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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The removal of Indian children continues to be a national crisis #ICWA



The Nation’s First Family Separation Policy 


Forty years ago, three in 10 Indian children were taken from their families.
October 9, 2018 | Christie Renick

The United States’ first family separation policy removed one-third of all American Indian children from their families and tribes. 

In the late 1960s, while employed by the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA), a New York-based attorney named Bertram Hirsch was sent to North Dakota to assist with a kinship dispute case on behalf of the Spirit Lake Tribe. Child welfare workers were forcibly removing children from family members and placing them in white homes, sometimes out of state. One grandmother had even been jailed after refusing to give up her grandchildren.
At the time, Hirsch says, he had no idea that an alarming number of American Indian children were being taken from their families and permanently placed in homes with white parents. But as he worked on the Spirit Lake case, he began to understand the scope of the problem. And by the time 1969 rolled around, he and the AAIA were deeply engaged in a nationwide data collection project that had him contacting every foster care or adoption agency and institution he could find. He surveyed the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which had the authority to place children at that time, and state social services departments as well as juvenile probation facilities.
Hirsch’s research found that somewhere between 25 and 35 percent of all American Indian children had been placed in adoptive homes, foster homes or institutions. 
Around 90 percent of those children were being raised by non-Indians. 
Many would never see their biological families again.

By the end of 1978, Hirsch had conducted his audit twice. Congressional commissions had convened in Washington numerous times, gathering hundreds of hours of testimony on the government’s egregious treatment of American Indian communities.

In its report to Congress, a task force said,
 “The removal of Indian children from their natural homes and tribal setting has been and continues to be a national crisis.”

The government-sanctioned removals were a wound for Native families and tribes that would be torn raw with each new generation.
Hirsch, along with two Congressional staffers, wrote and rewrote a bill to shield American Indian youth from being removed from their families and tribes. A culmination of what Hirsch describes as a huge grassroots effort spanning 11 years and involving thousands of people across the country, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed at the 11th hour, just before the 95th Congress would come to a close, on October 24, 1978.
“If we didn’t get it passed in the 95th,” Hirsch said, “I’m not sure it ever would have passed.” ICWA defined the political relationship between two sovereigns – tribes and states. It designated that tribes can and must act as parents for their children, just as states do with non-Native children, when biological parents cannot. And it required that preference be given to tribal communities when children must be removed from their homes.
But 40 years later, states still don’t fully understand ICWA. One judge described ICWA as the most ignored federal law in the history of this country. The federal government has no ICWA data reporting requirements in place.Caseworkers and attorneys have been reported as viewing ICWA compliance as optional. Notice to tribes that an Indian child has entered foster care has been delayed by as many as four years, tribes have said.

And just last week, a federal district court judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional, rendering the fate of ICWA uncertain. 

KEEP READING

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Manipulation and Distortion of Public Opinion to Overthrow #ICWA

Lost Children, adopted out
CITATION
Bual, Harman (2018) "Native American Rights & Adoption by Non-Indian Families: The Manipulation and Distortion of Public Opinion to Overthrow ICWA," American Indian Law Journal: Vol. 6 : Iss. 2 , Article 6.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/ailj/vol6/iss2/6 

Excerpt:


The public’s general lack of knowledge regarding the history of ICWA and the standards set up by ICWA allows for easy manipulation by adoption agencies and ICWA opponents. A lack of understanding and sensationalized media supports a negative image of Indian tribes that overshadows the protections offered by ICWA, and the improper behavior of adoption agencies and attorneys who encourage adoptive parents to go against the clear standards set out in ICWA.117 
This is a difficult situation to address, given the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Baby Veronica, because it fails to acknowledge the historical reasoning for ICWA and maintaining a relationship between an Indian child and its tribe.118 
However, the behavior of these adoption agencies and attorneys who are creating delays in the system, and actively working the system to get around ICWA statues, should face some sort of monetary fine. Fines would need to be determined on a case by case basis, but could be based on whether there were improper delay tactics, the length of time the litigation took due to improper delay tactics, and whether the adoption agency knew or had reason to know the child was an Indian. Policies surrounding the custody of children as a whole are inconsistent and create conflicting goals and procedural issues when applied.119 
To overcome these issues, it is necessary that both legislators and ICWA supporters find a common ground where the agencies responsible for determining a child’s membership status are able to do so in a timely manner and hold foster families and Indian families accountable if they fail to follow reunification plans set by these state agencies.

