I love my job, but returning after the Christmas break I find a mountain of inquires that have built up, each someone wanting to know how they can adopt. They are full of hope and motivated by a new year and a fresh start.
As wonderful as it is to know so many want to open their lives to an adopted child,
Oh, here we go again. If you have your own child, your life doesn’t have to be opened, your heart doesn’t have to be opened, and your home doesn’t have to be opened: they just ARE open. If…
In 2009 a Tennessee couple made a life-changing decision. As devout Christians, they decided to open their home to an orphaned girl from Ethiopia, whom they were told had been abandoned. They knew enough from fellow adoptive parents to expect that the process would be long and hard, but as they were waiting for their application to go through, something unexpected happened. A number of Ethiopian staff at their adoption agency were arrested for transporting children to a different region of the country where they could claim the children had been abandoned. (Following a glut of adoption cases where children were said to have been abandoned in the capital city of Addis Ababa, the court had temporarily stopped processing “abandonment adoptions” of children from the city, but were still allowing cases from elsewhere in the country.)
The stories about where the children came from—whether they were abandoned orphans whose parents were unknown, or their parents were poor and had willingly given them up—seemed to change from day to day. Concerned, but by now committed to the child they’d come to think of as their future daughter, the Tennessee family went ahead with the adoption. But, as I wrote in my book The Child Catchers, after they brought the girl back to the United States and she learned enough English to say so, she told them she had another mother. When they called the agency to demand an explanation, the child’s claim was confirmed: their newly adopted daughter was not an orphan.
On a personal level, the news was devastating. The family felt like they’d stolen someone’s child; wanting to find out the truth, they set off on a months-long, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to locate their daughter’s biological mother. But their story turned out to be just one of many: a single example of the numerous incidents of adoption corruption that, in the last several years, have helped changed the direction of a powerful adoption movement among U.S. evangelicals.
At the time of the Tennessee incident, adoption was a preeminent evangelical social cause in the United States. Beginning in the early 2000s, American evangelicals became one of the most powerful forces in international adoption, lining up devout believers to follow the biblical mandate that Christians care for “orphans and widows in their distress.” This call would become a movement that launched major conferences, spawned a small library of books on “adoption theology,” and changed the complexion of many conservative U.S. churches.
In 2007, national Christian leaders like celebrity pastor Rick Warren encouraged their followers to shift their focus from issues of “moral purity”—abortion, same-sex marriage, divorce—to something more positive: helping children in need. More than just “pro-life,” it would be a “whole life” response to the longstanding pro-choice challenge that Christians adopt all the children they wanted to be born. It would also be an extension of existing evangelical engagement with global development and health issues. Promoting adoption would help rebrand U.S. evangelicals, from moral scolds to children’s champions.
The premise of the movement was a particularly American response to global child poverty. It was based on the idea that the existence of somewhere between 143 and 210 million vulnerable children around the world—a number that also includes those who live with one parent or extended family, often in poor conditions—constituted an “orphan crisis,” but that there were also 2 billion Christians who could help. If just a fraction of those claiming to be Christians stepped up to adopt, the movement’s leaders argued, parentless and hungry children, as a category, would cease to exist. As one leader put it, the goal was to “get as many people in the church to adopt, and adopt as many kids as you can.”
Evangelicals responded in huge numbers. Churches began to create adoption ministries, praising and supporting adoptive parents and encouraging new families to adopt as well. Anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers redoubled their efforts to cast adoption as the pro-life alternative to abortion. Evangelical adoption funds popped up, giving grants or interest-free loans to couples hoping to adopt (particularly pastors, whose potential adoptions were viewed as a priority, since they could set the example for an entire congregation). In 2009, the Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest denomination in the United States, passed a resolution directing all members to consider whether God was calling on them to adopt. A coalition group, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, grew to encompass more than a hundred evangelical nonprofits and denominational groups united around “orphan care.” In 2010 Bethany Christian Services, the largest adoption agency in the country, reported a 26 percent jump in the number of adoptions, largely due to the mobilization of Christians newly interested in adopting.
The stories of how children were put up for adoption began to sound strangely similar, as though there was a global epidemic of children left, Moses-like, in baskets.
