lifestyle begins
You will recognize that narrator’s voice – it is John Trudell!
In the News
The Navajo Nation and Utah Governor signed an inter-governmental agreement Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, to strengthen and further protect the Indian Child Welfare Act for the benefit of Navajo children in the State of Utah. Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer met with Governor Gary Herbert to make it official at the Utah State Capitol during the annual American Indian Caucus Day.
Let’s take a quick look at the erratic history of federal Indian policy.
In the early republic, the federal government made treaties of friendship with Indian tribes east of the Mississippi. In the 1830s, it stopped feeling friendly and removed the eastern Indians to the West. It set up reservations for eastern and western tribes and solemnly promised in treaties that the land would be theirs forever. In 1871, Congress decided there would be no more treaties, because Indian nations were no longer sovereigns; the courts soon confirmed that Congress could void any treaty without the consent of the tribes that had signed it. Next, from the 1880s until the 1930s, came the “allotment era.” The government decided to break up the reservations and “allot” much of the land to individuals, who could sell them. By the 1930s tribes had lost 60 percent of their previous land base. The New Deal was a brief respite: Allotment ended and tribes were allowed to re-form their governments. Then in 1953 came the “termination era,” when Congress decided that the federal government would no longer provide services to tribes, or deal with their governments. It sold off some tribes’ reservation lands and proclaimed that those tribes no longer existed.
University College London researchers estimate that settlers killed 56 million indigenous people, causing farmland to be reforested. That increase in vegetation resulted in a massive decrease in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
I call this the (his)story “We’re Not Supposed to Know”
But they conceal another side of Columbus: the exploitation and repression of Native Americans, said the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. It is a “darker side of this story, a side we must acknowledge,” Jenkins said in a letter Sunday.
In December 2018, the Trump administration plotted to gut SNAP, the food assistance program more than 40 million Americans rely on to feed themselves. (I have friends and relatives on SNAP, what used to be food stamps). This attack on the poor would impose oppressive work requirements that will have a devastating impact on our nation’s most vulnerable and the “food insecure.” This rule will drive 755,000 poor folks deeper into poverty across the country over the next three years. It’s a cruel and cynical attempt to chip away at our social safety net by defining who is and who isn’t suffering in our nation. Read about the Poor People’s Campaign.
Food insecurity is very real and a war on the poor. And when the climate fails and disaster hits, what new countries start a new land grab? Will they hit Third World Countries? Indian Country? Will they take children to accomplish this again? History repeats itself over and over until we get it right…and so we are entering a dangerous new age of food insecurity… and climate change.
If I were in charge, I’d have two priorities: ending poverty and improving the existing infrastructure.
“I called the album Blue Indians because there is a kind of spiritual and cultural genocide perpetrated on everyone that is poor in this country,” Trudell said. “The advance of technology has put all of us on a kind of reservation. These are the people who can’t educate their children, or afford health care. They’ve been robbed of life, which is what happened to Native people, so in that context, we’re all Indians.”
I follow up in a few weeks with my doctors… See you soon! xox
Yep. First, I want to thank my friend and blogger KC for asking me to think about and share my thoughts on what it means to have Indigenous ancestry and the recent headlines about Elizabeth Warren. Next, I defend Sen. Warren’s right to claim her ancestry. It’s hers! Heck, many Americans do have some American Indian ancestry, too. But what you do with it is what truly matters.
We are all mixed, one way or the other. American, so heavily colonized, is very populated with mixed people. We have (hi)storians to blame for not explaining much about this stark truth and reality.
For me personally I was not raised in a tribal community setting, though I had many Native people around me when I was growing up. Being adopted out, I struggled until my 30s with identity and isolation, but no longer. I met my birth father and did a paternity DNA test with him when I was 38. The history he shared with me, that was what I needed, at that time. But words and blood tests DO NOT make me who I am or the direction of my life’s work. My Oglala Lakota relatives made sure of that. They were in my life years prior to my finding my father who is mixed Shawnee-Cherokee-Delaware-Euro).
What is required of us:
Once you attend ceremony, once you pray in your language, once you show humility to elders, and once you work for them, and when you learn it’s not “me” but “we” – it is then you are made a relative and accepted as family. Then you are in tribal community (which is American Indian tradition on Turtle Island). It may take many years, because it should.
As the following story by Nick Estes says, “Half a century ago, the Standing Rock Dakota scholar Vine Deloria Jr. wrote, “Whites claiming Indian blood tend to reinforce mythical beliefs about Indians.”
