Keeping the Pathways to Tradition Open
As an American Indian transracial adoptee, my cultural anthropology research examined outcomes of American Indian children who had been placed with White families in the decades prior to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Through a mixed methodology of word lists, unstructured interviews and a semi-structured telephone survey, I was able to capture concepts of stereotypes as well as the lived experienced within the hierarchy of colonization. Word lists were given to 45 people, divided into three groups of fifteen each: White, American Indian and American Indian transracial adoptees. The information I sought through unstructured extensive interviews, conducted with ten American Indian transracial adoptees, was the lived experience of being raised in the dominant society, but possessing different physical characteristics, histories and ethnic membership than the families they were raised in. During this interview, adoptees
were encouraged to share with me whatever information they felt it was important that I, as a researcher, know about their experience.
They talked about their families, the racism they may or may not have experienced, their isolation, and their pain. The vast majority also spoke of their attempt to return to their reservations and their families, where most felt unaccepted or marginalized in ways that were similar to their experiences in the dominant cultures. The findings revealed that, essentially, we were too white to be Indian and too Indian to be white; we fell in between the boundaries of both ethnicities, and therefore experienced isolation and shame, with little if any way to mitigate those feelings. The Indian Child Welfare Act was signed into law in 1978, as way to stop the destruction of American Indian families and communities, by ceasing the large scale removal of American Indian children (over 30%) from their families and placing them in white homes. As a result, non-Native families are in 5 th place to receive an American Indian child. However, recent court cases, such as Baby Veronica, have revealed the chasm that divides privilege from oppression, and the resulting bitter custody battles now rage in America’s courtrooms; the sparring point is the concept of the “best interests of the child.” Such contention places children in limbo, psychologically and culturally, creating a negative environment that colors their perspective of the world. These custody battles will most likely increase, because of the litigation currently under way by those opposed to ICWA. Therefore, it is imperative we imagine new ways of adoption that create a larger group of supportive members who will support the child in his or her traditions, identity, with love and respect. My portion of the panel discussion will be informed by my research, my writing and my interest in the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.