The same year, when Haiti was rocked by a devastating 7.0-level earthquake, the Christian adoption movement became a full-blown cause. The movement threw its weight behind efforts to expedite U.S. visas for unaccompanied Haitian children, so they could leave their country and enter waiting U.S. homes. So many prospective adoptive families inquired about Haitian “earthquake orphans” that Bethany Christian Services began diverting applicants to other countries like Ethiopia, which were then undergoing “adoption booms,” thanks to a combination of poverty and lax laws. (The crisis and subsequent response also gave birth to the most notable scandal in the young Christian adoption movement, when a group of Idaho Baptists traveled to Haiti to gather “orphans” off the streets, with the intention of bringing them to an as-yet-unbuilt adoption center in the Dominican Republic. None of the children, it would turn out, were orphans.)
But, just as in Haiti, many of the children being adopted from places like Ethiopia weren’t orphans either. As journalist E.J. Graff has extensively documented, the numbers cited for the orphan crisis are a significant misrepresentation of UNICEF estimates of vulnerable children. Although UNICEF representatives say that no accurate number exists for “true” orphans—that is, children with no parents and in need of a new home—the organization estimates that some 90 percent of so-called orphans have lost only one parent, and many of the remaining 10 percent live with extended family. What that means is that many children who live in orphanages in the developing world (often because of poverty or because their parents have no one to care for them while they work), as well as many children sent abroad for adoption, aren’t real orphans at all. And the crisis at hand isn’t so much an orphan crisis as a crisis of poverty, food insecurity, conflict, and a host of other, less sensational development issues that have rendered children especially vulnerable.
But in the Christian adoption movement’s rush to do good, those complexities were forgotten, along with the children’s families. The movement began to refer to adoption as a means of “redeeming orphans”—saving them just as Christians are redeemed when they are born again—and their families became either forgotten footnotes or ugly caricatures. Adoption agencies, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that referred mothers to these agencies, and Christian ministries often cast domestic “birth mothers” as either selfless martyrs or hopeless, promiscuous addicts—bad influences from whom children must be saved. In international adoptions, birth parents were more likely to be erased altogether, as adoption agencies sometimes wrongly claimed that they were dead or dying. Members of the Christian adoption community sometimes spoke of the children in developing nations as an indistinguishable mass, wherein any child of an impoverished parent was viewed as the equivalent of an “orphan” and was labeled as such. The stories of how children were put up for adoption began to sound strangely similar, as though there was a global epidemic of children left, Moses-like, in baskets by police stations, dumpsters, or fields.
The reality, of course, was more complicated. Many children were relinquished for adoption because of poverty alone. Some families who gave up their children for adoption later explained that they’d thought the child would return when they were older or that the adoptive family was becoming a sponsor of the birth family back home, and would help them transcend their circumstances. On rarer occasions, there were stories of how babies were simply bought or kidnapped.
Ethical problems in adoption didn’t start with this modern Christian movement. In the early days of U.S. domestic adoption, from 1854 to 1929, some 100,000–250,000 East Coast children were taken by workers at the Children’s Aid Society, an early child welfare organization. Children were taken from inner city slums, put on “orphan trains,” and shipped West to be adopted. Sometimes the adoptions took place as one might hope—a child legitimately welcomed into another family—and sometimes they were closer to a form of indentured servitude for the still-settling West. (Almost all followed the rationale of the orphan-train movement’s founding father, Charles Loring Brace. A nineteenth-century progressive social reformer who founded the Children’s Aid Society with support from philanthropists and businessmen, Brace argued that allowing children to grow up in their overcrowded Irish and Italian New York City homes would foster the development of a “dangerous class” of criminals, “growing up almost sure to be prostitutes and rogues!”)
Domestic adoption took on new life from the 1950s to the 1970s. This period saw the spread of maternity homes where millions of unwed pregnant women were sent to live in confinement and deliver their babies in secret—what many of these mothers now call the “Baby Scoop Era”—before relinquishing them to infertile couples. International adoptions gained popularity around the same time, effectively starting in South Korea. Biracial, “mail-order” Korean infants were removed to the United States by the thousands, sometimes to poorly vetted homes that were unprepared to parent children from another culture. (Many of the earliest international adoptive parents were conservative Christians who shared the beliefs of Harry and Bertha Holt, the Oregon couple who pioneered Korean adoptions and whose ad hoc adoption program became the basis for the longest-standing international adoption agency in the world, Holt International Children’s Services.) As domestic adoption declined after the legalization of abortion and the increased acceptance of single motherhood, international adoption expanded dramatically to a wide range of countries. A pattern began to play out in country after country: initial demand followed by an influx of corrupting Western cash and an endgame of coercion, fraud, and often, eventual closure or suspension of the country’s adoption program.
