Mary Black Bonnet in Native Condition. Discussion »
I cannot believe that in the year 2013, the fact that an American Indian family is under threat of being torn apart, again. I am referencing the Cherokee father Dusten Brown and his daughter Veronica.
It has happened before, far too many times.
In 2000, I wrote an essay titled "In Search of Mother Turtle" that was published in an issue of "Frontiers: A Journal in Women's Studies." I kicked it off with the following blurb:
As the years go by, non-Native people are starting to understand a little more about Native life. In 1978 Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. This meant that any Native child born after 1978 who was to be adopted must be placed in a home that was reflective of his or her traditions and values. Unfortunately this was not always the case. I was adopted prior to 1978, and my experience was anything but reflective of my tribal traditions and values.
The essay is all about my life in this non-Native, adopted family, my arduous life there, and finally, my determined if not difficult journey back to my roots.
So, why are we here again? It's absurd!
As a firsthand victim of a cross-cultural adoption, I could give anyone numerous reasons to leave Veronica and her biological family alone. I don't think many non-Native people are thinking about the detrimental impact these actions will have on the entire family.
The removal of a Native child from his or her tribal environment and extended family is devastating. Not just on the parents or parent, but on the extended family and the tribe as a whole. Not to mention the direct damage it inflicts on the child.
When you are Native, you are born into something really special, an extended family, a culture, and network of other people who are like you and linked to you on a genetic timeline that those who are non-Native will never get. I can put it in black and white here, but they still probably won't fully understand. I hope it at least causes non-Natives to pause and mill it all over from a different perspective.
There are so many things to say, and so little time, I could launch a cross country speaking tour just on this subject alone.
News articles report Veronica as a "happy, healthy, well adjusted child " Remember, she is only like that right now because she is with her loving biological father.
But if things go the way of the adoptive couple wants that may not be the case. Because even if she is raised in a beautiful home, with a good life, money, opportunity, "security" and all that supposedly goes with that, there is one thing that the adoptive couple will never be able to give her.
Culture. Ties to her culture.
They are non-Native. Period. Bottom line. End of discussion.
And clearly them wanting to move the child to a different state shows that they are trying to cut all ties from any of her tribal relatives.
A bit dirty and stodgy don't you think?
If they, or any other non-Native couple who adopts Native children, really wanted what was best for their "children" they wouldn't move or tear away a Native child from his or her tribal nation.
It's the matter of truly wanting to drop your egos and really honestly think about what’s best for the child. If the adoptive couple really felt that they're taking Veronica for what's best for her, why are they so defensive, and eager to get her out of where she is living and doing okay?
Because here is the bottom line for anyone, all the other crap aside: When you tear, take, and remove a child from their biological and tribal family despite the circumstances you are ripping a hole in that child's spirit, and in that of the parents', extended family and tribe. That is the blatant honest truth.
And that is a hole that the child, the Indian parent and the extended family will never ever truly recover from. Ever! Especially if the child's parents or parent have died before they were returned home.
When you remove an American Indian child from his or her tribal family, you are taking this child away from tribal customs, tribal ceremonies and tribal ways of life. When a Native child grows up and escapes the non-Native life and wants to search for their family, tribe or homeland, how easy a journey is that?
In Veronica's case, with all this national press associated with this case, it may not be hard for her.
But stop and think about how many children are grown, and still searching.
My search was not hard, because I had a starting point. I knew my mother's name and I knew where I was born. And I used that like a detective to find my way home. But sadly, there are millions of others who do not even have that much information who are lost, wandering, wondering and hoping that they will find their parents, their tribe. Before they die, or worse, before their relatives die.
Everyone belongs somewhere, and to someone. Everyone.
You can adopt a non-Native baby and cut off all ties with his or her biological family in the white world; it is not as big of a deal. But we Natives, our blood runs deep, very deep.
You can raise us white, you can curse and degrade our parents, you can tell your "Dirty Indian" stories to your white friends at your fancy dinner parties. But it doesn't change the truth. And that truth is we belong with our own people within our own circles among our own blood. And these adoptions of Native children by non-Natives are another form of acculturation. Acculturate all you want, our blood stays red, it always will, and whether you like it or not, it is the constant in a silent siren call for us.
Whether you raise a Native child in a so called perfect setting, you're never going to silence that call, that pull, that need to figure out that feeling that your child may not be sharing with you. It will never go away, until it is satisfied and the answers are provided.
And remember all you non-Natives who want to get a Native baby, if you do raise one of ours as one of "your own;" here's some advice from a child who's been there, done that.
Don't lie to your child about their biological origins. It will ALWAYS come out, and you may end up losing the child you raised, forever. Which leaves you with the question was it worth it?
Don't bash their biological parents. EVER. When parents do this, it's usually to make themselves feel better, or to make themselves look like the real hero. The truth is this, a child who has been with their parents from birth to 18 months has already bonded with his/her parent, no matter how good or bad that parent was to them. And no amount of outside influence will change that.
Be honest with yourself about why are you doing this? Our children, like so many other aspects of our lives, are not trends, we are not tokens, are not shiny, pretty things to be trotted about like a prize stud. We are people, and we all have feelings.
And one more thing, remember this little piece of philosophy I like to live by. Somebody, somewhere, is affected by another's actions.
Life is circular, it really is.
Mary Black Bonnet is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, commonly known as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She was born in Rosebud, South Dakota, but taken from her mother at a young age and raised by a non-Native family in Michigan. She spent the next 22 years trying to get back to her homeland. In her early 20s, she returned, learned her culture and language, and then used it in her work, writing both in Lakota and English.
She has published poetry, and nonfiction essays. Her work can be seen in Tribal College Journal, "Frontiers: a Journal of Women's Studies," "Genocide of the Mind, Eating Fire Tasting Blood, Sharing Our Stories: Native women surviving Violence, and Birthed From Scorched Hearts"
posted August 15, 2013 7:50 am edt