Despite the intent of Congress, state courts have continuously interpreted ICWA in a variety of ways that has created loopholes around the mandates.121 
Large cases in front of the Supreme Court of the United States has brought attention to ICWA on a national level.122 
However, ICWA is often portrayed as a set of rules that ignores the best interest of the Indian child in favor of satisfying the demands of Indian tribes who may not be capable of taking care of the Indian child as well as an already established home with an adoptive family.123 
This perception has been further manipulated within the media by ICWA opposition in an effort to dismantle ICWA.
The history and purpose of ICWA has been misinterpreted by courts applying it within custody cases of Indian children. For ICWA to be successful, it is necessary that states and courts identify
the child’s tribe and give proper notification to the tribes. ICWA was established to stabilize the growth of tribes that had diminished after decades of assimilation of tribal members into mainstream American society. Despite the set guidelines within ICWA, states apply ICWA differently within each court, which creates disproportionate protection to Indian children, parents, and tribes.124  
To combat improper application of ICWA it is necessary that clarification of ICWA is provided to state child welfare workers, adoption agencies, judges, and society. 

Media uses the emotional pull within ICWA adoption cases between Indian tribes and non-Indian adoptive families to undermine the protection given to tribes under ICWA and limit tribal rights.

Proper application of ICWA would prevent many of the cases being reported on by news media because many years of litigation would be avoided. And most importantly, the Indian child developing ties to a family the child should not have legally been placed with could be prevented because many years of litigation would be avoided. And most importantly, the Indian child developing ties to a family the child should not have legally been placed with could be prevented.

Use the search bar on this blog to find #ICWA and stories about lost children of the Indian Adoption Projects and Programs and 60s Scoop... Thousands of children were stolen by the govt's of Canada and the US and adopted out - this blog is about survivors.
 

Pivotal moment in Indian Country | Attack on #ICWA


Photo Courtesy National Indian Child Welfare Association

Published October 9, 2018
PORTLAND, Ore. —  On Monday, October 8,  2018 the National Indian Child Welfare Association, National Congress of American Indians, Association on American Indian Affairs and Native American Rights Fund released the following joint statement on last week Thursday's ruling by a federal district judge in northern Texas striking down the 40-year-old Indian Child Welfare Act.
Read the statement:
In a decision published by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was declared unconstitutional, jeopardizing the landmark legislation protecting tribal children.
This egregious decision ignores the direct federal government-to-government relationship and decades upon decades of precedent that have upheld tribal sovereignty and the rights of Indian children and families. Through 40 years of implementation, ICWA’s goal is to promote family stability and integrity. It continues to be the gold standard in child welfare policy.
While this disturbing ruling is a pivotal moment for Indian Country, we vehemently reject any opinion that separates Native children from their families and will continue to fight to uphold ICWA and tribal sovereignty.

National American Indian Organization Release Statement on Indian Child Welfare Act Case

by Native News Online Staff

Monday, October 8, 2018

#HonorNativeLand

Partnership for Native Children Decries Anti-ICWA Decision

Calls judge’s ruling ‘an outlier, out of step with the law and constitutional jurisprudence’
The Partnership for Native Children strongly disagrees with and is disturbed by Judge O’Connor’s decision in Brackeen v. Zinke which has stricken down the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) four decades after it was enacted. This is the first decision of its kind, and is an outlier—out of step with the law and decades of constitutional jurisprudence.
With the support and guidance of a longstanding coalition of anti-ICWA activists, the plantiffs in Brackeen want to remove ICWA’s provisions that protect against removing Native children from their parents and culture, leaving unfettered access to Native children. Not content with that outcome, they wish to undermine the U.S. Constitution and centuries of established law by eradicating tribes’ Constitutionally-protected relationship with the United States government.
Although this decision is limited in application, it serves as a roadmap for other ICWA litigation intending to overturn ICWA and we should expect future litigation seeking to undermine tribal sovereignty and federal Indian law writ large.
Emboldened by the Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl decision in 2013, these anti-ICWA forces—led by the adoption industry, religious coalitions, and a conservative think tank—have spent years bringing forth suit after suit in courts throughout the country, sometimes even using identical briefs in different forums, all in the attempt to have ICWA declared unconstitutional. After losing each case, due in part to their outrageous contention that ICWA is a race-based law (it is not), they have finally found a judge in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas sympathetic to their arguments.
While they choose to ignore thousands of testimonials from Native families who assert that those who will be most hurt by this decisions are our most sacred and vulnerable children, the Partnership for Native Children stands with Indian Country and affirms that we will continue to fight for them. We support legal efforts to appeal this unprecedented decision. We will work tirelessly to demand the media cover these issues thoroughly and responsibly. And we will work closely with those children, families, and tribes who want their perspectives finally included in the national dialogue about the best interests of our children. Their voices have been ignored for far too long.
The Partnership for Native Children refuses to go back to those the days where tribal children were removed simply because of cultural misunderstandings, for financial gain, and due to pure prejudice. We also refuse to let extremist groups use our children as a tool to undermine the foundations of Indian law and tribal sovereignty.
The Partnership for Native Children remains unwavering in our commitment to defend the constitutionality of ICWA by all available means and will continue to work in support of tribes and Native people throughout the country to ensure that Native children, families, and tribes are protected.
Here is our press release.
source:

Partnership for Native Children PR on Texas ICWA Case

by Matthew L.M. Fletcher

Saturday, October 6, 2018

U.S. District Court Decision Puts Native American Children and Families at Risk

PRESS RELEASE
The California Tribal Families Coalition joined others nationwide in expressing disappointment over the ruling.
In an unprecedented ruling that threatens Native American children and families, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas declared the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) unconstitutional in an opinion in Brackeen et. al. v. Zinke, filed October 4, 2018.  
While unnerving, attorneys fighting for ICWA say the decision is not applicable throughout the United States. Rather, it is limited in scope and will likely be stayed pending appeal. The decision from a U.S. District Court in Texas is not applicable in California. 
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a 40-year old remedial statute that protects Indian children, families and tribes. The original complaint was filed by adoptive parents and supported by Texas, Indiana and Louisiana, and the decision is contrary to Congressional intent, the Constitution and decades of well-established Indian law.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leading a bipartisan coalition of Attorneys General, filed an amicus brief in the case to defend the ICWA. ICWA sets specific child welfare rules designed to ensure that cases regarding abuse, neglect and adoption involving Native American children are handled in a culturally appropriate manner. 
“Those of us who were raised in Indian Country, those of us who raise our children on the reservations, those of us who know Indian families – we know that ICWA protects our children. This targeted and well-financed attack on ICWA only reminds tribes of the long and tortured history we have endured in the United States,” Robert Smith, chairman of the California Tribal Families Coalition  and the Pala Band of Mission Indians.
About the California Tribal Families Coalition.
Comprised of tribes and tribal leaders from across the state, the California Tribal Families Coalition’s mission is to promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of tribal children and families, which are inherent tribal governmental functions and are at the core of tribal sovereignty and tribal governance. For information, please visit https://www.caltribalfamilies.org
Contact: Delia M. Sharpe, CTFC Executive Director, 916-583-8289 ordelia.sharpe@caltribalfamilies.org

California Tribal Families Coalition Press Release on Texas ICWA Case

by Matthew L.M. Fletcher

Friday, October 5, 2018

More on #ICWA

Tribes’ Statement re: Brackeen v. Zinke Decision

STATEMENT REGARDING RULING STRIKING DOWN THE INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT
We strongly disagree and are deeply disappointed with Judge O’Connor’s decision in Brackeen v. Zinke in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas striking down the Indian Child Welfare Act, four decades after it was enacted. We remain steadfast in our commitment to defend the constitutionality of ICWA by all available means for one simple reason: If ICWA is struck down in whole or in part, the victims will be our children and our families, Native children and Native families.
The apparent goal of Plaintiffs’ litigation is an extreme one — to separate children from their parents. Before ICWA, as many as one-third of all tribal children were forcibly removed from their families and their communities by state governments. Thorough and objective analysis of the systematic removal of Indian children from Indian homes found many removals were wholly unjustified. These policies devastated tribal communities and we refuse to go back to those darker days. We are heartened by the support of so many states that stand shoulder to shoulder with us in this litigation to protect families.
We are in consultation with our legal counsel and exploring all available options.  Rest assured, we consider the trial level decision today as one part of a long process. In the interim, we will seek a stay of the decision until higher courts have an opportunity to review it.  We will continue to work in state courts throughout the country to ensure the protections of ICWA for Native children, families, and tribes. We strongly believe that, in the end, our rights protected by the Indian Child Welfare Act will be affirmed and reinforced.   
  • Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Cherokee Nation
  • Chairman Robert Martin, Morongo Band of Mission Indians
  • Chairman Tehassi Hill, Oneida Nation
  • President Fawn Sharp, Quinault Indian Nation

