I wrote the following preface for my anthology TWO WORLDS: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects:
All of our lives the adoptees in this book have lived under an “adoptee stigma” of assimilation. We are often called transracial adoptees because we were raised outside our culture and by non-Indian parents. With a book, our sense of self-worth would rise, knowing many of us shared this (sometimes difficult) journey. Our success in finding our tribes could make big waves in the adoption world.
Most who read history are aware it is interpretation, told by the same conquerors who declared victory and Manifest Destiny. Indians cannot and do not rely on stories told by non-Indians isolated in their institutions. Some published scholars never visited a reservation or even know an Indian. It is their interpretation of who they think we are and that is very dangerous because we are not dead. We are still here.
Even the Smithsonian Museum, an institution called America’s national treasure, kill us again with vulgar displays of our bones and skulls, our medicine bundles, our sacred pipes, our masks and our drums. This treatment and disregard for what is sacred to our values and us can hardly be called understanding of tribal cultures. We are not relics. We are not the past. We are still here.
What about adoptions? Those who interpret its value to society protect their agenda and myths, spouting benefits for the adoptee. But we are called the Stolen Generations for a reason. Children did not ask to be removed. It is undeniable our assimilation was the government’s answer to Manifest Destiny, to make us non-Indian prototypes of American citizens.
Adopting out Indian children would be as destructive as a war but it would last longer: it’d last a lifetime. The adoption program idea was not officially signed like other treaties made in Indian Country. These unique adoption program records were sealed and not made public. (It was acknowledged in an apology I heard in 2001. Read the Ultimate Indignity in this book.) The goal was adoptions would be permanent and closed, therefore adoption was used as the ultimate weapon. Native children adopted by non-Indians would be Americans and unable to open their records; and our tribal parents and grandparents were victims since they would never see us again, or be able to find us.
My close friend Adrian Grey Buffalo, a wise adoptee elder who has returned to his Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate (People) calls us adoptees the lost drums and pipes who were locked away from culture, and stored in Americans homes. We are the people who need to be repatriated back to our nations. Adrian believes now is the time. Our People need us back.
With the creation of Indian Adoption Projects and Programs, this grand scheme didn’t make headlines. Their plan was not a war, not a signed treaty, but an idea they hoped would catch on and spread. Selling Americans and others on adopting Indian kids would be quite effortless. Essentially all social workers had to imply to parents was, “you’ll save these poor Indians kid’s lives.”
Judgments fell on First Nations and Indian Country in a very big way. This heavy-handed treatment and their adoption idea blanketed North America in every direction. In Canada it’s called the 60s Scoop. It was the same idea for single women who had an illegitimate baby. Women were told to forget they had the baby. Indians were not told anything. Indian children simply disappeared at the playground or from their backyard or babies were taken from hospitals. Some of our mothers were too poor and were pressured not to keep us. A big black government sedan was reported in many abduction stories and it was not against the law or illegal. Some Native children were removed to residential boarding schools. Others were placed in orphanages and foster homes, and others would be adopted.
But by the grace of Great Spirit, it failed. Indians who were adopted do find their way home. The writers in this book are living proof. We are still here and with these new stories, we make new history.
Many folks living in America and Canada still see Indian Country as a foreign land, alien like some other planet. In some non-Indian families, racism and ignorance about tribes is/was very strong. Opinions about Indians was never great to begin with and gets even more damaged and complicated with Indian reservations ravaged by poverty, alcohol and North America’s neglect.
For the past century, parents living on reservations could not prevent children from being stolen for boarding schools and adoption. Governments made rules and paid agencies and churches to remove and Christianize children, to civilize and train children, and raise them to be non-Indian. This truth is not widely acknowledged in history: the government’s plan was to ethnically cleanse an entire population of Indian children. Removing culture of Native children would not only destroy future generations of Indians but adopted children would not have treaty rights. Adopted children would disappear.
It’s probably a fact that our adoptive parents had no idea as to the motive or why there were so many Indian kids put up for adoption, or why governments ran these programs with public and private adoption agencies who could supply infants and children to non-Indian families.
By the 1970s, Indian leaders took these serious concerns to the U.S. Senate, leading to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. First Nations in Canada enacted their own law. In this book, we share what one Indian leader said in his congressional testimony.
I know I was stunned to hear it was government policy to run these various adoption programs. Many adoptees claim their adoptive parents never knew anything about this. Mine surely didn’t and would have scoffed at the idea.
When an adoptee becomes an adult, some question whether their family or their tribe will accept them back. Some were unsure which tribe or if it’s more than one tribe. Some did not know they had been enrolled in their sovereign tribal nations, filed earlier by relatives. Some learned their parents and tribal relatives were assimilated too, in boarding schools or in relocation programs, severely scarring them. It’s a painful cycle of loss in this past century.
The “adoptee stigma” of assimilation does leave adoptees lodged between two worlds. Can we be Indian enough when raised by non-Indians? Can we return to learn tribal culture and customs? Can we take back our identity? Can we be reverse-assimilated? Can we attend ceremony and get our Indian name? I tell them, “Yes.”
But neither adoptee or Indian parent will find government help in reconciliation or repatriation in America. It’s up to the adoptee and parents. It’s up to tribal communities to spread the truth of the Indian Adoption Projects and begin to look for their lost children.
Victims of these adoption programs have not received a formal apology in the United States. Few politician’s know or acknowledge it happened. With sealed adoption and closed birth records (in 2012), this will prevent full disclosure, which is why this book was planned and written. Politicians and lawmakers need to know our birth certificates were amended and falsified. Judges must abide by the Indian Child Welfare Act and not allow non-Indians to adopt Indian children.
The adoptees I know are some of the strongest-willed humans on the planet. They got around laws and sealed records, and as you will read in Two Worlds, many built their own bridge between the two worlds.
Gathering these stories changed me, enlightened me, haunted me and astonished me. I only ask that you share these stories with your children so these governments never attempt this idea again. The adoptees in this book are my friends and relatives now. They are warriors though they may not call themselves that. Their courage and spirit shines through their words. I knew these stories would make us our own tribe, a unique band of survivors and warriors.
“A nation that does not know its own history has no future,” is a quote I read recently by activist Russell Means, Oglala Lakota.
So how do we write the story of North American Indian and First Nation adoptees when so many people know nothing about this history?
We gather round the adoptees and listen as they share their story, in their own words, in their own voice.
The only way we can change history is to write it ourselves….. and our truth shall finally set us free.
–Trace A. DeMeyer (Shawnee-Cherokee-Euro)
Author of One Small Sacrifice: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects