At eighteen months old, Susan Harness (M.A. cultural anthropology ’06, M.A. creative nonfiction ’16) was removed from her home because of neglect. Notes from the social worker document a hungry infant with infected and bleeding mosquito bites and a diaper that hadn’t been changed in days. Harness and two of her siblings had been left in the care of their six-year-old sister by a mother who regularly disappeared for extended periods of time.
Family and community members on Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana were unable to help since they did not have the economic resources. As a result, in 1960, like over 30 percent of American Indian children in that time period, Harness was adopted into a non-American Indian home.
“The primary purpose of placing over a third of American Indian children with white families was assimilation,” said Harness. “My adoption, like nearly every other transracial adoption, was a closed adoption. This means our names were changed; our families, our tribes and nation, erased. Our entire identity was kept locked away in files that could be opened only by court order, trusting you could find a sympathetic judge. Therefore, finding our way home would be almost impossible. That’s how it was meant to be. We were not supposed to ‘be’ Indian, we were supposed to become members of the dominant society, with full and complete access to the American Dream.”
"We were not supposed to ‘be’ Indian, we were supposed to become members of the dominant society, with full and complete access to the American Dream."
– Susan Harness (upcoming book Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption, out fall 2018 from University of Nebraska Press.)
Susan contributed a story to the anthology STOLEN GENERATIONS: SURVIVORS OF THE INDIAN ADOPTION PROJECTS AND 60S SCOOP