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Judge Abby Abinanti Is Fighting for Her Tribe—and for a Better Justice System

Once considered illegitimate, Native American peacemaking courts offer a model for criminal-justice reform.
Judge Abby Abinanti is one of a growing number of tribal judges nationwide incorporating traditional culture into their courtrooms, with the dual aim of rehabilitating individuals and providing justice to people often failed by the regular criminal-justice system. Abinanti, whose court was recently described in a federal assessment as “extremely fair and balanced in its rulings,” is more likely to ask defendants to devise their own ways to atone for a crime or settle a dispute than to slap them with fines or incarceration. As Abinanti explains, “I’m looking at: How did we resolve things before our cultural interruption, when invasion occurred? We were village people, and we sat around and had discussions. My purpose is to help you think up how to make it right if you made a mistake…. For me, jail is banishment. It’s the last resort.”

READ: Judge Abby Abinanti Is Fighting for Her Tribe—and for a Better Justice System | The Nation

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

First Nations child advocate says child welfare system ‘eats up’ Indigenous kids

Cora Morgan, First Nations Family Advocate at The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) in Winnipeg, Monday, February 22, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba First Nations children’s advocate says the child welfare system “eats up” Indigenous children and is designed to keep their families at a disadvantage.
Cora Morgan, with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women that the system is set up to apprehend children, not to support families.
“Any challenges that our families are faced with, it’s used against them instead of them being offered support. It victimizes our families,” she said Monday.
“A lot of these things are just perpetual. You can find five or six generations of a family where their children have been taken.”
The inquiry is holding hearings in Winnipeg this week and is expected to focus on child welfare.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Where are they?

Where are the Indigenous children that never came home?

An untold number of students at Carlisle Indian School disappeared. Tribal nations raise the stakes in search of answers.

This story was done in collaboration with
The Intercept.

When Yufna Soldier Wolf was a kid, she was made well aware of why her family members only spoke English, and why they dressed the way they did. Her grandfather and other elders used to recount their experiences at boarding schools, where the government sent hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children, from nearly every Indigenous nation within U.S. borders, to unlearn their languages and cultures. “A lot of them were physically abused, verbally abused, sexually abused,” she said.

READ 

Reprinted and shared with permission.

 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A search for missing Native children at Carlisle Indian Industrial School who died on 'Outings' in Pa.

David Nepley (left), the Byberry Friends clerk, looks over a record of those buried in the Byberry Friends Burial Ground in Northeast Philadelphia. Among those buried is Gertrude Spotted Tail.
Ephriam Alexander came from Yup’ik village of Kanulik on the Nushagak River and Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska, but died in Lititz, PA.  He is buried in the historic section of Lititz Moravian Congregation Cemetery known as “God’s Acre.”
While the setting is quite bucolic on one side, the other side of the grave of Gertrude Spotted Tail faces the back of nearby homes by the Byberry Friends Burial Ground in Northeast Philadelphia. Gertude was one of the daughters of Chief Spotted Tail of the Brule Sioux. She died while a Carlisle student visiting the Bender family in Bucks County. Gertrude and an unknown American Indian girl are buried side-by-side but no one knows which grave is which. A blank marker was placed there to mark the spot several years ago.
"People are awakening to the reality of what happened, the human-rights violations, the civil-rights violations," said Christine Diindiisi McCleave, executive officer of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, known as NABS. "We want to know the truth." One expert estimates that the number of missing children could top 10,000. And the initial investigation leads straight to Pennsylvania.

All the children missing or buried in Pennsylvania are believed to be connected to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the nation's first federal off-reservation boarding school, founded in 1879 by former cavalry officer Richard Henry Pratt. Carlisle — now the campus of the Army War College — was built to solve "the Indian problem" by forcing native children to become ersatz white people, erasing their names, languages, religions, and family ties.
READ: A search for native children who died on 'Outings' in Pa.

