- Split Feathers Study
- Adoption History
- Canada Timeline
- Survivor Not Victim (my interview with Von)
- Interview with Land of Gazillion Adoptees
- Interviews 2011
- NEW: Study by Jeannine Carriere (First Nations) (2007)
- Adoptee Rights Infograph
- 2013 Readings/Talks
- Adopt an Elder: Ellowyn Locke (Oglala Lakota)
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Please click on the link above and read about Von's reunions...
In Patricia's case, in reunion with Oprah and openly shown on national television, Patricia had to find relatives because her mother Vernita was not ready. That is the whole point - some of us adoptees will need to meet siblings and other relatives first - but we can't with sealed records and archaic laws.
We need unconditional open records laws to be passed NOW and stop the parental consent clauses! Since Vernita said no contact, Patricia could have been lost forever to Oprah and to their family. Finding your natural family should not be so hard. It is inhumane the way it is now.
Oprah did a great thing "exposing closed adoptions" like her own sisters to perhaps millions of viewers.
Patricia is my hero!
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
From my archives: published at http://www.wrcfs.org/repat/stolennation.htm
For more than 20 years, Canada took Native children from their homes and placed them with white families. Now a lost generation want its history back
BY TOM LYONS
When former Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart made her historic apology to the aboriginal peoples of Canada on Jan. 8, 1998, she singled out native residential schools as the most reprehensible example of Canada's degrading and paternalistic Indian policies. Designed to assimilate native children into English ways and strip them of their language and culture, the schools also became notorious for sickening physical and sexual abuse.
Though none would disagree with Stewart's condemnation of residential schools, which were phased out in the 1960s, some wondered why she didn't also apologize for the equally assimilationist -- if less well-known -- strategy that followed immediately in the schools' wake: the widespread adoption of aboriginal children out to non-native families in the '60s, '70s and early '80s.
Commonly referred to as the Sixties Scoop, the practice of removing large numbers of aboriginal children from their families and giving them over to white middle-class parents was discontinued in the mid-'80s, after Ontario chiefs passed resolutions against it and a Manitoba judicial inquiry harshly condemned it.
The passage of the Child and Family Services Act of 1984 ensured that native adoptees in Ontario would be placed within their extended family, with another aboriginal family or with a non-native family that promised to respect and nurture the child's cultural heritage. Aboriginal peoples also began to play a much greater role in the child welfare agencies that served them, and the numbers of native adoptees in general began to decline as more stayed with their birth parents.
However, the act also dictated that old birth records remain sealed, unless both the birth parent and the child asked for them. This has helped keep the period in darkness and frustrated attempts by adoptees to learn about their roots. Those who now feel they were victimized by the adoption process have an extremely difficult time finding out who they are.
Donna Marchand, a 44-year-old Toronto lawyer, is launching a court challenge against the Harris government to strike down the sealed birth records provisions of the Child and Family Services Act.
An adopted child herself, she recalls being terrorized into denying her origin: "When I was about three-and-a-half, it started coming to my attention that I was adopted. My cousins told me. I was only three years old, but I was aware that I was different. I just didn't fit in. I was getting called a little bastard. And I asked my adopted mother what adoption meant. She said, 'Don't ever say that again -- if your father hears you he'll kill you.' He'd been sitting there in his drunken stupor. He'd go on binges for days.
"I've lived my whole life being native because I was called a squaw. I don't look white enough. And I was in working-class, real WASP, downtown Toronto. I got called a squaw and Donna Wanna, and I got tied to my share of trees and got my hair hacked off."
Marchand's constitutional challenge involves Section 7 and Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to her lawyer, Jennifer Scott. "Section 7 is the right to life, liberty and security of person," says Scott. "And Section 15 is the equality rights. The 15 provisions are that adoptees are sort of a group that is protected. But different communities of adoptees are particularly affected, and it has a tremendous impact on communities like native people -- where they don't know who their mom and dad are, but they're assimilated into families that don't even know their culture, their history, their background. It goes to who they are."
