November is Native American Heritage Month in the United States.
When I wrote Riddle in 2015, I wanted to focus on the illegal adoption of American native children through white social services. Although I did touch on it in the book, the story of murder and mayhem might have overshadowed the painful lives these children experience. At the time, I didn’t realize the genocide by kidnapping continues.
Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota children are systematically removed from their biological families by the South Dakota Department of Social Services, in clear and direct violation of Indian Welfare Act of 1978.
- Over 700 American Indian children are removed by South Dakota state officials from their homes every year.
- These hundreds are sent to white foster homes or group homes.
- Many are adopted by white families.
- Indian children account for 13.8 percent of the state’s child population, yet they represent 56.3 percent of the foster care population.
- Of the hundreds of Native children in foster care in 2011, 87 percent were placed in non-Indian homes while Native foster homes went empty.
- Because of its targeting Native children, South Dakota is currently removing children from their families at a higher rate than the vast majority of other states in the U.S.
- Once removed, the state’s courts routinely keep Indian children from even seeing their families for at least 60 days.
- The state’s Department of Social Services (DSS) workers warn Native children that if they become emotional during a visit with their parents, the visits will be discontinued (this is incredible!). (People’s World)
The 2017 article states “The Department of Social Services makes up 53% of the entire budget for the state of South Dakota every year, right on the backs of the Native people.”
General Assembly Resolution 260; Article 2 as defined by The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 states:
“… any of the following acts commit with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Article 3 defines the crimes that can be punished under the convention:
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.
This follows over one hundred years of child “removal” or abduction. Beginning in the 1880’s native children were systematically taken from their families and placed in boarding schools far away from their homes, their people, and their culture. Parents were sometimes told their children had died! Now, children are once again being taken from their families and placed into state run foster homes; homes led by whites.
According to a recent report by the Indian Child Welfare Act directors in South Dakota, 740 Lakota children are removed to foster care each year and 90 percent are placed in white homes and institutions. (Lakota People’s Law Project)
Aside from the genocidal racism involved there is a financial motive on the part of the state. South Dakota receives $79,000 from the federal government per year per child for every Native youngster it removes, but provides only $9,000 to a white foster home. The remaining $70,000 is deposited in state coffers. Health and Impact News
Imagine the uproar if any other group of people were robbed of their children, if the children were robbed of their heritage, on the whim of the government. The convention was originally passed to prevent atrocities similar to those enacted by the Nazis during World War II. If The government of the United States of America is engaging in this behavior, are they not behaving along illegal lines like the Nazis? That a pretty deep conclusion. But, if the evidence is examined objectively, what other conclusion can be reached?
The voices of indigenous people in America are often drowned out by the louder voices of cultures whose numbers outweigh theirs. This in no way dismisses or belittles the severe situations of other groups. However, the plight of natives in America must not be overlooked.
I don’t have a solution for this. Perhaps word of mouth, articles, letters to government officials stating the concerns of the public at large would make an impact. To borrow a call to arms from another group suffering the pain of injustice, Native Lives Matter. Unless we, as a nation, learn to appreciate and celebrate the diversity within our borders, we cannot call ourselves a democracy.
Forward from Riddle
It was difficult for me to believe a child could be removed from his family and culture without repercussions in the 20th century. However, this has, in fact, happened. Most horrifying it happened in the United States of America, “land of the free, home of the brave”.
Prior to 1978 and the enactment of something called the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) aboriginal children were removed from their families and put into foster care or adopted to non-native families with the mistaken belief this would improve their lives. If this had happened to any other group of people the hue and cry raised would have been resounding. Instead it was encouraged.
In the past Native American children were removed from their homes and families by the thousands. Away from their tribes they became rootless, forgetting their cultures and traditions. Many of these children were placed in boarding schools operated by non-native groups. Instead of improving their lives hundreds were abused. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was often responsible for the removals. Some religious groups also stepped up to “save” these children and provide them with better lives. By the 1970’s in the US about five thousand aboriginal children were living in Mormon homes. Deemed by social workers to be “in the best interest of the child” these removals were carried out with state approval.
In 1978 Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. This was supposed to keep native families intact or at least keep them with some relative or in their tribe. As recently as 2011 up to thirty-two states were not complying with the law and aboriginal children were taken from homes citing such circumstances as neglect. Placed in situations where they may be physically or even sexually abused they lose touch with their roots possibly even feeling abandoned.
Needless to say Congress was ineffective in stemming the tide of legalized abduction. Native children placed in white homes and communities do not assimilate easily nor should they have to. With family and tribal members willing and able to care for and raise the children the injustice to the aboriginal communities is egregious.
While this book is a romantic thriller there is something to be learned from Kort Eriksen’s experiences. Based on the stories I’ve heard from those who were “lost” children; children ripped from families and communities, I built Kort’s world. As you read this book I hope you will think about the system that works against aboriginal youth in America. Every child has the right to know where he comes from. If a responsible and caring family member or community member is available to take on the responsibility of raising the child every effort should be made to see that solution realized.