Read More on the Story:
A century after deaths, Native American kids to return home (The Associated Press June 14, 2018)
Lost remains may be found at Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery disinterment (The Carlisle Sentinel June 13, 2018)
Remains of Northern Arapaho boy will be returned to Wyoming after a century in boarding school graveyard (The Casper Star-Tribune June 11, 2018)
Disinterment of four Carlisle Indian School students begins soon (PennLive June 11, 2018)
An Opinion:
Editorial: Little Plume's long journey home may help close a controversial chapter in America's history (PennLive June 11, 2018) Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Intended Disinterment (May 21, 2018)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

US appeals court overturns South Dakota ICWA child removal ruling

Elijah Bearsheart, left, with his daughter, Keanala, 1, and family, Kehala Diserly, Kiari Diserly, 3, and Yamni Pederson, 5, as they listen to testimony during the Indian Child Welfare Act summit in 2013 at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Rapid City. The summit was called in response to charges that South Dakota breaks the Indian Child Welfare Act
Dana Hanna, a lawyer for the Oglala and Rosebud Sioux tribes, which are working on behalf of the parents, said she plans to ask the federal appeals court to rehear the case.
If that fails, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible. "We are convinced, we strongly believe that the panel's decision was wrong," she said.
State Department of Social Services Secretary Lynne Valenti said she's happy with the ruling. "DSS has maintained from the beginning the (federal) district court should have abstained from exercising jurisdiction in this case, and we are pleased that our position prevailed at the Eighth Circuit," she said in a press release.
READ: US appeals court overturns South Dakota child removal ruling | The Daily Republic

Background story:
RAPID CITY -- Between choked sobs and streaming tears, more than a dozen Native American families delivered testimony in 2013 in Rapid City about how their children were taken from them by South Dakota social workers. Those stories from parents -- specifically details about the difficulty in regaining custody of Native children placed in non-Native foster homes -- filled the first day of the Great Plains Indian Child Welfare Act Summit in Rapid City.
Source: American Indians trade tales of displaced children | The Daily Republic

Monday, September 17, 2018

It was human trafficking, not adoption



Task Force Aims To Recruit More American Indian Foster Families




Indian Child Welfare Act task force (Kenneth Ramos)
Indian Child Welfare Act task force (Kenneth Ramos)
PUBLISHED IN 2014