Just as the closing of the residential schools did not mean their legacy of suffering instantly vanished, so the end of the Sixties Scoop did not mean that all the native adoptees who were farmed out to abusive or alienating non-native families suddenly found themselves with a clear-cut identity or a secure place in society.
Indeed, many still found themselves not only "torn between two worlds," but literally unsure if they were native at all, and not French or Italian as their adoptive parents claimed. Their birth records were sealed and often amended to include the names of to include the names of the adoptive, rather than biological, parents. Moreover, their adoption records were in many cases inaccurate, incomplete, falsified or simply missing. As a result, many native adoptees who did try to locate their birth parents or confirm their native status wasted literally decades on failed searches or frustrating battles with Children's Aid authorities or Indian Affairs officials.
Suzanne Bezuk, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, says ""non-identifying information" can be made available to adult adoptees without their birth parents' consent.
"And for aboriginal peoples in particular, in the case of native clients, the name of the band and reservation can be provided."
However, aboriginal status and band names were seldom recorded on the original birth and adoption records in the '60s and '70s. So even this "non-identifying information" is rarely available.
Marchand cannot even be sure whether her mother was in fact native. "All I know is, it's very typical for native women, and my Uncle Frank says we're native. And my Aunt June looks native. Me and my two sisters, we look real native. But my mother, she internalized the shame of being a native woman. Look what she put down [on the adoption record]: 'Ethnicity not stated.' It's a shame. A lot of native women don't say, because they were going to lose their babies, and they wanted them to be adopted by good people, and good people weren't going to adopt 'little bastard squaws.' "
Even now, researchers trying to determine exactly how many aboriginal children were removed from their families during the Scoop say the task is all but impossible because adoption records from the '60s and '70s rarely indicated aboriginal status (as they are now required to).
Those records which are complete, however, suggest the adoption of native children by non-native families was pervasive, at least in Northern Ontario and Manitoba. In her March, 1999 report, "Our Way Home: A Report to the Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy on the Repatriation of Aboriginal People Removed by the Child Welfare System," author Janet Budgell notes that in the Kenora region in 1981, "a staggering 85 per cent of the children in care were First Nations children, although First Nations people made up only 25 per cent of the population. The number of First Nations children adopted by non-First Nations parents increased fivefold from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. Non-First Nations families accounted for 78 per cent of the adoptions of First Nations children."
Similarly, "One Manitoba community of 800 people lost 150 children to adoption between 1966-1980," reports Budgell, who prepared the report in conjunction with Native Child and Family Services of Toronto.
Though it is rarely possible to determine precise numbers, the practice of native adoption was widespread enough to be denounced as "cultural genocide" by Edwin C. Kimelman, the presiding judge at the 1985 Manitoba inquiry.
Many native adoptees suffered from not only geographical displacement and cultural confusion but also emotional emptiness, violence, physical and sexual abuse, and drug or alcohol abuse.
"My brother was adopted at four years old," recalls one of the birth relatives of native adoptees interviewed for "Our Way Home." "His adoptive parents divorced when he was 12 and they gave him back to the agency like returning merchandise. His life after that was a living hell of abuse, violence and alcoholism. My brother hanged himself at 20 years old."
Joanne Dallaire is a native adoptee who conducts healing sessions for adoptees at the Anishnawbe Health Centre in Toronto. She too was told by her adoptive family that she wasn't native. "I myself was raised by a non-native, and my whole history was denied. Like in school, I was teased. You know how kids can be rather cruel with each other, and I was called a squaw and stuff like that, and when I'd come home, I'd be like crying and stuff, and they'd say, 'You're not Indian, you're French. So you make sure you tell them you're French.' It was years and years of misinformation."
Dallaire's attempts to find her birth mother or at least learn the truth of her native status began early. "The first time I started searching was when I was 15, so that was 1966. But it wasn't until I was an adult and on my own that I really began to search. I didn't have any proof, either, until 1998. Anishnawbe [native] people would come up to me and say, 'Oh, so you're Anishnawbe.' And I'd say, 'No, no, I'm French.' And I remember one man said to me -- I remember profoundly -- he looked at me and he said, 'Someone's lying to you. You're Anishnawbe.'
