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Monday, July 27, 2015

Winnipeg adoptee one step closer to meeting her birth mother

New Manitoba legislation helping adoptees reunite with blood-relatives

CBC News Posted: Jul 27, 2015
Marla Gordon says she hopes to travel to Manitoba from Saskatoon to meet her birth mother in person.
Marla Gordon says she hopes to travel to Manitoba from Saskatoon to meet her birth mother in person. (Marla Gordon)
A woman born in Winnipeg and put up for adoption as a child is one step closer to meeting her biological mom.

Last month, the Manitoba government pushed through new legislation that makes it easier for children put up for adoption to find out the identities of their birth parents.

Making adoption records publicly available has helped lead Marla Gordon from Saskatoon, where she grew up, back to Manitoba, where she was born, to search for answers about her blood-relatives.
It didn't take long before Gordon discovered the name of her birth mother and that she once lived in a home on Coventry Road in Charleswood.

And last week, with a simple call to 411, Gordon came away with a phone number that turned out to belong to her biological aunt. She told Gordon her birth mother would give her a call.

That call came Sunday night, and during the conversation, Gordon learned she also has two full siblings. She and her mom are now arranging a reunion to bring everyone together.

"I was pretty shocked. It hasn't sunk in yet," said Gordon. "I just couldn't believe it after this much time."

Gordon said her mom was 17 when she became pregnant and wasn't in a position to raise her.
"I understand why she gave me up, I have no grudge against her or anything," said Gordon. "I think it's a good thing; if you can't take care of a child, it's probably the most unselfish thing to give a baby a better life."

Over the years in Saskatoon, where Gordon still resides, she felt out of place and often wondered who her biological family was.

"I'm so different from my siblings; there was nobody like me," she said.

It was that sense of curiosity, paired with the new legislation, that motivated Gordon's search for answers.

Royden Kading with LINKS Post Legal Adoption said he sympathizes with people like Gordon. He, too, was put up for adoption as a child.

"An adoptee sort of lives a lie all their life," said Kading. "To find out what your background is means a lot to people."

Friday, July 24, 2015

NAJA Honors ICTMN’s Suzette Brewer for ICWA Investigations



Vincent Schilling Photo. Brewer prefers asking the questions rather than answering them.

Vincent Schilling | 7/22/15| INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY MEDIA
 
Investigative journalist Suzette Brewer (Cherokee Nation) brought great honor to Indian Country Today Media Network when she received the 2015 NAJA Richard LaCourse/Gannett Foundation Al Neuharth Investigative Journalism Award on July 11, and took home a check for $5,000. The award recognizes “groundbreaking investigative work by a journalist or a team that creatively uses digital tools in the role of community watchdog.”

Brewer, who specializes in Federal Indian Law and the Indian Child Welfare Act, has also written for other national publications and written several books. She has served as the public affairs officer for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, and as communications director for the National Indian Gaming Association and the American Indian College Fund.

Brewer, who says she has “sat all by myself in my hobbit hole, at cafes, restaurants, on the floor in airport terminals, in my car and at truckstops,” to do her groundbreaking reporting, confessed that she was a little nervous about doing this Q&A. She explained that she much prefers asking the questions rather than answering them.

How did you first get your start as a Native journalist?
I went to the University of Mississippi, which publishes The Daily Mississippian. It's one of the few universities in the country that still publishes a daily newspaper. I began writing a weekly column for them back in college. It was great training, because in an op/ed you only have 650-850 words to make your point. It forces you to economize and think about how to convey your argument with maximum impact… Which is ironic, since now I'm primarily known for long, expository writing and multi-part series.

How have times progressed over the years for Native journalists?
I think Native journalism is reaching a new level of both exposure and expectation, a kind of "Golden Age," if you will, in terms of the audiences we reach and the subjects we are now able to cover. Because of the Internet, our stories are being read and viewed all over the world. It has also become much easier to research a topic more thoroughly than back in the old days, when you had to scroll through hours and hours of 'microfiche,' dusty old law books and had to search hard copy phone books for contact information, etc. I started out with a manual typewriter and white-out and had to mail stories in to my editors, wait for them to get it and then wait for edits, etc. Thank god those days are over. I much prefer technology.

The ability to research anything at any time also denies our sources the opportunity for what T.S. White called "prevaricated fabrication." With digital media, the ability to embed primary source information into your story is becoming, in my opinion, crucial. Now, if someone is complaining about something they say they didn't say, I just embed a link to the speech or letter into my text. It's very handy.

What was your most memorable story?
I’ll say two: Baby Veronica and the Oglala v. Van Hunnik story out of South Dakota.

What are your views on your work regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act?
When I saw the headline, "Supreme Court to Hear American Indian Adoption Case" in January 2013, I knew the basic framework of the Indian Child Welfare Act, but not much about the case itself. But I knew, the second it came across the transom, that it had the potential to rock the foundation of modern tribal life in America. And I am sad to say that it has.

The last two and a half years have been a journey of stamina and discovery – for all of us as Indian people. I don't think anyone could have predicted just how deeply emotional and important the Indian Child Welfare Act has become to rank-and-file tribal members since 2013. Before Veronica, none of us thought that much about what was happening in family courts across the country. Now, there is vigilance and a genuine concern for what has been happening in the last 30 years. Adult adoptees have come forward in droves to heal and share their experiences; families have testified about the terrible effects of what happens when ICWA is not followed; tribes are galvanizing in an unprecedented way to stand up to a very powerful industry that has signaled its intent to overturn this important legislation.

One final thought. Indian people truly love their children. You cannot go anywhere in Indian country, to any gathering or event, and not see children running around. People bring their kids with them everywhere they go. To say that "Indians are a danger to their kids" is a terrible defamation of the parents who work so hard to raise their children every day. To honor them, I – and many other people – are committed to preserving the fabric of our communities.

It's an all hands on deck kind of situation right now.

How does it feel to be the recipient of the Richard LaCourse Award?
I'm still kind of in shock. I had seen something the week before the announcement about an award that Dennis McAuliffe Jr., had won, and for some reason I had the impression he was the winner of this award, and thought, 'Oh, nice. Good for him.' And I didn't think anything more about it, because that's not why I do what I do. But a week later Chris Napolitano [Creative Director for ICTMN] sent me a text that said something about "Jana," but I didn't have my glasses on, so I called him thinking it was about one of my sources, and he said, 'Hey, you won!'  It was shocking to say the least. As always, I was scrambling on deadline, so I was completely blown away.

My first thought was my parents, both of whom were tribal members.

What would you say to young Native journalists who desire to get into this field?
Two things: 1. Do it because you love it; and 2. Now's the time. It's the best time ever to be a Native journalist. With technology, you can be on the moon and file a story (assuming you have a good wifi connection up there), so go do it. We have so many stories to cover in Indian country, from land issues, health care, sports, the arts, policy decisions, education, infrastructure, and so on. There will never be a lack of subject matter. And we have an obligation to tell those stories, not only for our people, but so the rest of the world can see what's happening in our communities. It's a constant education.

Anything you would like to add?

I have to thank all of the people in Indian country and beyond who have very bravely stepped forward in the last two years to tell their stories, share information, and bring daylight to what can be a very dark subject matter. I am constantly aware of the fact that 50 percent of the Native population in the United States is under the age of 18. Therefore, it is to the hundreds of thousands of adult adoptees and Indian children who continue to be removed from their homes and communities that I dedicate this award.

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/07/22/naja-honors-ictmns-suzette-brewer-icwa-investigations-161154

SHE is my hero! I want to congratulate my friend Suzette for this NAJA honor. I knew Richard LaCourse and he'd be honored that Suzette won... Trace (who has her own NAJA awards.)

