Recent events of immigrant babies and children being forcibly removed from their parents and placed with foster families or in “camps” has raised protests worldwide. These actions by our American government are reprehensible and must be addressed. However, we should not be fooled into believing this is the first time something like this has happened in the United States. Overlooked and under-reported are the forced removals of indigenous children from their families; something that has been occurring for generations.
“On January 22, 1818, the House Committee on Indian Affairs reported that Indian children “will grow up in habits of morality and industry…and become useful members of society” if they are given ‘the primer…the hoe…” and the Bible. By 1879 off-reservation schools were created to separate Indian children from their families, culture, language, sacred history, and territory to “kill the Indian…and save the man.” These schools not only “educated” Indian children, they put them to work in a mandated trade craft which, coincidently, generated profits for the school system.” (Eric Hannel)
If Americans are at all aware of the practice of separating native youth from their families, they believe it is an action from days long past. In reality, it continues today.
In an article by Eric Hannel in ‘Indian Country Today’ dated March 2, 2017, he writes, “One might be surprised to know that the removal of Indian children from their families is still going strong, seemingly unabated. For example, in Pennington County, South Dakota, the state has removed more than 1,000 children from their Native American families since 2010.” (Eric Hannel)
There can be no excuse for this inhumane treatment. Just for a moment put yourself in the shoes of a child suddenly taken from the familiar surroundings of his home, the arms of his parents, and the security of his extended family to be thrust into the homes of strangers or a dormitory of unknown children. Ask yourself, what kind of long-term trauma can this cause?
While we loudly protest the removal of immigrant children, let us remember the children of our native brothers and sisters. We took their lands, we took their rights, and we continue to take their children.
The following is the Forward from my novel, “Riddle”, in which the main character, Kort Erikson, has experienced separation from his biological mother. While this is a work of fiction, it is based on similar experiences related by people I have met.
Louisiana Law Review Volume 66 | Number 3 Spring 2006 The “Existing Indian Family” Exception to the Indian Child Welfare Act: The States’ Attempt to Slaughter Tribal Interests in Indian Children Cheyañna L. Jaffke
As Louis La Rose (Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska) testified:
“I think the cruelest trick that the white man has ever done to Indian children is to take them into adoption court, erase all of their records and send them off to some nebulous family … residing in a white community and he goes back to the reservation and he has absolutely no idea who his relatives are, and they effectively make him a non-person and I think … they destroy him.”
Blog Cover Image: Secotan Indians’ dance in North Carolina. Watercolor by John White, 1585
Forward from “Riddle”
It is 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