"I remember when I got the phone call from the social services department. One of my first questions was: 'Is there native in my background?' So my mother wanted to know how I'd feel about it if I was, and I said, 'Very pleased,' because my whole spirituality and stuff was drawn to native culture. So I've come to find out that I am [First Nations] -- to what degree, I don't know, because my mother is still very evasive about my father. But at least I know part of my heritage is Cree -- James Bay Cree."
Donna Marchand's own search for her birth mother took 16 years through the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Adoption Disclosure Record. When government officials finally contacted her in the spring of 1999, they said her mother had died 26 years earlier.
"It's a big area that most people never even thought of," says Dallaire, "because it goes so quietly and privately. It's not as out there as the residential schools. And because everything's secret, you can literally throw your hands in the air and go, 'Well?' You quickly run up against one wall and then another, so it takes perseverance, like with Donna having to fight and fight again to get what she wants. Most people get battle-weary and never win."
WAS IT GENOCIDE?
According to the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights, Justice Kimelman's description of the Sixties Scoop as cultural genocide is accurate. It reads: "Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct people with guarantees against genocide or any other act of violence, including the removal of indigenous children from their families and communities under any pretext."
So why was the wholesale removal of aboriginal children not considered a crime, or even a wrong, that the Minister of Indian Affairs felt obliged to redress along with the residential school system?
The answer isn't that complicated, says Kenn Richard, director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto and the man who commissioned the "Our Way Home" report. "British colonialism has a certain process and formula, and it's been applied around the world with different populations, often indigenous populations, in different countries that they choose to colonize," says Richard. "And that is to make people into good little Englishmen. Because the best ally you have is someone just like you. One of the ones you hear most about is obviously the residential schools, and residential schools have gotten considerable media attention over the past decade or so. And so it should, because it had a dramatic impact that we're still feeling today. But child welfare to a large extent picked up where residential schools left off.
"The lesser-known story is the child welfare story and its assimilationist program. And you have to remember that none of this was written down as policy: 'We'll assimilate aboriginal kids openly through the residential schools. And after we close the residential schools we'll quietly pick it up with child welfare.' It was never written down. But it was an organic process, part of the colonial process in general."
Monday, January 24, 2011
Patricia, a lovely 47 year-old mom from Wisconsin, got her non-identifying information packet along with several clues back in 2007 and she tried to reach out to her natural mom Vernita -- more than once (through the state offices) -- but Vernita said "no contact." (Sound familiar - mine did, too.)
When all the clues and birthdates fit together, Patricia tried to contact her older sister "Oprah" back in 2007 but never had success. Finally Patricia went to a niece in Milwaukee and did DNA and the rest, as they say, is television history. They showed the sisters and family reunited over Thanksgiving in 2010.
I was actually very disappointed the show was a mere 31 minutes (without commercials) and barely scratched the surface of what Patricia, the adoptee, had endured all her life. She wasn't adopted until age 7 and her years in foster care had to be hard, along with being abandoned, adopted, then rejected by her own mother when she finally found her.
They did not even mention Patricia's natural father. Who is he - Where is he? She will have his entire family to discover, if and when Vernita tells Patricia about him.
I was proud of Patricia who said she'd be sitting somewhere and look around and wonder if they were her family. (I did that, too.) She admitted you feel very alone until you have your own children, or until you find your natural family. Adoptees know this so well.
I am glad Patricia did not give up. (Her story is so like my own.) It hurts me to think of so many adoptees who are desperately trying to find their birthfamily but can't because of consent clauses and sealed records.
We can hope this particular show will help change archaic laws which prevent adoptees from reuniting with relatives. One parent's consent is a bad idea. It is a horrible thing to hear "no contact," and in Patricia's case, she heard it more than once from Vernita.
But she's inherited a delighted famous older sister, Oprah and two happy nieces and their families.
Last and most touching was Oprah's epiphany on air about their mom Vernita who seemed very disconnected right now and frozen in time - 1963. Oprah said she can lift herself out of the shame and release that 1960s mindset, and not fear what others may think.
Oprah used the word "processing" more than once, which is obvious when adoptee and natural family meet for the first time...