Lost Daughters: We Were All Good Adoptees ... Once

CLICK: Lost Daughters: We Were All Good Adoptees ... Once



After you read this post, I want you to remember that many adoptees did commit suicide. There were many, too many.



Then read this excerpt from Light of Day Stories:



Here are links to two medical journal articles:


Genetic and Familial Environmental Effects on Suicide – An Adoption Study of Siblings


Genetics of Suicide: An Overview






Suicide, of course, feeds on trauma and depression, and does not
discriminate based on economics and education.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rosebud to welcome back adoptees

Tiwahe GlukinIpi (Bringing the family back to life)
 

By Brandon Ecoffey |  LCT Editor 

ROSEBUD, SD—Generations of Lakota people have been cast out in to the Native Diaspora by state and federal policies designed to break down traditional familial units. The citizens of the Rosebud Sioux Nation, however, are working to mend some of these relationships destroyed by government policy by welcoming home tribal citizens who were once thought of as lost. Since the inception of colonization in North America federal policy has been designed to erase the cultural bonds that Native people have with their communities occupying their ancestral lands. Early ideas on dealing with the “Indian problem” consisted of outright extermination, efforts to assimilate, and eventually to relocate whole nations, as well as individual tribal citizens to urban areas. The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 provided financial and professional incentives to Native people willing to abandon their lives on the reservation. After four years of the program the Bureau of Indian Affairs reported that approximately 31,000 people had joined the program, however, the full impact of Native people’s migration was that, according to PBS, as many as 750,000 Native people left their reservations to work in the cities.

Today many Native children find themselves living with non-Native families and in state foster care facilities as a result of hyper-aggressive efforts by state social service programs to seize Native children. According to a 2011 report by National Public Radio Native children make up 50% of those in South Dakota’s foster care system despite only being 15% of the overall population. 
Of those Native children in foster care 90% of them are living with non-Native caretakers.
 

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe will welcome home adoptees at the 139th Annual Rosebud Fair, Rodeo and Contest Powwow, which runs August 28-30 at the Rosebud Fair Grounds in Mission, South Dakota. Image from RST

The result of these policies is thousands upon thousands of Native people living in the United States without a connection to their people or nations. To help repatriate these citizens with their own communities, at this year’s Rosebud Sioux Tribal Fair, a special ceremony will take place that will welcome home those who were sent off through adoption or in to foster care. “The inspiration for the event was Sandy White Hawk,” said Marlies White Hat of Sinte Gleska University’s Tiwahe GlukinIpi (Bringing the family back to life) program, a program that specializes in juvenile mental health. According to White Hat, Ms. White Hawk was placed in to a foster home in a small all white town. White Hawk would eventually find her roots and would embark on an effort to help bring Native people who were taken away back to their communities. Once she approached representatives of the tribe word spread throughout a network of tribal programs who were all supportive of the idea to host an event to welcome these people home. White Hawk has also created the First Nations Repatriation Institute whose mission is partly to “to bring awareness and healing to Indian communities impacted by adoption and foster care.” 

During the fair the tribe will have a ceremony during the pow-wow for those coming home as well as family members of those who were adopted out. “Almost everyone I talked to mentioned that they knew someone or had a relative who was taken in to foster care. There are some stories of a black car pulling up and entering the home to take four children out. It was bad,” said White Hat. White Hat would add that all family members of people who were adopted out are invited to come. 

For more information on the event please contact Sandy White Hawk at (651) 442-4872 or Marlies White Hat at (605) 856-8203. Find the award-winning Lakota Country Times on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How do you make amends for trying to erase a culture?

A survivor of the 60s Scoop on what's been lost and how to move forward.

Tasha Hubbard was adopted out through the Saskatchewan Adopt Indian Metis (AIM) pilot project, designed to place Indigenous children six and under into non-Indigenous homes.
Tasha Hubbard was adopted out through the Saskatchewan Adopt Indian Metis (AIM) pilot project, designed to place Indigenous children six and under into non-Indigenous homes. (Her photo)

On a hot July afternoon, a social worker handed me over to a young Saskatchewan farming couple.
I was three months old, and my adoptive mother tells me I wouldn’t stop crying. She eventually realized I was too hot because my foster mother had dressed me in all the clothes that I possessed.
I was born Carrie Alaine Pinay in 1973 to a young Saulteaux/Metis/Cree mother who found herself alone and with limited support from family or from social services. She made a difficult decision, and decided to surrender me to a social worker she trusted. Her grandparents and parents and my Cree/Nakota father had been forced to attend residential school. After I met my birth parents as a teenager, I began to learn that my family network has been affected by a genocidal system engineered to dismantle nations by taking children away and inflicting pain, shame, and self-hatred.

I was adopted out through the Saskatchewan Adopt Indian Metis (AIM) pilot project, designed to place Indigenous children six and under into non-Indigenous homes. The AIM project ran from 1967 to 1974, putting over 1,000 children in adoptive homes, some outside of the province and even outside of Canada.

It was thought by some of the program’s administrators that if children were taken from their families at a young enough age, they would not have any “Indian or Metis” imprinting, and only their pigmentation would be different from their adoptive families. In my case, the social worker encouraged my young adoptive parents to raise me with the knowledge of being “an Indian.” They did their best to do that, they raised me with love, and they supported me to search for my birth parents, whom I found when I turned 16. I know in many ways, my experience was the exception.
Thousands of children were “scooped” across Canada in the 1960s, 70s and even in the 80s, inflicting further damage to Indigenous family structures already reeling from the impact of the residential schools. Many times, parents were forced into surrendering their newborns, told that their children would suffer if allowed to stay. Other children were taken out of homes that were deemed insufficient by middle-class standards, but were often intact and loving. Siblings were more often than not sent to different homes, sometimes scattered across North America.

The so-called Scoop resulted in a generation of children, some 20,000, being raised outside of their families and communities, and without connection to their lands, ceremonies, and language. Many foster and adoptive parents were abusive and inflicted painful external and internal scars. As with the Indian Residential School system, the Scoop was part of a government effort to erase Indigenous peoples.

In early June, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its report, telling the painful stories of survivors and their families, and we are beginning to see the first glimmers of grappling with these dark parts of Canada’s history.

Alberta has pledged to join the North West Territories and Nunavut in including Residential School history as part of their school curriculum. While this is a promising step - and ought to be followed promptly by all provinces across the country - educational reforms must also include learning materials that expose the colonial roots that underlay the residential school system and the Scoop and continue to guide current policies involving Indigenous peoples.

Some universities, too, have begun to do their part. The University of Saskatchewan announced last week that it is joining several other western schools in supporting the education of youth who have emerged from the child welfare system. The U of S has stepped it up a notch, offering tuition for up to five years as well as comprehensive living expenses and other supports. Other universities need to offer similar options for Indigenous students, many of whom, despite perceptions, are not eligible for band funding.

There is clearly also a fledgling process of reflection now underway among some of Canada’s governments. Alberta’s new premier Rachel Notley apologized for the Alberta government’s inaction on residential schools. In Manitoba, Premier Greg Selinger apologized to those children and families affected by the 60s Scoop. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall formally announced his intention to apologize in the near future.

But while apologies can be a good first step (if they are sincere), words can only do so much; they also must come with efforts to address the wrongs done with reparations. Federal, provincial and territorial leaders looking for somewhere to start ought to read, in full, the TRC’s calls to action, some of which are updates of unimplemented recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples back in 1996.

To achieve justice, all of Canada needs to understand that the bluntly oppressive systems implemented from the beginning of Canada’s existence as a state continue to be a lived legacy for both Indigenous peoples and Canadians. And justice requires the will to change that legacy.

Tasha Hubbard is a filmmaker and assistant professor of Indigenous literature and media at the University of Saskatchewan. She is a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation. An earlier version was published on the Broadbent Institute website.

