By Dana Lone Hill
I decided to write this strictly from my heart. Without interviewing anyone, without researching facts or stats and without the aid of the ever glorious Google and Wikipedia.
I am writing this with the hand of cards I was dealt with in life and the role I now treasure.
As a big sister.
If anyone out there is the oldest daughter or son of one or more younger siblings, you know it is kind of a pain in the ass, right?
You are an expert at changing diapers, making bottles, and can calm a crying baby even before you ever think to have your own. Your one hip automatically juts out in that way of carrying chubby babies around even before they become child bearing hips. In fact, more than once your swear, you won't have kids yourself.
I, however did have kids. Two in a row when I was 20 and 21. And my mom was still having kids, also. So our kids grew up together. Do you think having my own kids relieved me of some sisterly duties? Well, it would have because my mom moved to Minnesota, but I followed her and had twice as many dirty diapers to change. It was challenging, but I guess looking back, I was in my prime of life. A young mother and a big sister at the same time, not even knowing I was doing amazing things that would put your average stay at home suburban mother on valium and make her rack up a huge psychiatrist bill because this isn't what life was supposed to be about in her daydreams.
And to me, it wasn't what life was supposed to be. I was supposed to move to New York, become a writer of awesome books, and spend summer days with the Bombers in the Bronx. But as life had it, I became a mother and a big sister.
The first time and only time I recall seeing my little brother Wakiya, he was four years old and he had long, shiny braids. He was in a grocery store with his mom and my mom pointed with her lips "Look, that's your little brother, go say hi."
I walked over, said hi to his mom. I remembered her from her relationship with my dad. Then I looked at my little brother. He had huge eyes. In fact he looked like my brother Travis, but with long hair. He looked at me and smiled one of the largest smiles I ever saw. I remember knowing in my heart he was my little brother. I gave him an awkward hug and walked away. I was maybe 14 or 15. And that was the last time I saw him.
Years later, in my 20s I had heard he was lost in the foster care system. My heart broke a little but I hoped it wasn't true.
Wakiya was always in my heart though. I would do something in life and realize how wonderful life is. Even when it was something small like decorating a Christmas tree with an ornament one of my kids made and my heart would tug at me. As if it was reminding me and telling my sub conscious, Did your little brother make an ornament for someone's tree? Did they use it? Do they appreciate what he can do?
I would wonder when I saw reunion editions of talk shows like Oprah on TV and think "Man, I wished I could get Oprah's attention and tell her I have a little brother out there."
I did a speech in a class I took at the College of St. Catherine, it was a collage of sorts about what is important in your life. I knew I was going to cry, partly in fear of public speaking and partly because if my speech. I made a spinning dreamcatcher. I shaped it so it would spin because I felt like that is how life was, in constant motion. I wove different color and shaped rocks in it. The rocks represented my anchors and purpose in life, my children. A feather hanging from the center represented my path in my life. Which, at the time I had thought was centered. Certain beads represented my family members and then there was a little feather on its own. Off to the side, but connected. That was my brother Wakiya. Why, my instructor asked, was he not a bead? Because I don't know where he is! - I sobbed.
Many times I told myself no, I can't find him because this is not how life works out. I am not one of those people that can make magic things like that happen. I am not hand picked by Oprah. I realize now I told myself this was impossible before I even tried or realized that anything in life is possible. I even tried learning sign language because I had heard this was how he communicated. Plus, I also think it is an amazing, beautiful language and am proud one of my sons wants to major in this field. Anyway this rumor proved to not be true, he can talk and he can talk and he can talk.
When The Guardian out of the United Kingdom decided to let me keep writing after my Thanksgiving story, I talked to my mom about important issues I had thought needed to be addressed in Indian Country. We knew, especially after the NPR report of how South Dakota was using the foster care system to remove Indian children from their homes and place them in homes of non-natives as a sort of cash cow. Not only do foster homes receive money for each child, they also receive extra for Native children because South Dakota will classify every Native child in any system as "special needs" whether they are special needs or not, so top dollar will be received. This would be why some families only take in Native children. The big misconception of young Indian mothers or families is to assume that their children are better off in foster homes and assume that everyone getting a fat paycheck for the Wakanyeja (God's Sacred Gift) are in it because they have a big heart. I believe some people do have good hearts, but not everyone on the native child foster care payroll does, which is what always worried me.