No reunion is ever perfect or easy, as I write in my memoir. This family reunion was no different. Reunions are messy and complicated. Every family member will process emotions and it takes time, sometimes years. Sadly and tragically, some natural mothers never embrace their lost child, even in reunion.
It's a shame women like Vernita felt they must hide family secrets. Oprah did a good thing by putting this adoption issue on the front burner and on national television. Oprah did a very good thing, indeed.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
I think back to my inner battles years ago. There were many stages I went through:
- I almost stop when I hear I was "saved" from being an orphan - so that should be the reason I never search. I don't know it will take years to find my parents.
- I almost stop when I hear adoptions were done legally yet it's illegal for me to search. Wisconsin was a closed record state. Now the state will contact your parents to get their consent to let you know who you are.
- I almost stop when I think my mother had problems so she had to give me up. I get scared of why she did it. I get scared she might not want to meet me (and in fact, she didn't).
- I almost stop when I do not hear back from the ALMA registry in New York. Apparently no one is looking for me.
- I almost stop out of guilt. I feel guilty because my parents were so generous to raise me, since I was an orphan. They didn't have to adopt me but they did! (But can they imagine what it feels like being adopted? No. Can I talk to them about searching? No.) I love them for adopting me.
- I almost stop when friends tell me to get over it and move on with my life. "Forget about her." Adoptees know this game. "Don’t talk about it. Shut up. Stop whining. You were lucky to be chosen." Really? I didn’t feel lucky. I felt hurt, betrayed and rejected.
- I almost stop when I read the letter from my natural mother, saying she doesn't want anyone to know about me. She's worried what people will think.
I moved past all that and found my natural mother, and then my father.
Having a reunion with my dad was the hardest thing I ever did and the best thing I ever did. It was not what I expected, that's for sure.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how meeting him (and his kids) would change me as a person. I was 40 when we met. There was noone to advise me on what to do, or what to say, or what to expect having a reunion.
First things first. Earl wanted a DNA test to be sure I was his. I wanted to know that, too. This all happened back in 1996 and I travelled from Oregon to meet him in Illinois. I paid for my plane ticket and $500 for the DNA lab.
My dad and I got the results (by mail) a little over a month later. Earl was indeed my dad but I never saw him again.
I write about my reunion with Earl and our time together in my memoir "One Small Sacrifice." I looked for him for years and only met him once. How does the adoption industry justify keeping us apart for years with secrecy and laws, then my dad dies shortly after we meet.
All I can say is I wish everyone who is adopted gets the chance to meet their natural parents. Even if it is only once. Even if it is only one parent. It is a spiritual awakening.
Since I read so much about the adoption industry, I was wondering when an adoptee's emotional well being and health would be mentioned and considered? Apparently, this is not an issue, and not a concern of the adoption industry. It's about protecting the adoptive parents. Secrecy and sealed records is part of their sales pitch. It's not about the adoptee but the adopter. The mood, anxiety, thrill and angst of our adopters is what we hear growing up adopted - and we learn to be appreciative, silent and grateful. We mourn in silence.
Every adoptee I know wraps their mind around this. It's simply ridiculous to be denied the chance to know and meet our natural parents. There should be people and laws helping us, the natural parents and the adult adoptee. We all need to understand the family dynamics to have meaningful reunions, and know what to expect.
Sadly, this is not happening. Not yet.
Friday, January 21, 2011
In 1995, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota filed a petition seeking to invalidate the adoption of a three-month old infant boy. The parents had planned to put their son up for adoption because of financial problems, but then changed their mind after he was born. After returning home from the hospital with her son, the mother signed the consent form and reluctantly gave her child to Easter House after repeated calls from the agency. She changed her mind within hours. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law, was passed in 1978 to protect the rights of Native American children, who were being removed illegally from tribes and reservations and being placed with White families. The law says that a Native American mother can't consent to an adoption until 10 days after the birth and that she can revoke her consent anytime before the adoption is final. Under Illinois state law, however, a consent to adoption is irrevocable after 72 hours. The mother had told Easter House that she was an American Indian, but the agency did not follow ICWA procedures and refused to help rescind the adoption.