Falsely claiming Native American identity is a white American tradition, with a deeply racist past. – Nick Estes
Warren is not living her life as a member of any tribal community, yet like so many, she seems to romanticize the idea of her blood being Indian. She was raised with her family in Oklahoma, with her history, but she was not enrolled with the Cherokee Nation, who determines their citizenship based on Dawes Rolls, not DNA. If the Cherokee tribe wishes to change that, and enroll her, it’s completely up to them. (She’ll have years of unlearning and good history lessons ahead.)
To my knowledge, what Warren did with her “ancestry” all these years, was she helped herself. To my knowledge, she did not assist any tribal nation or community, and in fact, she has not even helped the tribes struggling right here in Massachusetts! What we are fighting for in this century, like Standing Rock, federal recognition, sovereignty, treaty rights, water rights, protecting Bear’s Ears, ending destruction by mining, pipelines, poverty, all of that – where is she?
This is a new hashtag campaign: #NativeTruth #WeAreStillHere
If Elizabeth was in her community, she’d know this: Blood quantum is an invention of the governments to widdle us down to “not enough Indian.” (Wiping us out on paper. Gone, erased.)
I actually know many lost Native adoptees who use the DNA test to get their family name, and slowly worked their way back to their tribal families. Some are back on the rez, while others join their urban Indian communities. (I do not recommend or trust the DNA testings or the data they collect and sell. Those TV ads are false and misleading. Very few Indians will submit to giving DNA though some scientists took it without their consent.)
When is a DNA test useful? My adoptee friend Rhonda did a DNA test with an uncle (her birth father’s brother) to determine if she was a family member, and she was – then she was enrolled in her tribal nation. DNA can connect you with a living tribal member, if you were adopted out, or fostered. That is very very helpful.
So, Sen. Warren, it’s not the amount of blood. DNA doesn’t make you Indian. If you belong to a community (urban or reservation), that makes you a member of that tribal community.
Native Americans are almost completely erased from pop culture, news and K-12 education. This invisibility–more than any other factor–undermines public support for Native American rights. Join our #WeAreStillHere tweet storm. Reclaiming #NativeTruth: https://t.co/vzL4SuF4P6
If you do have Indigenous blood, if it is loud, it won’t leave you alone. If this speaks to you, then find and join an urban or reservation community and work for them and work with them, and think a new way: “we” not me.
And ask them what you can do and please do what they ask respectfully.
By Lara Trace (called Lala by her sister in Austria)
Am I the only one?
Every. SINGLE. DAY… I feel like I’m overreacting to an insane horror flick. YEEGADS, what the hell is going on in this world? It’s like a very very very bad movie, between X RATED and profane. If I turn on the TV I end up swearing like a sailor. (I do get fined $$ when I swear.) Don’t hand me that TV remote. I’ll end up watching Ancient Aliens as a marathon again.
(We had a freak meteor shower on May 17 and I still have insomnia.)
The photo is me when I had a store in Portland in the late 80s. Yes, I liked and sold crazy shit. Yes, that is a blow up shark, dinosaur and cactus. I am eccentric. I still like crazy shit, though I don’t have those blowups anymore.
OH, the new book STOLEN GENERATIONS is out and it’s doing well. I did a radio interview (see link below)
Something I’m working on… I am doing a talk in San Diego in a few weeks with other adoptees.
Here are some basics:
If the Native population was just 2 million and 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 was 3 million, then over 100,000 were removed and so on…
I did pretend to be someone – and live a lie – because I’m adopted. Ask any adoptee who has Native American ancestry. If you are not told, you’re just another dead Indian, at least on record or on tribal rolls.
America is like that. Adoptees, of all skin colors in the United States, are now estimated to number between six and ten million. They’d prefer every one of us to live as an American citizen as if none other were as good or as important. America forgets it’s very new by all standards; it just acts like its old.
Indian Country is ancient. Our cells are identical to those of our ancestors of 30,000 years ago. Indian kids who are adopted and raised outside Indian country eventually get it – more or less. We get that less Indians around is best. We get that America didn’t respect us or our culture. We get that America tamed us, stole our land, and revised our history. We get that more Americans prefer us tucked away somewhere. They’ll teach us their version of our story. We get that it’s wrong, but it’s America (or Canada). It’s been this way a long time.
(Thirty+ years ago I opened my adoption. Having to start this story somewhere, I started with a chronology, first the steps, opening my adoption, how I handled it, good, bad, etc. It seemed to take forever. What I encountered – besides shock – was me, barely alive, what I’d call living dead. Let me explain. I started to see that I was usually caught up in other people’s lives just to avoid living my own. Under layers of denial, I conveniently forgot what I didn’t like to remember. I had stopped caring about the past but it had me, all of me.)
No one is exactly sure how many Indian children were taken, but thousands are gone, probably living on the fringe as an urban Indian. That is how I see myself.