The way Navajo Indian Leland Morrill sees it; he was a victim of trafficking when he was four years old. 
In the 1970s, Morrill, 48, was living with his grandparents on the Arizona Navajo reservation. His mother had died in a car crash a few years earlier. Besides one picture, her relatives were all she left behind for her young son.
But, as the state government would soon decide, that wasn’t enough.
The Morrill grandparents lived in a hogan, a Navajo Indian dwelling made of dirt, branches and mud, with an open fire pit. Morrill’s grandfather was blind. One day, when his great-grandmother went out with the sheep, Morrill stepped into the fire.
At the hospital, doctors determined that he suffered from first, second and third degree burns, broken bones and malnutrition. Morrill said the last affliction was through no fault of his grandparents.
“There was no electricity and no running water on the reservation. I would say everyone in that area was malnourished,” Morrill said.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), a federal organization designed to provide services to American Indian tribes, placed Morrill with a Caucasian Mormon couple as foster parents. The BIA paid them $65 a month to give him a home. Soon after, the Morrills adopted Leland and moved the family to Canada. Now, tribes across the nation are trying to recruit Native American foster families to keep their children in the tribe. Morrill has fought on the front lines in this effort. He filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl last year. The case interpreted the Indian Child Welfare Act and concerned a Cherokee girl whose mother adopted her to a non-native family without her father’s consent. The father, who ultimately lost, sought to obtain custody of his daughter again.
“I know the inequality of children not being able to speak for themselves,” Morrill said. “Who’s going to speak for them?” Fifteen years would pass before Morrill himself saw the Navajo reservation again.
During that time, Leland Morrill was one of about 2,000 Navajo children adopted annually by a Mormon family, according to the blog American Indian Adoptees. This was due to the Indian Adoption Project, a plan launched in 1958 by the BIA and the nonprofit Child Welfare League of America. The project paid states to remove American Indian children and place them in non-native or religious families to assimilate them into ‘conventional’ society. One goal was to give them opportunities the impoverished reservation could not provide for them, according to Reuters.
In the 1970s, Indian leaders went to the Senate and demanded an inquiry into the large numbers of their children disappearing. William Byler, the executive director of the Association of American Indian affairs, testified that under current conditions, tribal survival looked grim, according to American Indian Adoptees. In response, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978. Under this law, states must do everything possible to keep Indian children with their families, or at least send them to Native American adoptive or foster families that the child’s tribe selects.
But many states, such as New Mexico, Alaska and California, lack licensed Indian foster families. In Los Angeles, about 200 American Indian kids are in the foster system and the city has no licensed foster families, according to L.A. children’s court judge Amy Pellman. In California, 439 Native American children entered foster care in 2012. This is a large number, given that Native Americans make up slightly over one percent of the state’s population, according to the Child Welfare Dynamic Report System, a joint effort of the California Department of Social Services and the University of California at Berkeley. The disproportionate amount suggests that welfare agencies still may pull Indian children from their homes too quickly, which children’s social worker Roberta Javier confirmed.
“When I was growing up, I had a cousin in my adoptive family who stepped into a pile of burning trash,” Morrill said. This was similar to the incident Morrill suffered that resulted in his removal from his Navajo grandparents. “When I asked my adoptive family why he didn’t get taken, they had no response.”
Javier, who is Cherokee and Sac & Fox Indian, formed a task force with other Los Angeles Natives to recruit more foster and adoptive families. They are working on a public service announcement to air on local TV channels and FNX, a Native American channel. The key message, ‘lend a hand,’ evokes a cultural ideal. Morrill attends the task force meetings and has contributed ideas, but is not a member of any committee.
“It’s traditional in Native American culture when you see someone who needs help you step up. It’s part of being in a collective community,” Javier said.
Adopted Native children are often disconnected from their culture. Growing up, Morrill’s foster parents raised him in the Mormon Church. They did not teach him anything about his tribe or its customs.
“My dad once took me on a business trip to Pine Ridge reservation (South Dakota). I don’t think he really understood the importance of culture,” Morrill said. The reservation is home to the Oglala Sioux, a tribe that Morrill does not belong to.
Even if non-native adoptive parents do show appreciation for their child’s background, children can still feel alienated without others around like them. Jennifer Varenchik, 42, an adoptee and member of the Tohono-O’odham tribe, said her adoptive dad researched her tribe and hung their baskets in the house. But she said still felt like an outsider in her predominately white neighborhood.
“When I was in sixth grade, a black family moved down the street and I was so happy because I wouldn’t be the only one with dark skin,” she said.
But when Varenchik tried to learn more about her roots, the process was not as natural as she expected.
“I took some Native studies classes in college, but it felt really foreign to me,” Varenchik said. “I felt like it should have a deeper meaning, but it didn’t.”
After finishing college at St. Mary’s, in Moraga, Calif., Varenchik moved to Los Angeles, which she knew had a large urban Indian population (the second largest in the U.S., according to Indian Country Today Media Network). She started work at United Indian American Involvement, a nonprofit providing service and support to American Indians in California, and began attending powwows. She even reconnected with her biological siblings on the reservation in Arizona.
But not every adoptee’s story ends as happily. Javier’s own painful experiences compelled her to campaign for more Native foster families.
“I’ve been in 17 foster homes from the ages 6-16. I was separated from one of my (biological) sisters who then got lost in the system. A social worker took her to a group home and my sister ran away. Four days later, her social worker killed herself so there was a disconnect (in information),” Javier said. “It took me 25 years to find my sister.”
The task force efforts began two years ago, but members have yet to find a single foster family. They are collaborating with Los Angeles County, but Javier cites a lack of cultural awareness among officials as part of the problem. She gave the example of the county sending a non-native woman to an American Indian church sing to speak on the shortage of foster parents.
“This is like sending an African-American to recruit for a Chinese home,” she said.
But more Native adoptees are coming together to talk about the issue. Morrill has started a blog and a Facebook page where he shares his story and circulates others’.  He said his efforts are “normalizing the craziness of what it’s like to be an adoptee,” and helping disconnected Natives repatriate to their tribes. Though Morrill and Varenchik cannot control the past, they are combining their influence and education to improve the future for other American Indians.
“I’m the opposite of the people on the reservation, but I’m fighting for their rights and their children’s rights,” Morrill said.
Reach Staff Reporter Anne Artley here

Leland was 48 at the time of this story. He lives in LA, CA.


(The links are old and may not work... Trace)
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