Goldwater Press Conference

Goldwater Institute Seeks Protection for Native American Children

Posted By on Jul 20, 2015 | Tuscon Weekly

Clint Bolick, Vice President for Litigation, Goldwater Institute - BY GAGE SKIDMORE (FLICKR: CLINT BOLICK) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (HTTP://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-SA/2.0)], VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Clint Bolick, Vice President for Litigation, Goldwater Institute, photo by Gage Skidmore (Flickr: Clint Bolick) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  

Recently, the Goldwater Institute held a press conference announcing the filing of a class action lawsuit challenging race based separate and unequal treatment regarding foster and adoptive placement of Native American children.

Today’s existing problems can be traced back over one hundred years to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries when many Native American children were removed from reservations and placed in boarding schools or families with no tribal ties. These policies had a profound and deleterious effect on the ability of Native American tribes to maintain both their respective communities and cultures.

In light of this history, the Congress of the United States passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978. The purpose of the act was to provide tribes with jurisdiction over the process of child foster and adoptive placement thereby maintaining the integrity of reservation community and tribal culture.

While the goals of the ICWA are laudable, many unintended consequences have resulted from putting the interests of the tribe over the needs and interests of the child.

The Equal Protection for Indian Children organization offers the story of Laurynn Whiteshield as an example of unintended consequences:

Laurynn spent most of her life in a home where she was loved and protected. From the time she was nine months old, she and her twin sister, Michaela, were raised by Jeanine Kersey-Russell, a Methodist minister and third-generation foster parent in Bismarck, North Dakota.

When the twins were almost three years old, the county sought to make them available for adoption. But Laurynn and Michaela were not ordinary children. They were Indians.

And because they were Indians, their fates hinged on the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law passed in 1978 to prevent the breakup of Indian families and to protect tribal interests in child welfare cases.

The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe had shown no interest in the twins while they were in foster care. But once the prospect of adoption was raised, the tribe invoked its powers under ICWA and ordered the children returned to the reservation, where they were placed in the home of their grandfather in May 2013. Thirty-seven days later, Laurynn was dead, thrown down an embankment by her grandfather’s wife, who had a long history of abuse, neglect, endangerment, and abandonment involving her own children.

Native American children are American citizens, and as such deserve the same rights and protections as any other citizen. Their rights and protections cannot be removed based on race.

Some who support the status quo deny that the distinction is based on race, but rather on political affiliation, that being of tribal membership or qualification for membership. This is true in one sense, that it is tribal membership or qualification that allows jurisdiction, but most (though not all) base tribal membership on a defined blood quantum or family lineage - in other words, the race of the child.

The Goldwater filing, authored by Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation, includes six claims for relief.

The first count claims a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment. “Government cannot treat the safety and security of children with Indian ancestry less seriously than the safety and security of all other children.” “...all subject Plaintiffs to unequal treatment under the law based solely on the race of the child and the adults involved and are therefore unconstitutional under the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment.”

The second count claims a violation of the due process guarantee of the Fifth Amendment. “The failure of ICWA as applied by the BIA Guidelines to adequately consider the child’s best interests deprives the class of plaintiff children of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The third count claims a violation of the substantive due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. “Defendant McKay’s compliance with and enforcement of the foster/preadoptive and adoptive placement preferences under state law and ICWA, 25 U.S.C. § 1915(b), (a), New Guidelines at §§ F.1, F.2, F.3, F.4, violate the substantive due process rights of children with Indian ancestry, and those of adults involved in their care 24 of 29 and upbringing who have an existing family-like relationship with the child.”

The fourth count claims that the ICWA exceeds the federal government’s power under the Indian Commerce clause and the Tenth Amendment. “ICWA displaces inherent state jurisdiction over specified child welfare, custody, and adoption proceedings and therefore violates the Tenth Amendment.”

The fifth count claims a violation of the associational freedoms under the First Amendment. “This forced association violates Plaintiffs’ freedom of association, which encompasses the freedom not to associate under the First Amendment.”

The sixth count claims unlawful agency action. “BIA overstepped its authority by extending, in the New Guidelines, the jurisdiction-transfer provision to all child custody proceedings. Such extension, which directly contradicts a Congress-enacted provision, harms children in cases where parental rights have been terminated. It gives tribes the “right to request a transfer,” 80 Fed. Reg. at 10156, C.1(c), in cases where Congress expressly did not give tribes a right to request 123. Such agency action is unlawful, in excess of statutory authority, and not in accordance with law.”


[Here is what I know:  Tribes and Indian people didn't create reservations or their conditions and have had to manage for the past 100+ years. Governments taking Indian children was part of the early plan, part of the genocide. Some tribes were decimated by removals of their children. Lawyers play a huge part in child trafficking (adoption) now - to make MONEY...The Goldwater Inst. doesn't seek PROTECTION! The big reason they are fighting ICWA now is they are losing the commodity of children to sell.... Trace]

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Monique Vondall-Rieke on #ICWA

COMMENTS ON THE GOLDWATER INSTITUTE CHALLENGE TO ICWA
(or “More one-sided arguments that we get used to in Indian Country”)

By Monique Vondall-Rieke, J.D.,
Director, Association of Village Council Presidents Tribal Justice Center

BETHEL, AK – The announcement of A.D., et al. v. Washburn by the conservative group known as the Goldwater Institute comes with a bitter deja vu of “haven’t we heard this before?”  I’ve got a few things that I can say are wrong with the pleadings filed by Goldwater on behalf of minor American Indian children, “next friend,” and potential adoptive parents. Mostly, however, I’ve got even more to say on the one-sided EPIC report they have produced to coincide with their summation that ICWA should be declared unconstitutional.

First of all, the report does its purpose for Goldwater regardless of the medical and psychological research that exists and documents the loss of cultural identity and historical trauma that American Indian children have been victims of for centuries. The report also fails to point any blame at even the beginnings of Indian to federal government (i.e. “founding fathers”) relationships and what they are based upon. The truth of the harms of the Doctrine of Discovery is avoided again and the convoluted desire to have an American Indian child at the center of arguments of white conservatives is the Hail Mary of what Justice Scalia coined as “jiggery-pokery” in the recent SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage. (Not that I would support his use of the term or dissenting opinion, of course.) It just doesn’t surprise me that the Goldwater Institute has invested time and money into a campaign to smear a federal law that undoes what historical trauma to American Indians has done for centuries in one fell swoop of a few isolated wins against ICWA.

The report begins with unmistakably sad stories of failures within American Indian communities across America where ICWA, they allege, did not protect the child. What Goldwater Institute fails to do, however, is focus on why some children are not connected to their tribal affiliation more than when they reach an ICWA stage. What they fail to point out is the overwhelming questions like: what were the incidences that led to those people being isolated from their cultural communities? The answer in most cases is because, somewhere in their lineage, someone was removed from their cultural communities and placed either in a non-Indian home, or in a boarding school. Both situations are damaging for a number of historically traumatic reasons told in stories over and over by our ancestors.

There are two reasons I support ICWA: my oldest son and my youngest son. First, my oldest son was born at a time in my life when I was a precarious young woman who was unsettled and seeking self-identity. I went from being a Catholic to a bible-banging Christian to a Buddhist and it was not until 1999, twelve years after my oldest son was born and adopted by his biological grandparents that I was able to find my spirituality and return to a circle that had been broken by cycles of Catholic influence of my ancestors. My son was nearly adopted by a white family but, thanks to ICWA, the adoption met the family exception and he was adopted by his father’s grandparents, who agreed to keep the adoption open and allowed me to see him. Today, we have a wonderful relationship and he and his beautiful girlfriend are about to give me my third grandson. As an adult, my son sought out his American Indian heritage and came to live with me, my other two children and my husband. I thank ICWA to this day for allowing me to open my eyes to allowing his grandparents to adopt him because they raised him to be a respectful young man.