[Adrian who is my brother sent me this: One can never tame that which is genetically wild and free….. Like the WolfDogs I love and raise,they adapt to me out of love and pack mentality….,But they will always be Wolves and if not respected as such, will turn back to that which they are genetically,born to be……………We are like The Wolves.]
And here’s what is happening up north – my 60s Scoop brothers and sisters are leading the way… (top photo of Solidarity Rally)
I do not know if readers of this blog have followed what is happening in Canada and their years-long investigation called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In 2014 I heard Justice Murray Sinclair speak about TRC at Yale. READ HERE. He spoke about their findings and what the Canadian government promised to rectify the abuses in the residential boarding schools. Many churches and provinces were mandated and forced to release their records to the commission.
The definitions of genocide fit the TRC findings. They call it cultural genocide. Children lost their family. Some children lost their lives. Children. This happened to children.
What happened in Canada also happened here in the US. We don’t have an investigation by our government. WHY? I don’t know and I don’t know if it will ever happen.
After the residential schools in Canada, the 60s Scoop took even more children and placed them with non-Indian parents. And it’s not over. It’s ongoing there and here.
South Dakota Corruption TODAY
The Lakota People’s Law Project’s 35-page report reveals how private institutions and their relationships with those in the highest seats of power in South Dakota are responsible for the daily violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the systemic human rights abuses against the Lakota population in Indian Country. Read the Report Here
Some of the main findings of the report include:
Naming officials who have conflicts of interest including South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, Lieutenant Governor Matt Michels, Department of Health Director Kim Malsam-Rysdon, former Department of Social Services Director Deb Bowman, State Attorneys Dan Todd and Kim Dorsett, and State Senator Alan Solano.
Identifying the mechanisms by which the aforementioned officials benefited either in their official public capacities or in private capacities, including reimbursing contractual payments with federal dollars and using their offices to leverage contracts for private institutions in which they were employed.
Exposing the racist underbelly of South Dakota’s state system, which targets the most disadvantaged group in the state and identifies the Department of Social Services as the division most responsible for the system-wide willful violations of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
Depicting the intersection between the pharmaceutical industry and the foster care system, where those in Big Pharma used disadvantaged foster care children to enhance revenue by encouraging doctors to prescribe the off-label use of powerful antipsychotic medication for mild behavioral issues.
Revealing the antecedents for the introduction of powerful medication as being traceable back to a program called TMAP—the Texas Medication Algorithm Project.
Properly framing the current ICWA crisis in a historical context, including how Indians have been deprived of access to their own resources and how South Dakota is launching an assault on the last remaining resource—the Native American children.
I have no words for the pain this causes me, but if you watch this video and hear these stories in Canada, you will understand how this happened and why. The children who died in those schools cannot be returned to their families. [The children who were adopted out, they are hopefully finding their way home as I did.] The long-term affects of cultural genocide are still being felt.
Adoptees are called Lost Birds. Read much more at American Indian Adoptees here.
Here is an earlier story from Canada about experimentation at those residential boarding schools.
The only way to prevent this from ever happening again is sharing the truth and the horror.
The following interview is with Daniel Ibn Zayd, an adoptee and contributor to a collective of transracial adoptees called TRANSRACIAL EYES.
He was kind to answer some questions for me via email. His bio follows this interview.
Tell us about you, what you do, where you are, and how did you come to know so much about adoption:
Daniel: I was born in Lebanon in 1963 and almost immediately adopted to the United States. At the age of 40, I decided to return, determined to find family, and if not that at least a sense of culture, language, and perhaps identity in returning to my place of birth. As I met adoptees from other countries, as well as domestic adoptees in the States, I became more active in adoptee rights. I was most struck in Lebanon by those who didn’t get why I was searching, or who were most critical of it; they happened to be of the class I was adopted into. Those on the other hand who did get it, were likewise dispossessed and displaced: migrant workers, refugees, marginalized communities, etc. I took this as a focal point to try and understand economically and politically adoption as a process and as an industry. My first breakthrough was connecting international and domestic adoption, and from there examining similar human traffickings. I adamantly avoid the personal aspect of it because I see this as a diversion to the discussion that must take place. It’s like abolitionists focusing on the narratives of slaves, discussing whether they could be “happy” on the plantation — it avoids the bigger economic and political picture that adoption, like slavery, perfectly fits into, unfortunately.
I was impressed you have been covering the issues surrounding the Christian group in Montana who is advocating for changing the Indian Child Welfare Act and lobbying legislators in the US. How did you come to learn about American Indian adoptees and the ICWA?