"They told me I could change my mind," she said. "I felt betrayed." The agency's lawyer said the agency acted legally.
The people who were going to adopt the boy agreed to give him back because they said they did not believe that protracted litigation in Illinois courts would be in the best interest of the child.
Sources: Jeff Flock. "Native American Woman Sues to Revoke Adoption," CNN, Transcript #1084-6. Section News: Domestic. Show: News 10:26 pm et. January 3, 1995.
"In Circuit Court," Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, January 26, 1995.
Andrew Fegelman, "Adoptive Couple Agree to Give Up Infant." Chicago Tribune, Section Metro Northwest, Pg. 4; Zone NW, February 2, 1995.
Lou Ortiz, "Mom Sues to Reverse Son's Adoption; Indian Child Welfare Act Cited." Chicago Sun-Times, Section News; P. 14, Feb 2, 1995.
M.A. Stapleton. "Adoption dispute ended in best interests of child. Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, P. 1, February 1, 1995.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Now there are days when I do not think about being an adoptee or monitor the business of adoption. Instead I tend to the soul. I did this by creating a new environment. I play music, watch movies and read books for the pure joy. I have been dumping old papers and clearing space, creating a more joyful place to sit, read and write. I listen to NPR each day. All this feeds me.
If you’d noticed, I was all about adoption…deeply immersed. And it served me well. I birthed articles in 2005, created this blog in 2009 and published a memoir in 2010.
Finally I have a new identity – one who is well-adjusted and happily complete; one who met her makers and know who they are. Everyone in my life has brought me to this place in my life. It is a momentous time when the split-feathers are joined. The splits in my life were disjointed emotions, painful ideas and dreadful disappointments. After 50 years of trying to understand the people who made me and raised me, the weaving of me is now complete. I am no longer defined by what I did not know but rather what I do know. I see all my experiences for their important lessons. I searched for my answers and I found them. I feel more present, more alive. I greet every sunrise and sunset with gratitude.
There is a presence in my life now that was not so evident before. Even the internet reconnected parts of my injured soul. I made many new friends; they healed my heart. Their art, writing, blogs and poetry are food for my soul.
As an orphan-child I had no control over what was happening to me, so I spun out of control. Being split was the only way to handle it. I was on a very disturbing emotional journey that I would not wish for anyone. Many things I could not control, and the people who controlled my path did not respect or see what I truly needed. I had to be very patient and grow strong enough to see the point. I learned what control means. Now I can see how many laws and moral judgments controlled all my parents and formed their opinions which informed their decisions.
My mother Helen was cruelly judged as a young woman and she was unable to keep me. She named me Laura Jean Thrall. This was all she could give when I came into the world. I read about her experience in my adoption file. Her story changed me. It opened me. I could not love her more. I completely understand what she had to go through, even though she was not able to tell me or meet with me. I no longer grieve this.
It seems funny to say this but I had to learn how to choose. I had not been given choices for such a long time, deep down I did not know or believe that I could make good choices. Now I know I can. I can create and do whatever I want. I can heal myself. I choose what to feel and what to let go. My feelings of being powerless are gone.
On other days, adoption work is all I do: I read blogs, read Facebook, read news, plus I am working on BOOK 2 called “Split Feathers: Two Worlds.” I have met more new adoptees since my radio interview with Jay Nighthawk in Washington DC on January 7th.
This work feeds my soul that yearns for justice for all Native American adoptees. I do this work with a purpose: to open sealed adoption records so that others can feel complete and make their journey. I teach this story so it will never happen again. I will continue to help others make their reunions with tribal family a reality.
I have two readings coming up, one in February and one in March. Look at my events under the banner. I have a list of questions for Native adoptees-Lost Children who want to tell their stories in book 2. Email me: email@example.com. My deadline for submissions is mid-February 2011.
There is a Lakota saying, Mitakuye Oyasin, which means “we are all related.” This is a very powerful statement concerning our small planet, how we are all interconnected and woven into one world. I pray one day the entire world will see every child is sacred and closed adoptions will be a thing of the past. I pray every mother can raise her own child because family and community will support her. I pray for every adoptee still in pain and searching. I pray for those parents who lost their child because of poverty, powerlessness and oppression. If one suffers, we all suffer. We are all woven in this one web, one world. We are all related.