The second reason I support ICWA is because my youngest son was adopted by my husband and I in 2005. He came to us through an ICWA relative placement and is the light of our life daily. My husband is a kind, caring, loving father and I would have never been able to see that side of him without ICWA giving us the gift of my son through the relative placement requirements of ICWA. In fact, his brother and sister were adopted by my sister, so ICWA has touched many of my family’s lives and has allowed these three children to be raised in our cultural family nucleus. If it were not for ICWA, the relative would not have approached us for early placement of the children, and, without going into detail, my young son could possibly not even be alive today. So, I defend ICWA against its attack and always will. My husband, in fact, wrote a song in gratitude of ICWA. He is a non-Indian (Hungarian) and our son knows his heritage. He knows he is American Indian and can be Hungarian when he wants to be, or Irish, or French, but most of all, he knows that he is safe and loved in his home by his mother and father.

Incidentally, the report by the Goldwater Institute fails to mention that keeping American Indian children in foster care is a multi-billion dollar business for state human service agencies. The Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, AFCARS Report of 2013 reveals that American Indian children make up .9% of the population of U.S. children but represent 2% of the population of children in foster care in the U.S. Some states with high numbers of American Indian populations, like South Dakota, statistics reveal that up to 50% of the children in foster care placement in that state are American Indian.

The Association of Village Council Presidents in Alaska represents 56 tribes and villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region (“Y-K Delta”). The newly-developed South West Region of Alaska shows, in the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research’s report titled “Trends in Age, Gender, and Ethnicity Among Children in Foster Care in Alaska,” that for every 1000 of children in general population, 20 Alaska Native children will end up in foster care, which is more than double the rate of any other region in Alaska. The Y-K Delta has several remote villages and the Office of Children Services for Alaska is deeply involved in the placement of children out of their communities due to the lack of (1) American Indian foster homes in the region and (2) lack of kinship foster care funding for family placements, unlike other states. Although other reasons exist, the quick judgment of removal of a child takes place far more often than in other areas of the United States versus the cost of making a “good faith effort” to place the child in an American Indian home as required by ICWA. These statistics and the removal from communities only exacerbate the loss of cultural identity and increase the stigma of historical trauma on the children.

These are the reasons that ICWA is so important to American Indian children. There are some sad casualties, but in any foster care system, whether the children are American Indian or not, there are casualties and all agencies need to strive for a no-casualty goal to preserve the health and welfare of children, regardless of race or ethnicity, or, yes, even political status. The fix to those problems, however, is not to abolish the Indian Child Welfare Act and not to exploit the misfortunes of failed systems and failure stories. These facts and statistics, Goldwater Institute, is not “pure applesauce.”


Here are the lyrics to the song written by my husband, Stuart Rieke:

 

Listen to Native Peoples First

Call this a protest or a culture song
There’s no changing the laws of diversity
Jesus himself battled the Romans who were wrong
Cause Rome wanted only one set of eyes to see.

Children interpret their daydreams
Through a culture they inherit.
Do you want them to be held away?
Or do you hope they share it?

You want to help write their songs?
But first understand, first sing along.
We gotta learn to listen to Native Peoples first
Before we all try to fix this broken Universe.

Call this a plea to reason
Or a personal narrative.
My son sees the seasons
Through eyes of the cultures where he lives.

Every generation is like a wave
You’ve got to give them room to feel the shore
How can you think they’re yours to save?
They need their own center, their cultural core!

You want to help write their songs?
But first understand, first sing along.
We gotta learn to listen to Native Peoples first
Before we all try to fix this broken Universe

Friday, July 10, 2015

shattered

Editors Note: Protecting poor children, not just Native children, is a big concern across America in 2015.  Systems like adoption services and foster care are slowly being privatized, therefore companies and states are making a profit from removing children and placing them in foster care or adoption...  In some Maine tribes — in the mid-1970s — as many as one in three children were in foster care, usually with non-Native families.  In that system, children experience traumatic change, loss of culture and lost family connections.  By understanding this history, dire poverty and ongoing Third World conditions across the USA, knowing the truth is absolutely necessary to prevent and stop this from happening again...Trace Hentz
 

A historic process is exposing the injuries inflicted by Maine’s child welfare system on generations of Wabanaki people — and illuminating a way forward to bring healing and change.

By Virginia M. Wright | Photographed by Séan Alonzo Harris | SOURCE
"...I was taken from my home. I don’t know how old I was, but I was pretty young. They took all of us — my sisters, my brother, and me — and they placed us in foster care. Then, slowly, my mother got us back. I was the last one to come home.”
With her square-frame glasses and dark hair that falls loosely past her shoulders, Cheryl looks like a college student, but she is in her late 40s, a mother of four grown children and a grandmother of two. We are meeting in a friend’s office near her home on Wabanaki tribal land, away from neighbors’ curious eyes.
For the past four months, I’ve been reaching out to Wabanaki community leaders, trying to connect with people who have testified before a truth and reconciliation commission investigating Native Americans’ experiences with Maine’s child welfare system. In addition to Denise Altvater, the Passamaquoddy woman who helped launch the probe by publicly sharing her story about life in an abusive foster home in the late 1960s, only one other person with direct foster-care experience has agreed to meet with me. Cheryl is not her real name — she asks to share her story anonymously out of respect for her mother, whose own childhood was marred by forced enrollment in an Indian boarding school, where children were beaten for speaking their language and practicing their customs.
Shattered, Maine Wabanaki People - 5
Cheryl tells me she was a teenager when she began asking questions about fragments of memory that she couldn’t explain — strange faces, an unfamiliar house, places visited. It was her older sister who told her that the recollections were not a dream, that they’d been separated from their mother, and from each other, for nearly three years. Their mother never spoke of it — at least not with words.
“My mother never liked the state,” Cheryl says. “She wanted to keep us out of school, but she made us go to keep DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) from knocking on the door. She was very strict. No phone calls. No going to see friends. No friends over, either. As a teenager, it was hard for me to understand, but she had her reasons: to protect us.”
In some Maine tribes at that time — the mid-1970s — as many as one in three children were in foster care, usually with non-Native families. “The system was pretty hard on Native Americans,” Cheryl says. “We stick out in a white community. There were always fingers pointing, women reporting on our families, and then, all of a sudden, the state would be involved. It happened to me once. I know how it feels.”
Late one hot summer night, when her children were little, Cheryl rushed her son, who was burning with fever, to the emergency room. The next day, a state caseworker came to her door. “The nurse had called DHHS because my child was dirty,” she recalls, a trace of anger in her voice. “It’s not like you’re going to put your child in the bathtub at 3 in the morning. My children weren’t taken, I only had to take parenting classes, but still.”

We would know our language and our traditions if our grandparents hadn't gone to that school.

