Each year the month of November is recognized as National Adoption Awareness Month, which focuses on the adoption of children currently in foster care. Being adopted is a happy time as children finally get a permanent home but it can be sad too as they realize they won’t be returning to their birth families and might even be separated from their siblings. Adoption is an adjustment not only for the adopted child but also for the family who’s bringing a new member into the fold. Generally speaking it works out well, many children are adopted by their foster parents who’ve already formed a bond with them. Others have a harder time adjusting, especially if they’ve lived most of their lives in group homes, are older, come from a foreign country or culture, have emotional or physical disabilities or come from especially dysfunctional or abusive homes. Adoptions services provide help if problems arise.
Sadly many children on Indian Reservations end up in foster care, with many being raised in non native homes. Children on and off the Rez are put into foster care for many reasons such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, domestic violence, poor parenting skills, drug and alcohol abuse, and parents who just can’t provide adequate food, shelter and care. While the welfare of the child takes precedence, if a comparable Native American foster home can be found, DSS should make every effort to place the child in a home with their own people unless a court determines that it is in the best interest of the child to be placed elsewhere.
Starting early in the twentieth century thousands of Native American children were removed by force from their homes and sent to government boarding schools with enrollment reaching a peak in the 1970’s with a total of 60,000 students in 1973. “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” was the school motto, children lost touch with their families, their traditions and their culture and many suffered horrible abuse. Entire generations of young people were left missing from the tribes whose future depended upon them.
What emerged from these Indian Schools were scarred, young adults with little or no self esteem, haunted by their horrible experiences they resorted to alcohol and drugs in their attempts to forget it. When they had children of their own, and having never been exposed to healthy parenting models, they repeated the cycle of abuse , disciplining their children as they had been, they knew no other way. In previous generations (before the “schools”), children were raised by loving parents, in a happy and safe home environment and while most still are , there are children who are not. Into the West- Carlisle Indian School, a TNT mini series gives some insight into what happened to children at that time and why this horrible injustice should never be repeated. The recent documentary, The Deep Dark Fog deals with the feelings of a Lakota man who lived in these government schools.
The Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted in 1978 because of the high rate (25 to 35 percent) of NA children being removed from their homes and being placed in non-native homes or state run instituitions. Left unchecked these numbers might have threatened the very survival of the tribe. The ICWA stated that every effort was to be made to keep any child who was a candidate for foster care in their home by providing services, resources and education to their parents. In the event a child had to be removed from the home they were to be placed with another family member or a tribal member licensed by the state as a foster home so the child could continue to be raised in their Indian culture. Only in very special extenuating circumstances was a child to be placed in a non-Indian home.
The ICWA is not being followed as was signed into law, so even today many Indian children are being taken taken from their homes and being raised in non-Indian families. There’s a concern now that there’s a financial reward to the state for placing children in foster care as was aired in the NPR special Native Foster Care: Lost Children,Shattered Families.
In response to this practice and the complete disregard of the the Indian Welfare Act, the Lakota People’s Law Project is working to get their children back. A summit has been called to address the issues as mentioned in this article.
One of the reasons Sew For Kids has joined with the nurses on Rosebud and Pine Ridge, with organizations such as Head Start and with individuals like Theresa and Jerome High Horse is because they’re working in their own ways to address issues surrounding Indian families, helping parents receive the help and education they need to keep children in their homes where they belong. Our partners help by providing safe environments for kids to play and learn, leading group activities with parents and/or kids, exposing them to good role models and new ideas, providing community events for families to participate in together, and providing education on parenting skills, and on children’s health and developmental needs so that the kids can grow up in a happy, healthy, safe and stable home. In addition they can direct parents to organizations that can assist them with their own needs.
Thanks from SFK to all of you who are joining with us and helping this important effort. Whether you’re sending incentives or baby items to programs that stress good prenatal and postpartum care for new mothers, or providing goods to Head Start programs where kids come for fun and learning, or providing food for a community dinner or donations for fun family activities, you are making a difference in the lives of NA families. By supporting the needs of these programs, so they can carry out their important work, we have a good chance of getting families working together and raising healthy children. What greater reward is there?