Reflections about Indian Child Welfare – July 15, 2015

Carol A. Hand

The most difficult part of any new initiative for me is figuring out where to begin. What is it I hope to achieve with this newest project – a book about Indian child welfare? What can I say that hasn’t already been said, and what do I really know for sure? Who would be the best audience – the audience that would be most receptive and most likely to act in thoughtful ways to address continuing oppression? These are some of the questions I have been pondering as I look at the blinking cursor on my empty computer screen.

Start somewhere,” I tell myself. “You have a title, so draft a title page.” (Yes, I often refer to myself in third person language in my thoughts. I’m not sure why even though I think it’s rather odd …)

rescuing children title page jpg

Photo: Draft Title Page

But how should I begin? Here’s my most recent beginning. I really do welcome your honest comments and suggestions.

************

Imagine that you were a five-year old boy or girl walking along the road in your village. A village where you knew everyone, where you felt safe because the villagers all watched over you and kept you from being hungry or harmed, until that one day when no adults saw the strangers that drove by and enticed you into a car. You had never ridden in a car before and were curious as many children your age would be. Now imagine that it would be more than a decade before you would see your family or community again. You awoke from the long journey to find yourself in a strange place with many other strange children. More than seventy years later, you still carry the scar on your hand from that day when the adults in that strange new place where you found yourself hit you with a sharp-edged ruler because you asked another child where the restroom was in the only language you knew, “Indian.”

Imagine what you would feel as a parent or grandparent if your child suddenly disappeared. You knew he or she was not the first to be taken by the strangers who had invaded your homeland more than a century before. And he or she would not be the last to be taken by the descendants of strangers whose language and ways were different and who had the power to take your land and confine you to a small “reserved” area of your original homeland after they clear cut all of your trees. Strangers who had the power to outlaw your language, spiritual practices, and ways of life. Now they were taking your children and there was absolutely nothing you or anyone else in the community could do to get your children back or stop the kidnapping. Imagine what all of the relatives, elders and warriors of your community would feel and how profoundly it would forever change the community and how you felt about life.

This is only one of the stories I heard from Ojibwe community members whose childhoods were spent in places far from their families and community. This book shares some of their stories and describes the historical events and contemporary consequences for a system that claimed to be rescuing children from neglect and abuse. I leave it you as the reader to determine if the inhumane and traumatizing child welfare policies that were and are still imposed on Indigenous peoples in what is now the United States are something that should remain unacknowledged, unchanged, and unchallenged.

Acknowledgements:

1. For those who haven’t read prior posts, the photos on the title page are of my mother before and after Indian boarding school.
2. I was inspired to write this reflection after a conversation I had with a dear friend yesterday. She asked me what my purpose for writing the book was and who the intended audience was. This is my first attempt to respond to those questions. I hope you will share your views.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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About Carol A. Hand

What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way. They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
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31 Responses to Reflections about Indian Child Welfare – July 15, 2015

  1. smilecalm says:

    Thanks for this personal reflection and perspective, Carol.
    Brings back sad images I have of being at
    boarding schools in Phoenix & Keams Canyon.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Gator Woman says:

    Dear Carol, please keep telling these extremely important stories…….
    The rest of the world needs to know and hear from those who suffered it.
    Lest they doubt, as with the Natzis, that it ever happened.
    Hope you saw my recent posting on the Radium Girls, which I wrote with Natives in Arizona in mind….

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Inhumane and traumatizing beyond a shadow of doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. desilef says:

    Carol, the personal stories and histories need to be told and preserved so they are known and never forgotten, but for a wider readership I wonder if maybe it would help to include some mention of present-day abuse. For example, the ACLU lawsuits in South Dakota show it’s still happening. https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/south-dakotas-gone-60-seconds-child-custody-hearings-are-no-more/ If it’s happening in one place, don’t we have to know it’s happening elsewhere? but my thought is that once you demonstrate in a few lines that the problem is ongoing, your stories then show the terrible impact on the children and families. For families being torn apart now, the longterm impact won’t be apparent yet. But you have histories to share. People need to recognize generational trauma but also that our society is still generating more of it. It is so beautiful that you have saved and collected so much heartbreaking and passionate material and are able to share it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and important suggestions, Diane. It is hard to know where to begin. The challenges are many – how to raise awareness and empathy without raising resistance through the perception that I am attributing blame – how to be honest and critique both dominant paradigms and Native acceptance of some of the practices and assumptions, again in ways that raise awareness but aren’t seen as arrogant ridicule. I changed focus in my research away from Indian child welfare a decade ago to avoid turf wars. As I read the news about current events, I am distressed about continuing conditions and the narrowness and simplicity of the media and spokespersons’ portrayals of the issues and potential alternatives to the current system. The absence of a reflective community by community voice about issues and preferred solutions is quite obvious. While the imposed oppressive policies, institutions, and practice paradigms are shared across tribes (and other devalued groups), solutions (from my perspective) need to be culture/community driven – specific to each unique history, culture, and socio-political context.