 
— Krista Stevens, Micmac community leader
Cheryl gave a statement to the truth commission, she says, in part because she wants better things for her kids and grandkids. Mostly, though, she did it for her mother. “My hope is to be a voice for those who don’t talk, for those who are keeping it inside,” she explains. “They never share with others because the pain was so great, and it is even still. Our elders are very proud people. We respect their silence. We respect their privacy. But it’s like a volcano, where it’s quiet, but things are happening underneath. Then, all of a sudden, it erupts. Just because they’re not saying anything, it doesn’t mean that something isn’t there. Their silence is so loud.”
On an evening in late April, Carol Wishcamper, co-chair of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), welcomed roughly 140 people to the first of five forums airing the findings and recommendations from the commission’s 2½-year investigation (a final written report was to be presented at a closing ceremony on June 14 in Hermon). “I feel it’s important to recognize that we are in the Dyke Center at Husson College in Bangor, Maine, on Penobscot territory, and to be very aware of all that has come before in this spot,” said Wishcamper, who is a prominent philanthropist and a consultant for educational organizations.With that simple statement, softly delivered in a thin, high voice, Wishcamper was preparing the mostly white audience for the unsparing subtext of the report they were about to hear: Indian child welfare is tangled in a complex web of issues dating back to colonization, and it can only be effectively addressed by reckoning with a still-unfolding history of genocide, racism, and conflicts over tribal sovereignty.
The commission’s five members were seated in February 2013 at the behest of Maine-Wabanaki REACH, an organization comprised of both Natives and non-Natives, mostly women, who have worked in child welfare for the state, private agencies, and the four nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy: Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Micmac, and Maliseet. REACH (the name stands for reconciliation, education, advocacy, change, and healing) evolved out of a state-tribal workgroup formed in 1999 after a federal review found that Maine was not complying with the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which sets standards for child custody proceedings that aim to keep Indian children with their relatives and tribes, even when they have to be removed from their parents.
Shattered, Maine Wabanaki People - 3
The commission’s mandate, signed by five Wabanaki chiefs and Governor Paul LePage, was to find out what happened and is still happening to Wabanaki families in the child welfare system, to recommend improvements, and to illuminate a path forward that promotes healing and cooperation. It is the first truth and reconciliation effort in the U.S. to address Native child welfare practices, and it is believed to be the first in the world to be collaboratively developed from the start by all parties — in this case, the Indian nations and child welfare workers.
Nearly 160 individuals, more than two-thirds of them Wabanaki, have given testimony to the TRC. Others who have testified are DHHS employees, guardians ad litem, family court judges, and foster and adoptive parents. The commission’s staff also has examined DHHS data for the past 12 years and found that, while the state has greatly improved its practices since it was admonished in 1999, Native children are nonetheless entering state custody at a rate that is five times greater than that of the general population.
“We are finding this continued taking must be considered within the context of genocide,” TRC’s executive director Charlotte Bacon told the gathering in Bangor. Bacon referenced the 1948 United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines “forcibly transferring children of [an ethnic] group to another group” as a genocidal act. “As people who love the state of Maine, we want to believe that this didn’t happen here. It’s even harder to believe that it’s continuing to happen. But we have to believe it in order to make progress in terms of making change and really living with Wabanaki families as neighbors.”

A lot of people are fighting demons, and they need to realize the demons are not their fault.

 
— Dena Joseph, Micmac community leader
These are some of the stories that made front-page news in Maine in recent months: The federal government joined the Penobscot Indian Nation in its lawsuit against the state over fishing and hunting rights on the tribe’s ancestral river. The state Department of Environmental Protection announced it would disregard a federal Environmental Protection Agency order to tighten pollution standards to ensure that tribes can safely eat fish from their waters. The MSAD 54 school board rejected Wabanaki representatives’ request to stop using the name “Indians” for Skowhegan Area High School sports teams. The Maine Department of Marine Resources banned the use of elver fyke nets by Passamaquoddys licensed as sustenance fishermen, saying they were circumventing a state quota system. Governor Paul LePage rescinded a 2011 executive order promoting cooperation between the state and its “sovereign Native American tribes,” because the state’s interests “have not been respected.” And, in May, the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy nations withdrew their representatives from the Maine Legislature, citing their deteriorating relationship with the state.As a resident of this state for more than 30 years, I can’t remember another time when interactions between the tribes and Maine’s state and local governments have been so contentious. But perhaps that is largely my own failing: I wasn’t paying much attention, a shortcoming that I would comfortably bet I share with most residents of our overwhelmingly white state. When I began interviews for this story, I noticed that my conversations with Wabanaki people often ranged into other topics, many of them matters I regarded as history, like the 1980 Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement or the 17th-century’s bloody conflicts between Native Americans and colonists. Over and over, I’d try to steer the conversation back to the subject of child removals, until one day, while listening to a presentation by Passamaquoddy activist Esther Attean, I finally got it: the Wabanaki are living with the consequences of these events every day.
Shattered, Maine Wabanaki People - 1
The average age of death for Wabanaki people is 54 years. Seventeen percent of Maine Native Americans have diabetes, compared to 8 percent of the general population. Unemployment in Maine indigenous communities ranges from 15 to 20 percent, which is three to four times higher than the state as a whole. More than half of the residents of the Passamaquoddy Indian Township Reservation are living below the poverty level (the percentage of people living below the poverty level is 43.8 percent at the Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Reservation and 33 percent at the Penobscot Indian Island reservation). Alcohol abuse or dependence is reported by 14 percent of Native Americans. And there are too many Native children in foster care. Everything is connected, Attean says. Tug on the thread of one issue, and you’ll find it is attached to everything else.

The conditions that people have been kept in are deplorable, worse than third-world countries.

 
— Gkisedtanamoogk, TRC Commissioner
Slender, with long dark hair, Esther Attean grew up on the Passamaquoddy reservation of Sipayik, or Pleasant Point, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement was being negotiated and, she says, “the newspapers were full of racist letters to the editor.” Roman Catholic nuns served as the child welfare agents, she recalls, and “if they saw your kids were dirty, they could take them.” A founding member of the 1999 ICWA workgroup, Attean is one of the forces — if not the force, some of her colleagues say — behind truth and reconciliation. As the co-director of REACH, along with her Muskie School of Public Service colleague Penthea Burns, she has coaxed wary tribal communities into opening their doors to commissioners and their staff, and she has spent much of the last year traveling around Maine to give lectures about the grim treatment of Native people by state and federal government and about the healing power of telling the truth.
At one such gathering in Bangor, after introducing herself in both Passamaquoddy and English, Attean told her audience that Wabanaki people have suffered a 98 percent population decline since Europeans arrived on these shores. Disease is the biggest culprit, she said, but the Wabanaki were also devastated by war and forced removal from their lands throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Only four of the 20 distinct Wabanaki tribes that once ranged throughout Maine survive. Between them, they count 8,000 members, about .6 percent of the state’s 1.3 million people.
Maine has sometimes lagged behind the rest of the nation in remedying injustices rooted in racial discrimination. Native Americans didn’t win the right to vote in state and local elections until 1967, making Maine the last state to grant them suffrage. Thirteen years later, the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement brought millions of dollars to the impoverished Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet tribes. The funds would help to greatly improve living conditions, but the pact, unique in the U.S., created a muddy jurisdictional arrangement that has found the state and tribes clashing over sovereignty time and again, whether the context is fishing or logging or child custody matters.
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Child welfare practices have exacted their own devastating toll, Attean said. Hundreds of Native children have been removed from their homes in Maine, beginning in the late 1800s with the federal Indian boarding school movement, which set out to assimilate Indians into white society, and continuing into the 1970s with adoption projects that deliberately placed Indian children in non-Indian homes. Children lost touch with their families, their language, and their spiritual and cultural traditions. “They returned to their communities with trauma that has filtered through the next generations,” Attean said.
Intergenerational, or historical, trauma was first conceptualized by Columbia University associate professor Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart in the 1980s as a way of understanding why so many American Indian communities are not faring well. It has since been embraced in the field of psychiatry to explain difficulties experienced by children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Simply put, it describes how a parent’s post-traumatic syndrome affects his children and their children in turn, a phenomenon multiplied in Native communities where injuries have been inflicted repeatedly and experienced widely by many families and many generations.

Reconciliation is a continual process of learning how to be in the same space together.