Daniel: When I arrived in Beirut I was working in academia, and I took advantage of this position to further research aspects of resistance to the above economic and political realities that govern our lives. Much of this research focused on groups who culturally expressed their resistance, for example, the artists of the Mexican Revolution or the Black Panther Party (I was teaching graphic design and illustration). In expanding on notions of dispossession and the like, the Indigenous Nations of the Americas came into focus, especially concerning the political changes in South America, but also in terms of attempts to reclaim culture, language, and community. It was an obvious addition to such research. More personally, my parents had retired to a town in the southwest next to a large Navajo reservation, and an old school to “deculture” Indian children existed near their house.
I am obsessed by the benign destruction that such “innocent” places represent, and the economic and political position such “adoptions” hold in the imperial forays of the U.S. In one of my classes I used the case of Leonard Peltier and the movie “Incident at Oglala” to portray much of this, making parallels with the local occupation of Palestine. I’ve also had many debates with those tribal members who reflect locally here in Lebanon what Frantz Fanon calls “native intellectuals”: those who advocate for their own oppression and domination, and who take on the colonizing narrative as their own. It is absolutely imperative that we understand historically speaking the derivations of adoption, and its use as a tool by imperial nations against their former/current colonies, and how this relates to the destruction of indigenous peoples in the Americas, Australia, as well as in French overseas territories for just a few examples. This reflects more the true basis of what adoption was designed to do.
Are you a journalist by trade? Tell us about your activism:
Daniel: I’m not a journalist by trade, but have published a fair bit of writing. My activism is currently tending to mix the visual, written, and philosophical realms. In 2009 I started a collective of artists that we called Jamaa Al-Yad; roughly translated it means “Clenched Fist”, which we take as a sign of resistance. Much of our initial work required of us bylaws and charter that would pass evaluation by the Lebanese government. We were given a template to use that in many ways reflected French and American influence on the country, taking for granted such things as parliamentary procedure, fifty-percent plus one voting; hierarchies of officers/members, etc. We took almost two years to write from scratch bylaws and charter that avoided all of this. We based them in research gleaned from Iroquois sources and the methodology of Quaker meetings to very local ways of communal associations; the best of many worlds. We received our approval three years ago, and many other non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have adapted our charter and bylaws for their own use, which is very satisfying. My sense of activism is that it must be lived, not just theorized or super-mediated. Anything else is just preaching or hypocritical advocacy.
Have you been able to find your natural family and reconnect? What was that like for you?
Daniel: I haven’t. I have instead been introduced to a bottomless abyss of trafficking, displacement, dispossession, and marginalization the knowledge of which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I have managed to integrate myself into my neighborhood as well as various communities that I never expected would welcome me back, and this along with the support of my adoptive family allows me to persevere here.
For adoptees out there who are transracial (adopted outside of your culture), many who read this blog are Split Feathers who have questions about this, have you any suggestions on how we can change the views on international adoption and adoption in general:
Daniel: I’m actually writing a book on this subject that shifts the burden here. Why try and change an inherently broken and corrupt system? In my research it quickly becomes apparent the uses of adoption originally were never for family creation, but for everything having to do with political and economic domination, including indentured servitude, emptying of poorhouses, populating of colonies, destruction of tribes and indigenous peoples, etc. So for us to go along with the “lie” that adoption is about family creation is to be accomplices in our own dehumanization. Much more important is our own grounding not in terms of our adopting class but in that of our originating communities. Even if we are transracially “American” or acculturated “American”, what does this mean when many groups who have managed to assimilate were formerly considered Other within American society?
These groups were forced to give up their language, culture, and identity that, when studied, are amazing sources of resistance, strength, and self-awareness. This is hard work because none of this is part of the dominant cultural mode, and we have to go out of our way to find such material. But it’s out there, and it is much more grounding than pretending to be “American”, whatever that even means these days. I’m not advocating claiming this or that identity; actually I’m saying the opposite: Find the cultural roots of resistance that existed in communities before they were assimilated into dominant societies, themselves historically full of mixes, overlaps, and interconnections. This gives us much more in the way of common cause, and will do more to bring us back to a sense of community than walking around manifesting affected cultural references that the dominant mode deigns allows us.
This post will take a bit to read…please be patient
“Show me how big your brave is…” – Sara Bareilles
In recent weeks, the adoption community has been tackling some tough questions – the validity of the adoptive family unit, the rights of birth (first) parents, the role of government in the way we Americans declare family and of course, the role of adopted people as the agents for change. You can spend hours on the internet reading articles about what happened to Baby Veronica, the supreme court case and ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act). I stand firm only one thing. We, the observers, know only a small percentage of the story. I am left more with curious questions. I am curious about Veronica’s birthmother and how she came to her decisions. I am curious how Veronica’s (adoptive) parents will explain away her birthfather and all he did to parent…