Monday, January 17, 2011
The Strong People
Since the 1800s, Indigenous children from across North America were removed great distances from their homes and culturally-reprogrammed in large military-like facilities called residential boarding schools. One word to describe what happened to them is “brainwashed.” The kinder word is “assimilated.”
Why were these children treated like savages? Indians weren’t human; they were fierce warrior-like bare-chested wild Indians who shot arrows from bows and rode bareback and painted their faces and bodies. The “western” movie images never captured the beauty, or bravery, or dignity, or explained why Indian people fought the colonizer.
Laws were enacted to civilize Indians, to teach them “Christian values,” and to force them to stay in one place and become farmers instead of hunters. The Great White Fathers, the Presidents of the United States who lived in Washington, worked to seize more and more territory and tribal lands, and created bogus treaties only to break them later. These presidents forcibly removed tribes onto reservations, east to west. Then residential schools opened.
No matter what happened in these schools, these children grew into the strong people who endured every loss and suffered every indignity. They learned and realized what was happening. Some lived to return to their tribe, while others did not. These schools changed the Indian and Indian Country. The effects are still being felt.
Even erased, adoptees are still a part of Indian history. Wherever our tribes settled, they remain sovereign and sacred. Indians teach their own. Friends teach friends.
For adoptees with Native ancestry, we don’t know whether to feel abandoned or just plain robbed. “How can you miss people you haven’t met?” That is the million dollar question. We just do. It’s in our blood (even when we have more than one ancestry).
If you grow up near an Indian reservation and witness poverty firsthand, even today the U.S. government will insist Indian people are better off in cities or urban areas. What arrogance to suggest indoor plumbing and three meals a day are all an Indian family needs to survive. They need their families intact to survive.
The Adoption Projects and Programs, the next solution to the Indian problem, was to adopt and assimilate Indian kids far away from their homes and put them in new non-Indian families. The governments decided if you seal the records, the adoptee will never know.
I do not accept their plan. I plan to change their plan. I have many friends helping do this work. This blog was created to be a friend to the adoptees who have Native ancestry. If you are a Native adoptee, and need help, I am here for you. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, January 14, 2011
I suggest everyone who has adopted a child to please read this - it's profound and exactly the message I want people who adopt or who plan to adopt to "get."
Monday, January 10, 2011
NIGHTWOLF SHOW 2011-01-07
It was an honor to speak with J. Nightwolf in Washington DC about history and my memoir One Small Sacrifice. Nightwolf is a Cherokee and my new brother. Listen to him each week on "the most dangerous show on radio."
One thing I want to add and did not get to say in the interview: not only are we the lost generation but our children become lost to their traditions, too. Unless adoption records are opened, we shall all remain lost...
Wado, Jay for everything...
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Thursday, January 6, 2011
I will be discussing my book on Friday, January 7, 2011 on “The Nightwolf Show” WPFW-FM, 89.3, Washington, D.C.
www.wpfw.org (listen live) Eastern time zone 7 - 8 p.m.
"It's the most dangerous show on the radio!" Jay's radio program addresses issues and concerns of the indigenous people of the Americas. Please tune in to hear me talk about my memoir One Small Sacrifice: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects.
FIVE STAR review of One Small Sacrifice
One Small Sacrifice is a must read for anyone touched by adoption. I couldn't put this book down from the moment I started reading it. Trace DeMeyer has captured the heart and soul of life as an adoptee brought into a culture not originally her own. The importance of adoptees knowing who they are and where they come from is paramount to their mental, physical and spiritual wellness. She points out many reasons why people feel complete when they have their original identity, not just the identity given to them by their adopted parents. Millions of adult adoptees across the United States are without their original identity because of sealed birth certificates and Trace takes the readers along her journey to understanding who she is and where it all began for her.
(Paula Benoit, former State Senator in Maine, helped Maine unseal their adoption records) (see more great reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble!)