 
— Esther Attean
“What makes all of these injuries worse is the denial of all this history,” Attean tells me. “It’s denied. It’s repressed. It’s pushed down. Because it’s too hard to admit that it hasn’t stopped. Reconciliation starts with acknowledgement of the truth about what happened, not to lay blame, but just to say yes, this happened, and what are we going to do about it now. To me, reconciliation is a continual process of learning how to be in the same space together. Reconciliation would be not seeing what my people are going through with elver fishing, not seeing what the Penobscots are going through with the river, not seeing a Penobscot woman have to write to the paper to explain what a Skowhegan Indian is.”
On the coastal Sipayik reservation near Eastport, Esther Attean’s sister-in-law, Denise Altvater, is telling me about a collection of old photographs she recently found in her mother’s home. “There was a picture of me and my sisters. It was Easter, and we all had Easter baskets. I had on a beautiful dress and new shoes, and I was sitting on my father’s lap,” she recounts with wonder. “There was another picture of us in our bedroom. Do you remember those bedspreads that had little balls like popcorn on them? Those were the kind of bedspreads we had. I’m looking at those pictures, and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t ever, ever remember living that kind of life.’”The pictures were taken in the early 1960s in Buffalo, New York, where Altvater’s father was a police officer. When her parents separated, Altvater’s mother brought her six daughters home to Sipayik. Like many of the homes on the reservation at that time, theirs was little more than a shack, with no running water or electricity. The girls slept on mattresses in the attic. They were often hungry, and Altvater remembers being humiliated by store clerks’ scorn when she presented the food vouchers that were doled out to families by the state Indian agent as payment for logging operations on Passamaquoddy land.
One day in 1966, when Altvater’s mother wasn’t home, state caseworkers came into the house, stuffed the girls’ clothing into garbage bags, loaded all of them into two station wagons, and drove to a foster home in Old Town, 2½ hours away. There, the girls — Altvater was just 7 — suffered repeated physical and sexual abuse. It would be four years before caseworkers moved them to a safe home in Hampden.

This history is denied. It’s repressed. It’s pushed down. Because it’s too hard to admit it hasn’t stopped.

 
— Esther Attean
“Sitting here today, the biggest thing on my mind is that it was set up so they had an excuse to take children from the reservations because of the conditions that we had to live in,” Altvater says. “I don’t know why I was taken to this very day. I’ve sat with the people who have access to records. I’ve made written requests to get them, and I’ve been told that they are lost.”
Altvater’s story has become symbolic of the TRC effort because she has been willing to speak publicly about her experience and the damaging effects it had on her and her family. Two sisters have died, one at age 41 from diabetes, which Altvater says went untreated during those years in Old Town, the other at age 51 from a drug overdose. A recovering alcoholic for 30 years, Altvater, 56, says she struggled to parent her three children, describing her younger self as moody and withdrawn. She wipes away tears as she describes a conversation last year with her adult son. “I said, ‘I want you to please tell me the truth because I need to know: When you were younger, did I beat you?’ He looked at me, and he said, ‘Mom, how can you not remember?’ He told me everything that happened. He said, ‘The worst thing you ever did was say you wished I’d never been born. One night I came to kiss you goodnight, and you pushed me away. I was always afraid to come home, because I never knew what kind of mood you were going to be in.’” She has worked to make amends and describes her relationship with her son as strong and loving. “You talk about the truth, you deal with it, and you apologize,” she says.
In a 2012 interview with WCSH-TV, Martha Proulx, a DHHS Office of Child and Family Services assistant administrator and REACH member, said that the state acknowledges that children often were removed from their homes simply because they were poor and Native. Even though the policies of assimilation ended when ICWA was enacted in 1978, Proulx added, Native children were still being removed at higher rates than non-Native children, and they stayed in state custody longer. “People were doing their best with the knowledge at the time,” Proulx said. “Unfortunately, this knowledge wasn’t the best, and it did impact families in a negative way.”

It was set up so they had an excuse to take children because of the conditions we had to live in.

 
— Denise Altvater
When I emailed Proulx in April to request an interview, she responded enthusiastically and said she would run it past the DHHS press office. The next day, Governor LePage rescinded his executive order promoting cooperation with the tribes. When I followed up with Proulx, she said she was still waiting for approval. I didn’t hear from her again. Likewise, my request for an interview with Child and Family Services director Jim Martin hit a dead end, and Governor LePage himself did not respond to questions submitted by email to his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett.
Indian families were not the only ones affected by DHHS practices. In the early 1980s, Bette Hoxie fostered the infant son of a Wabanaki woman who was struggling with substance abuse (the father had denied paternity). The boy, who had significant medical needs, had been placed in Hoxie’s care three times by the time he was 20 months old, and she began adoption proceedings with the blessing of his mother and extended family. “We made some hard decisions together that formed a bond that you can’t begin to understand if you haven’t done it,” she says.
She was blindsided when she found herself in district court, sitting across from representatives of the now-defunct Central Maine Indian Association, who had come to oppose the termination of parental rights. “Suddenly, I was worrying about whether my child is going to be my child,” recalls Hoxie, who is the executive director of Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine and the mother of 11 children, eight of whom are adopted. “I knew about the Indian Child Welfare Act, but I thought it had been circumvented with the dialogue that had gone on between DHHS caseworkers and the biological family members of my son. It was pretty shocking.”

Unfortunately, this knowledge (at DHHS) wasn’t the best, and it did impact families in a negative way.

 
— Martha Proulx
DHHS brought in a pediatrician and a child psychologist, who testified that the boy’s needs would best be met with the Hoxies, and the termination was approved. “If it hadn’t been for those doctors coming in, I probably would have been quite beyond myself,” says Hoxie, who chalks up the incident to caseworkers’ inexperience with ICWA, which was then relatively new.
The Hoxies’ attempts to maintain their son’s connection to his culture had mixed results. His mother’s tribe welcomed him to powwows and other ceremonies, and he remains close to some members of her family (the mother is now deceased). The reception was cooler in his father’s community. After being turned away from one event, Hoxie didn’t try again. “I didn’t want to force myself on anyone, and he was still young, and we were going through enough just getting him physically well,” she explains. “But I think having a stronger connection with his tribal roots would have been good for him.
“One of the things that I’ve learned about adoption is that it is bittersweet. Your joy is built on someone else’s extreme loss and sadness. I keep going back to the idea of wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of terminating parental rights, we could resolve a situation by simply adding another layer of family — adoption without termination of parental rights? That is the philosophy of Native American tribes across the United States.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of terminating parental rights, we simply added another layer of family?

 
— Bette Hoxie
Wholly reliant on grants for its funding, the TRC initially envisioned a small-budget version of the sharing panels organized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which is investigating residential Indian schools, or the public hearings held by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated human rights abuses under apartheid. But getting people to share their stories was not easy.“We started off bringing people together so they could share their statements publicly, but sometimes the ramifications of that, even in their own communities, created more detriment,” says TRC co-chair gkisedtanamoogk (pronounced key-said-TAH-NAH-mook), a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts and a Native studies professor at the University of Maine. “So it has been a more intimate process, where we have gone into these communities by invitation and gathered statements individually. We’re dealing with a lot of pain. We have as a backdrop the policies of both the United States and Canada to destroy a culture and to do it by the forcible removal of children from their communities and families. The impact of that is horrifying for both the child and the family. You can’t begin to imagine what people have been carrying all of this time. With truth and reconciliation and their courage to share their story, they are finally getting this tremendous weight off their chest.”
DHHS employees, meanwhile, have been “forthcoming and supportive,” Carol Wishcamper says. The state has worked closely with the tribes and made “really consistent improvement” since 1999, she says. Nevertheless, the TRC found there is room to do more, including being more vigilant about identifying Native children when they come into the system and licensing more Native foster homes. (Maine currently has a severe shortage of foster and adoptive homes in general.)
“But even if those things happen, we really need to look at the larger context and try to untangle the knot of sovereignty issues and the ongoing impacts of institutional racism,” Wishcamper says. The TRC has found, for example, that conflicting cultural attitudes about child rearing may be contributing to the disproportionate removal rates. “White culture has its own judgmental attitudes toward what constitutes family, which is different than the tribal definition of family,” Wishcamper says. “In a tribal community, it’s okay if you have three aunties you’re spending your time with — you can be with one auntie one night, another the second night, and another the next, and that’s being with your family. In white communities, two parents in a house raise their children. We want the child to have his own bedroom and to be in the home in a more consistent way. So we need to think outside our own heads, which is very hard to do.”

