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Lost Children Book Series

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Athabascan Adoptee Welcomed Home

By Mary St. Martin-Charles



I’ve always dreamt in Indian.  Vivid, lucid, in color and shaded with symbols.  One evening night quest, my body was carried in a stream.  The water above and below me flowed horizontally from my head toward my toes.  However, my body was carried in a current of its own and moving me ahead.  As I approached a steep hill, I began to struggle.  My brief panic subsided when I chose not to lose my strength fighting the elements I could not control. I reached deep in cool water with both hands.  Waiting below were fish who sucked on my fingers and pulled me the rest of the way home.  I think I am a Salmon.  Instinctively, I was called home.

In the year of 2014 I located my cousins and my Koyukon Athabascan tribe.  I was welcomed with tears.  Even first cousin Barb felt like she needed to have a baby shower.  When my tax return came in February 2015, the first thing I did was make reservations from Los Angeles to Fairbanks, Alaska and a second reservation with a bush plane to fly me to the Village of Koyukuk, AK.  The Native Village of Koyukuk lies where the Koyukuk river meets the Yukon.  About 300 miles from Fairbanks. No running water to the cabins. No roads in and out.

I landed in Fairbanks at 12 a.m. The summer sun still shown during mid-July midnight.  I was met   with an aunt and several cousins.  As I came down the escalator from the terminal, I was welcomed with Athabascan singing, tears and hugs.  My first cousin LaVern opened her house to me and organized a family reunion for the next evening; Barb took the day off work to spend with me.  I had my first ever family reunion with people related to me, my first native food and first stories of my father's life.

A day later LaVerne flew with me into Koyukuk, where my father lived and died on the river.  I cannot begin to explain my emotions at this time.  I cried real tears.  Tears I could not control.  I had emotions and questions overcoming my sense of self.  Anxiety set in.  I began to ask myself… am I crazy?  What the hell am I doing flying over 2k miles and into the interior of Alaska on a bush plane to meet people and see a way of life that my DNA says I am half of?  I am nuts?
I was crying inside the plane before I even exited.  My heart beating fast and I could feel it.  I could see my first cousin Marylin.  I could see Marilyn was just as scared as I was.  I could see people arriving to meet the plane on their quads and in trucks.  Even the unleashed dogs came to welcome.

Lump in my throat, crying and shaking I got out of the plane.  I embraced Marilyn first.  Then the rest of the group.  One by one they hugged me, introduced themselves and welcomed me "home."

They held a huge banner which read “Welcome” and once again I was serenaded with beautiful voices singing in Athabascan.

The next few days were life-changing for me.  Another reunion dinner was held.  I ate more Native food including moose, beaver, salmon and muktuk (whale blubber).  After dinner an Elder presented me with an Indian name that Marilyn chose for me.  I still could not believe my ears when people welcomed me "home."

During my stay, I got to see cuzns LaVern and Peter catch Salmon on the Yukon. While seining, I was reminded of my dream.  I thank the spirit of the Salmon for guiding me home and providing food for our people.  I want to go back home now even stronger than before.

I know now first-hand what I am missing and what has been imprinted in me for many generations.  My DNA...my endless imprint from past, present to future which still calls me home.
It is this present generation of Native adoptees who need to continue to find our way home.  It is you, it is me.  We must follow our instinct and swim upstream.  Some of us make it, some won't but you still need to keep swimming.  If you don't fight back, the predators win.  

It's in our DNA and a matter of survival for Natives today and future generations.  Trust the forces that pull you through to carry us home.  Keep swimming upstream for yourself and all adoptees.


Mary contributed to the anthology CALLED HOME: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects. LINK TO BOOK INFO here

3 comments:

  1. Dear Mary,

    Your story is a very beautiful one. I too am Athabascan but unregistered to my tribe, I'm a Native American adoptee. I was born in Denver, CO to a Caucasian family my adoptive father retired airforce. I know nothing of my real family and told so very little but I know there is a spirit that lives in me connected to my ancestors and its weird being 34 years old and still feeling as if that family still lives among me in a very real way its a feeling too hard to explain.

    Recently, I learned the laws in Colorado changed for adoptees, by a fluke really. My daughters were going to Turkey with their father (his homeland) and needed a passport. Low and behold my original name was on my one daughters birth certificate and I had no idea, didnt even notice my birth name was on her birth certificate. Without proving that was me I could not prove I was her mom and her get her passport. I was baffled what to do.

    Eventually I hit a wall and after going to the local courthouse, hospital, Vital Statistic (bc my daughter was born here) I called Denver CO Vital Statistics. I left a message explaining my dilemma and got a call back from a very nice helpful young man who told me, after finding out I was adopted, I could now apply for my original birth certificate that had long been denied to me. It was a very scary feeling but at same time having been so long trying to access it in earlier days only to find myself exhausted and lost that, here now, i could simply apply?? 10 years ago I was told I had to pay five hundred dollars for a court rep even to look in my file. It was a slap in the face like I was not even a person anymore.

    Unfortunately, I had moved quite a bit of times and my Blood Quantum certificate, a document that I had held for over 11 years was now missing and at the time I would need it to show I was a Native American. It felt like my heart had fallen out of my chest. A peice of paper I held for so long, I knew it was important and I wanted more than anything to be able to share this with my children (the closest thing to me) by registering to my tribe. My adoptive parents (now divorced) now refused to provide me another after learning about the new law changes. I was crushed.

    Four months went by and I finally reached down deep (the whole topic had become exhausting for me) and scrummaged through piles of paper reasoning that it was just misplaced because a while back i threw away alot of paperwork during tax season. I reasoned this was just a predestined thing it would show up when it was its time. Strangely this has happened to me quite alot in the past things showing up at 'the right time' and I decided to have a little faith. while And while I didn't find my Blood Quantum paper (I'm 50 % Athabascan). I did find my blank application to apply for my Original
    Birth Certificate.

    Many months ago when I last looked at it it had a date for 2015 where the court could be summoned to open a file to a native american adoptee with documentation proving lineage (my blood quantum an acceptable document). This time I read another part one could gain access simply by submitting application to the Colorado Vital Statistics Office as of Jan 1, 2016. I couldnt believe it. I was so happy I had months of stressing and at times it was overwhelming.

    Now only fear stood in the way. I set the money aside to pay the fee, it sat on my desk in an envelope. From fear of more disappointment I guess but I eventually I wound up the courage to fax it.

    Now I wait.

    Hopefully, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and I will be able to have an experience much like yourself. Hopefully something in my Adoption file will tell me who I came from, a name something...

    Crossing my fingers. Thank you for your story.

    Revella Leifert
    Originally, Courtney Ann Jones

    ReplyDelete
  2. Revella, I would very much like to publish your story in the new book Stolen Generations. If you read this, please email me: larahentz@yahoo.com asap.

    ReplyDelete

  3. Dear Trace L, 

    Unfortunately I have been very busy, the court went in and took my son, 3 yrs old and I have been fighting to get him back for a year. Unfortunately I am on East Coast and tribal courts do not exist here. My judge has just announced she is retiring and I have not gotten my son back.
     
    "Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families" : NPR Podcast
    http://www.npr.org/2011/10/25/141672992/native-foster-care-lost-children-shattered-families

    ReplyDelete

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