      Again, thank you. I will continue to reflect on your thoughtful suggestions as I keep working on the next pieces 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • desilef says:

        Don’t worry about turf wars! I think your book has exceptional power because it is YOUR story. The story of your family, your community, the story of your professional life. The reader follows the thread, the story of a humane, articulate, interesting person and along the way learns so much. The issues, policies, theories emerge organically through the personal narrative, I think. That’s exactly what you are doing and I think readers are less likely to react defensively when they read an account focused on “This is what happened to me and how I felt” rather than “This is what people like you did.” When you write about culture-driven solutions, you are being helpful, not accusatory. The struggles you had at work were about making things better, seeking positive outcomes. You are saying Let’s explore what works. So important, Carol! and you are the person best able to write this book!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Diane, I am deeply grateful for your encouragement and support. I have learned so much from you and the work you have shared on your blog. (And I’m still reflecting about The Confessions of a Carnivore. It was an engaging read that took me on a fascinating journey into new territories.)

          Liked by 1 person

  5. hsampson says:

    Wow Carol, there is no much I can tell you about this but this “introduction” got me hooked the way you use words is amazing: I really want to read this book when is ready. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Carol, These stories are so important! There are similar stories from throughout N. America, Australia, and New Zealand. So many stories of pain, and of hope and resistance. Please continue to share them all!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s a hook, Carol, three-pointed, sharp, and barbed.

    BTW, I’m not sure that voice we hear in our head telling us, advising us, warning us, is our own.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your encouraging comments, Peter.

      (BTW, it never occurred to me that the voice might not be mine. YIKES!! It predates Jade Helm, and it’s too consistently honest, ethical, constructive, grounded and humorous to be CIA mind control. If not mine, I hope it’s my ancestors…)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, that is more of what I had in mind… but now that you mention it…

        I read / seen / something a report once that went something like this:

        When you hear my voice, (or any sound for that matter) what you are hearing is not my voice for the sound only travels about a 1/4 inch into your ear where your ear drum transforms the sound vibrations into an electrical current that travels to your brain where the electrical impulse is interpreted. Knowing this, *they* can / do produce and target frequencies at individuals that have believing they hear voices, commands, or whatever.

        Just some food for thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Carol,
    Would your book become more powerful if you asked readers here for 4-5,000 word contributions? Obviously, your focus is Indian child welfare, but imagine similar writings about children around the Earth. Just a thought… Maybe the project after this one… 🙂
    Good luck,
    Jerry

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent start Carol.

    Re: “I leave it you as the reader to determine if the inhumane and traumatizing child welfare policies that were and are still imposed on Indigenous peoples in what is now the United States are something that should remain unacknowledged, unchanged, and unchallenged.”

    I really don’t think you need to take a neutral position on this – it’s a total abomination and has tragic implications for the health and well-being of Native Americans as adults – and not just those from the Objiwe nation. From a cost perspective, this systemic maltreatment costs the US medical system billions of dollars for chronic illnesses.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for such thoughtful comments, Stuart. I agree with your point about neutrality. These are such powerful, eloquent arguments about the human and economic costs.

      This is just a first draft. I’m not sure how this beginning will change in the process of editing and reediting. But I know the weight of the evidence that I plan to include. At this point, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone remaining neutral if they actually read what will follow. It’s always tricky to be seen as a serious credible scholar when writing about a topic that affects one personally. But I will certainly keep your suggestions in mind as I continue writing.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Carol, you’ve received a lot of good input. I’m a storyteller. I think creating a voice that tells the story from the beginning, could be you, could be your mother, could be a contemporary child. But, the more you can get us to see and feel what they all felt. I know it’s a big step from the research, scholarly writing you’re used to doing. But, if you choose to reach a wider, less scholarly audience, one or two characters who can emotionally and visually tell this history will be powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your excellent suggestions, Skywalker. I do have interviews from a number of very compelling storytellers that I plan to interweave within a historical and cultural context. And narrative observations and cultural contrasts.

      I should ass that I read your posts about your work on your newest books carefully. They reminded me of the daily discipline and focus needed to take this project to the next level. I’m grateful for that reminder and for your continuing encouragement and support.

      Like

  11. Equality 333 says:

    A great start I think. Very powerful and highlights the suppressive and destructive action forced onto innocent children. I look forward to more. As I belive Native Americans story had been suppressed for years and we can learn so much from their ways with nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Equality. It’s true that Native cultures have valuable wisdom and skills to teach, much of it relevant to sustainability in terms of both the natural and social environments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Equality 333 says:

        I have a feeling we will all need those skills soon. I hope to learn but a few! A lot of reading coming my way I think, if only there were more hours in the day 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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