As people who love the state of Maine, we want to believe that this didn’t happen here.

 
— Charlotte Bacon
TRC and REACH members use the word “genocide” broadly to describe not only physical destruction of the Wabanaki during the 1600s and 1700s, but also the cultural and epistemological eradication that was government policy during the boarding school and adoption project era, and which they say continues, if unintentionally, under current policies and practices. REACH’s non-Native staff members include that history in their Ally program, which is training people around the state to be advocates for the Wabanaki on various issues, like the ongoing clash between the state and the Penobscots over rights to the Penobscot River.
“One of the challenges we’re going to have is getting people to absorb how they have benefited from tribal oppression,” says Matthew Dunlap, a TRC commissioner and Maine’s secretary of state. “Because it’s easy in this conversation to say, ‘This is not my responsibility. I did not wipe out 16 nations of people, that was in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s. That was not us.’ But it was us. We’re the heirs of that, so we have to be accountable for that personally and collectively as a community.”
A few months ago, Luke Joseph had a suggestion for his sons, Kohen, 4, and Knox, 2. “I said, ‘You know what? I think we should grow our hair out.’ Now, Knox has got a decent head of hair on him. It’s almost to his shoulders. Kohen’s hair is a little longer than mine. And they like it.”I am sitting with Luke, his wife Dena, and Dena’s cousin, Krista Stevens, in the community room of the Micmac Cultural, Community, and Educational Center, located in a small tribal housing development in Presque Isle. Once a week, Dena and Krista come here to lead healing circles for people who have given testimony to the TRC — a ritual that also is being led by REACH staff members in other tribal communities and will continue after the commission disbands.
Luke, whose roots are Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet, says his desire for a traditional hairstyle grew out of his work as the Aroostook Band of Micmacs’ ICWA director for the past two years. In addition to working with DHHS caseworkers to make sure ICWA procedures are followed, he travels all over the state to visit children in foster care and share aspects of Wabanaki life and culture that they would otherwise miss.

We need to untangle the knot of the ongoing impacts of institutional racism.

 
— Carol Wishcamper
But Luke is just learning about many of these things himself. His parents grew up during the ’50s and ’60s in a small Maliseet settlement of tarpaper shacks near the Houlton town dump, a place so bleak it was known as Hunger Hill. When his mother was 8 or 9, she was placed in a foster home in St. Agatha, 100 miles away, and she did not come home until she was 19, an experience she has rarely spoken about. Luke’s father spent much of his adult life incarcerated for crimes related to his alcoholism, but his mother “busted her butt” and became a supermom, frequently taking in kids she encountered through her work as the Maliseets’ social services director. “We’d come home from school and these kids would get off the bus and come down the road with us,” recalls Luke, who grew up in a white neighborhood. “My mom would say, ‘Oh, by the way, these people will be staying with us for a few days.’”
Dena and Krista have inherited a similar legacy. Dena’s mother spent time in foster care and later lived in fear that her own children would be taken. Their grandmother and late grandfather were enrolled in Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, infamous for its use of corporal punishment. “Both of them were fluent in Micmac before they went there, but now if you ask my grandmother for a certain word, she doesn’t know,” says Krista, a single mother of three. “There is a big gap, a loss. We would have known our language and been brought up in our traditions if they hadn’t gone to that school.”
They’re working, though, to reclaim their culture. Dena and Krista open and close their healing circles by smudging — burning a bundle of medicinal herbs (tobacco and sage) to purify the space. An eagle feather is passed around the circle from speaker to speaker until no one has anything more to say. Luke and Dena listen to drumming music as they go about their household chores, something they never heard in their homes when they were kids. Luke’s sister is a pipe carrier, who conducts sacred ceremonies. “It’s neat to see how this generation is picking up the stuff our parents and grandparents weren’t allowed to do — if they did, they were persecuted,” Luke says. “I see a revival in our culture, people getting back in touch with the spiritual side of our heritage.”
This too is reconciliation and healing, says Esther Attean. During her presentations, she talks about decolonizing the diet and reviving the traditions and spiritual rituals that sustained the Wabanaki for thousands of years. “There were once 20 tribes in the Wabanaki confederacy and we remain,” she told the audience at Husson College. “We are still here for a reason: we have strengths. For all that trauma that’s been handed down, there’s a lot of strength that’s been passed down too.”

Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Key Findings
  • Native children are entering foster care at a rate that is 5.1 times greater than the nonnative population.
  • There is continued resistance to the idea that native people in Maine have experienced and continue to experience genocide.
  • State child welfare workers and Wabanaki people have different concepts of child rearing and the role of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
  • State compliance with and training around ICWA has greatly improved, but there is a continued need for systemic change.
  • Conflicts between ICWA and the Adoption and Safe Families Act are creating tensions in native child welfare matters.
  • Tribal and state cooperation in all matters makes a significant difference, but it takes years to cultivate.
  • Nonnative people are more likely than native people to report their relationships with the other to be good and trusting.
Key Recommendations
  • Respect tribal sovereignty.
  • Honor traditions and culture that implement the spirit of ICWA.
  • Celebrate the cultural renaissance of the tribes.
  • Develop more substantive trainings in ICWA for child welfare workers.
  • Maintain conversations between all stakeholders and be willing to work past roadblocks.
  • Investigate the creation of a joint legislative commission on tribal-state affairs.
  • Encourage Governor LePage to reinstate his 2011 executive order recognizing the “special relationship between the state of Maine and the sovereign Native American tribes located within the state of Maine.”
  • Monitor ICWA compliance, develop policies, and choose liaisons with the input of tribes.
  • Resolve issues with the disbursement of Federal Foster Care Program funds.
  • Support better communication between tribal child welfare offices and foster and adoptive parents.
  • Educate state and tribal child welfare workers on the new Bureau of Indian Affairs regulations for ICWA.
  • Fund tribal courts for the Micmac and Maliseet tribes.
These are preliminary findings. A final report will incorporate feedback from five public forums.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

War of Words: ICWA Faces Multiple Assaults From Adoption Industry

PHOTO: Emily Spartz/Argus Leader.  Retired South Dakota Senator James Abourezek, the original author of the Indian Child Welfare Act, is seen here in 2013 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


Suzette Brewer | 7/8/15 | INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY MEDIA

Yesterday the Phoenix, Arizona-based Goldwater Institute announced the filing of A.D. v. Washburn in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, a class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act based on their contention that the federal legislation “discriminates against Native children.” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, and Gregory McKay, director of the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) have all been named as defendants in the case.

The suit is being filed on behalf of “all off-reservation Arizona-resident children with Indian ancestry in child custody proceedings and the foster, pre-adoptive or prospective adoptive parents of these children,” according to the organization’s press release. “This case will not impact current or future cases that involve children or parents living on a reservation where a tribal court has jurisdiction; it will change the law so that state courts and agencies cannot discriminate against Native American children.”

Washburn marks the third major legal challenge to the 38-year-old federal law since the Bureau of Indian Affairs published new ICWA guidelines in the Federal Registry in February of this year, followed by the agency’s declared intention to seek a federal rule, which would make the statute more enforceable on state courts and social service agencies.

