November 28, 2009

Why the Indian Child Welfare Act exists

Susan Devan Harness has written a book about being "among the 395 or so American Indian children forcibly adopted into white families as part of a national social experiment conducted from 1958 through 1967."

Forcibly adopted American Indians torn between cultures

By Monte WhaleyShe found that like her, many of the adopted children were ostracized and belittled in both white and American Indian communities.

Harness, now 50, recalls being a teenager sitting on her front porch, listening to radio reports of the rising clamor caused by the American Indian Movement in the early 1970s. "I heard my dad say, 'What are those drunken war whoops up to now?'" Harness said.

"I thought to myself, 'If my dad was saying this to my face, what are other people saying about me?'"
Why these adoptions happened:Stevenson and others say the Indian Adoption Project may have been well-intentioned. But mostly it allowed non-Indians to pass judgment on reservation families and break them up as they saw fit, said Sandra White Hawk, who was taken from the Rosebud Sioux Reservation when she was 18 months old.

In many cases, missionaries working on reservations would call local authorities to complain about housing conditions. A social worker would then do a home study and, more often than not, build a case recommending a child be taken away, White Hawk said.

Families felt they were powerless to stop the process and allowed white authorities to take over, she said.

Most of the forced adoptions were based on prejudices, White Hawk said. Many children lived with extended families—including aunts and uncles—and often did not have a room to themselves. Many of the homes also did not have running water or electricity.

"I think it's interesting that the state would be more interested in yanking a child away from his home than in helping to try to get utilities and other services to these homes," White Hawk said.

White Hawk's parents—both missionaries—viewed her biological family as part of a dangerous social and religious subculture.

"My adoptive mother constantly reminded me that no matter what I did, I came from a pagan race whose only hope for redemption was to assimilate to white culture," White Hawk said.
Hence the need for the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act:The law gives tribal governments a stronger voice in American Indian child-custody proceedings, including adoptions. The act blocks state courts from having any jurisdiction over the adoption or custody of Indian children residing within their own reservations.Comment:  I believe the fact that tribes are political entities, not racial entities, is relevant here. Critics of the Indian Child Welfare Act say it's "racist" to favor a child's Indian relatives over its white adoptive parents. But the law exists to preserve a tribe's political rights--its control over its citizenry. An Indian child could be 15/16ths white or black by "blood"--i.e., a non-Indian genetically--and the law would still affect him or her. Ergo, the law isn't racist.

For more on the subject, see Campbell Brown Slams Indians.

Below:  Susan Devan Harness.

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