And that is why I wanted to write about my brother. I started looking at life with a different attitude last year and realizing anything was possible. Telling myself I have the power in me to make things happen. I didn't go about looking for my brother the way the state told me to, which would immediately discourage anyone. I don't hold a grudge at them for not contacting me when I was 19 to keep him, and I didn't listen to reason. Instead, I found out his name. And I googled him.
I googled him every day, sometimes looking up to hit the F5 button until I started getting hits. They came in, like a timeline. Starting with him being in the obituary section of losing an adopted sibling here and there.
To him winning art contests, races, etc. And then I got the hit that included a picture. My brother is an awesome Special Olympics champion in relays and races. And I found a newsletter with pictures. And I found a picture of him..
My heart stopped, I cried. It was two years old but got dammit I was going to write the number and email down.
It was a group home in Texas. It took me 3 weeks to get the courage to call because the email I sent with a link to my Guardian story about him was never answered. Finally I put my “phone voice” on, which is official as hell (no rez slang), and called. I was transferred to my brothers case worker and I was prepared to fight the best way I know how, with words. I wasn't sure of laws, if I was in the wrong, or anything - but I was prepared to let them know this was my little brother and I loved him. I was prepared for the snotty attitude I'm used to from most social workers, etc.
Instead I got John Wayne, or someone who sounded just like John Wayne. I discovered my brother's caseworker was a wonderful man, with a Texas drawl who easily could be telling you to "saddle up pardna." I explained my story, my unanswered email, and told him Wakiya was the missing piece in my heart.
He didn't have attitude, he didn't disbelieve me, which is the norm for most caseworkers here in South Dakota, instead he told me, give me a few minutes and Wakiya and I will call you back.
The first time I talked to Wakiya, we jammed his caseworkers phone and we cried for over an hour. God bless you sister, I have been praying for this day. He said. I told him what his name means, why it is important in our family and how I needed him. He cried and said, I knew in my heart I would be found.
So now he is back. He made his own choice to come back to the state that somehow made the decision that a family in Texas could raise him better than any of his real family. And at age 29, he was on his own. They gave up on him and he had no contact with the family who adopted him. Not that it bothered him to be afloat in the state of Texas. If I learned one thing about my brother and from my brother, no matter what cards life dealt him, he is resilient. He moves on with the biggest smile in the world.
How can I even describe these feelings I feel since he is back?
It is unreal. He is home. Life goes by in a flashes and in flashes, I learned to never take a moment for granted, don't let what others do make you miserable, let go of the negative and accept happiness. Meeting my brother was a moment in my life of complete joy and pure 100% happiness. There have been few moments in my life of that kind of happiness: playing in the leaves with my dad and little brother, sleeping with my great grandma and grandpa, hearing my Grandpa Rusty sing while he cooked, being around family at kettle dance and hearing the songs, the birth of all four children, hearing my kids laugh, knowing the feel of freedom, watching as my sons graduated, and now meeting the brother that was missing all my life, ranks up there with a moment in my life of pure 100% happiness.
Wakiya is only a success story of the foster care system because he is resilient, like our ancestors. The hurt, pain, rejection, and loneliness he felt and with what he went through would take down the strongest of hearts and largest of spirits. And both sides of his family are overwhelmed with his presence. He is changing lives with just being here, his mom said. He sure is. He is magical like that, that little brother of mine.
My misun. (Little brother.)
Indian people, do not let our children go. Do not assume because a state run facility chooses who raises them means they are people with bleeding hearts, full of compassion and want to raise our beautiful, brown children out of the goodness of their hearts.
Remember we all have rights, there is still a fight in each of our spirits, and don't let the government get you down.
After all, anything is possible. Like finding a long lost brother after 20 plus years, and I didn't even need Oprah.
Welcome home, Misun. Like he said that day in the park as we listened to a horrible cover of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. "The past is the past, but we are here now."
Nothing but love.
Wakiya and Dana