“While we have not yet reviewed the filing, we understand that a lawsuit challenging ICWA was filed yesterday. In matters in litigation, we will speak primarily through our briefs in court, but I want to assure the public that we will defend the Indian Child Welfare Act,” said BIA assistant secretary Washburn in a written statement. “Nearly 40 years ago, Congress determined that Indian children were being treated unfairly in the context of foster care and adoption. Congress determined that ‘an alarmingly high percentage of [Indian] children’ were subjected to ‘unwarranted’ removal from their homes and that a federal law was needed to protect Indian children. This law has been an important feature of the legal landscape for many years now and we firmly believe that the protection of the best interests of Indian children continues to be important today.”

According to the suit, the plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against “certain provisions of ICWA and the accompanying BIA guidelines” on behalf of “A.D.,” a 10-month-old baby girl who is an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. Another child plaintiff is a 4-year-old boy who is a member or eligible for membership in the Navajo Nation. The birth parents of both children have had their parental rights terminated by the state and both children reside off-reservation in Arizona. The Navajo Nation, as outlined in the brief, has repeatedly attempted to find ICWA-compliant homes for the boy—all of which were rejected by the state as “inappropriate” placements. If not for the Indian Child Welfare Act, according to the brief, the boy would already be in a permanent home under “race-neutral” Arizona law.

“When an abused child is removed from his home and placed in foster care or made available for adoption, judges are required to make a decision about where he will live based on his best interest. Except for Native American children. Courts are bound by federal law to disregard a Native American child’s best interest and place him in a home with other Native Americans, even if it is not in his best interest,” said Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute in the organization’s press release. “We want federal and state laws to be changed to give abused, neglected or abandoned Native American children the same protections that are given to all other American children: the right to be placed in a safe home based on their best interests, not based on their race.”

But the original author of the Indian Child Welfare Act, retired South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, took the Goldwater Institute to task for their attempt to overturn one of his signature legislative achievements during his time in the United States Senate. Ironically, Abourezk’s late friend and colleague Senator Barry Goldwater actually voted in favor of ICWA when it was approved by the Senate in 1977.

“I knew Barry Goldwater—he was my friend and often came to me for advice on most tribal matters,” said Abourezk from his home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “I wish he were alive to see this travesty because he would never approve of it and you can quote me on that and make sure you emphasize the word ‘never.’”
Tribal leaders, their legal teams and ICWA advocates across the country seem universally opposed to the litigation. They view with skepticism adoption practices in the United States, and the economic factors and profits at play.

“The Native American Rights Fund is closely following the lawsuits filed in Virginia, Minnesota, and now Arizona,” said NARF staff attorney Matthew Newman. “What is abundantly clear is that these lawsuits are part of a coordinated, well-financed attack on the rights of tribal nations to protect their children. It is open season on the Indian Child Welfare Act.”

“At this point it is pretty clear that anti-ICWA advocates, who primarily represent adoption interests, have started a coordinated attack on ICWA,” said Kate Fort, Staff Attorney and Adjunct Professor for the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law. “They are looking for cases of opportunity in courts across the country by inserting themselves and trying to make the same constitutional arguments against ICWA. But this lawsuit will absolutely hurt vulnerable children and families in our state child welfare systems. Their claims that ICWA’s protections are substandard is simply not true. ICWA’s standards are considered the gold standard of child welfare practice. To say these lawsuits to dismantle ICWA are in the best interest of the child is really contrary to what is considered best practices by child welfare professionals.”
Stephen Pevar, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the whole point of enacting ICWA was to end decades of unnecessary removals of Indian children from their homes and communities.

“Congress held years of hearings [before enacting ICWA] and many Indians who were victims of state foster care cases testified,” said Pevar. “Based on that testimony and other research, Congress found that it is in the best interests of Indian children to be raised in an Indian home except in extraordinary circumstances. Therefore, the Goldwater Institute is wrong in saying that Congress overlooked the ‘best interest’ standard. Instead, Congress accepted that standard and concluded that there’s a presumption that it’s in the best interest of Indian children to be raised in an Indian home. In addition, the Supreme Court has already rejected the notion that ICWA creates racial discrimination when it imposes minimum federal standards on state courts in their handling of Indian child custody cases.”

But ICWA has come under assault in courts all over the country in the last several months, say legal experts, in states unwilling to deviate from the “business-as-usual” approach, in which an average adoption can bring anywhere from $40,000 to copy00,000 in fees and costs for private adoptions, depending on various factors, including living expenses for the birth mother.

In May, for example, Washington, D.C.-based attorneys Lori McGill and her husband, Matthew McGill, filed suit in federal court in Virginia seeking to challenge the new BIA guidelines which they believe impose “federalism” on state courts regarding the adoption of Indian children. Mrs. McGill, who played a key role in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl in 2013, told the National Law Journal in May that she gets emails on a weekly basis “from lawyers and adoptive parents telling me how ICWA is ripping their families apart.”

That same month, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals openly dismissed the new BIA guidelines in a case involving a 4-year-old Cherokee girl who had been placed in a non-Indian foster home during emergency proceedings in 2013. At the time, an ICWA-compliant home was not available, though a year later the tribe filed a motion to transfer the girl to a Cherokee family that the tribe had located. In ordering the girl to stay with her foster parents over the tribe’s objection, the court’s contempt for the new guidelines was palpable.

“The BIA guidelines’ intentional disregard of these factors results in a one-size-fits-all approach to the placement of children with any tribal affiliation,” the judges wrote. “That result may bear little resemblance to what is really in the child’s best interests, despite the self-serving pronouncements of the BIA guidelines.”

In June, adoption attorneys representing tribal parents in Minnesota filed another suit, Doe v. Jesson, in which they argued the Minnesota Indian Family Protection Act (MIFPA) violates constitutional due process in requiring notice of adoptions to the tribe. On Monday, however, the Minnesota District Court denied a preliminary injunction based on state law requiring notice to tribes. The Court ruled that the MIFPA posed no threat of irreparable harm to the two tribal plaintiffs in complying with notice requirements. The tribe in the case, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, have declined to intervene.
But today’s litigation, say observers, strikes at the heart of not only of the Indian Child Welfare Act, but also the keystone of tribal sovereignty as a whole: The right of Indian tribes to determine their own membership and raise their children in their home communities.

“Using tragic stories to try to destroy the constitutionality of ICWA is not appropriate. As we know from Morton v. Mancari, Native status is a political identity not racial or ethnic, so laws that give any type of Indian preference or preferential treatment are not in violation of the equal protection clause,” said Victoria Sweet, a program attorney for the Reno, Nevada-based National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. “It’s ironic that [the Goldwater Institute] would argue that Native children get less protections when they actually get more and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise when the reality is clearly the opposite. We are not yet at a point where the initial purpose of ICWA has disappeared. We still need this law. It still protects Native children.”

“It’s 38 years later and I still get mail from Indian people who tell me how important this legislation is,” said Abourezk. “The tribes need to mount a unified attack against this lawsuit because it’s good law and what they’re doing is wrong. It would be an enormous tragedy to see them overturn it.”

RELATED: War of Words: ICWA Hearings Reignite Ancient Clash Over Indian Children, Part 1

Read more at INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY

To Veronica Brown

Veronica, we adult adoptees are thinking of you today and every day. We will be here when you need us. Your journey in the adopted life has begun, nothing can revoke that now, the damage cannot be undone. Be courageous, you have what no adoptee before you has had; a strong group of adult adoptees who know your story, who are behind you and will always be so.

Telling our Stories

Telling our stories is a critical piece to healing the trauma of Indigenous adoption and so, as an adoptee, it is important to be both a teller and someone who “bears witness” to the stories of others. Although I am happy to be closing the door on telling mine, there are so many stories yet to be told.

~ Raven Sinclair

LAND OF GAZILLION ADOPTEES

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