Although American adoption law is complicated and domestic regulations vary from state to state, much of the legal framework for adoption developed over the last fifty years has been tailored to the interests of adoptive parents. This is unsurprising, since those who adopt tend to be more powerful and richer than birth parents. Additionally, a system of tax incentives that subsidize individual adoptions, short windows for birth parents to revoke their consent, and sealed birth certificates that prevent adoptees from learning their biological history reinforce this divide in favor of the adoptive parents.
When the Christian adoption movement was at its strongest in the late 2000s and early 2010s, many of its excesses looked like a condensed version of earlier problems with adoption. As Christian adoptive parents lined up to help, paying $30,000–$40,000 per internationally adopted child (in fees that are divided among agency payments, travel, and orphanage donations), their demand helped create new adoption markets. This was particularly true in African nations, where the combination of poverty, opportunism, and cultural misunderstanding of the meaning of adoption—often construed as temporary guardianship rather than permanent relinquishment of a child—led to children repeatedly being offered, or in some cases taken, for adoption based on mistaken beliefs or outright profiteering. (In an infamous 2009 example documented by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a staff member for an American evangelical adoption agency was filmed leading what appeared to be a mass adoption recruitment effort, asking the assembled residents of a rural Ethiopian village whether they wanted their child “to go to America.”)
The movement built to such a pitch that even those within the evangelical community began to complain about miscarriages of scripture. “I have never understood some people’s interpretation of the scripture James 1:27, where it says, ‘Visit orphans and widows in their distress,’” said Keren Riley, a child welfare advocate and devout Christian who works in Uganda. “By some people’s actions involved in international adoption you would think it said, ‘Visit widows, take their orphans and leave them both in distress.’”
Around 2010, a new set of problems began to emerge. There was the proliferation of stories like that of the Tennessee family, where children said to be orphans turned out to have living family, who, in some cases, expected their return. In the United States, some adoptive families, caught up in the movement’s mission-based call to adopt “as many children as you can,” did so, ending up with super-sized families with sometimes tragic results. Some adoptive children were abused or even killed at the hands of their adoptive parents, like thirteen-year-old Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams, whose case I documented in 2013. A shocking number of stories emerged of children who had been sent away from their “forever families,” either to new, un-vetted adoptive homes, back to their countries of origin, or just cast out on the streets. [rehoming]
To David Smolin, a law professor at Cumberland School of Law, as well as a longtime Christian advocate for ethical adoption reform, these adoption horror stories collectively amounted to a tidal wave of bad publicity. The Christian adoption movement had expected good press and a secular pat on the back for having put their money where their mouth was. The response they received instead came as a shock.
But if the movement grew rapidly, so did its recognition of the systemic problems plaguing adoption. A number of critics emerged, often Christian adoptive families who had come to rethink the community’s unquestioning focus on adoption as a solution to broader issues of poverty and instability, and who challenged leaders to pay attention to their experiences. One couple, Caleb and Becca David, who adopted two Ethiopian children and ran short-term missionary trips for Christians to work with children in the country, told me that, as incredible as adoption was, “we’d be naïve to think that was the only answer… We feel like our eyes are being opened about the importance of holistic orphan care. Because ultimately, it’s not about us having our child.”
Additionally, generations of adoptees came of age and began to organize—starting organizations like Land of Gazillion Adoptees and Lost Daughters—where they discussed their own stories in ways that few adoption advocates could ignore. Other adoptee organizations in South Korea and Ethiopia began to work directly with poor or single parents, to help them avoid losing children to adoption. As these stories have begun to be heard in the last several years, the Christian adoption movement has undergone a sea change. A number of its most prominent advocates, including the leadership of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, have begun to focus on the forgotten half of the “widows and orphans” mandate—the existing families of those orphans.
There’s a practical reason for this shift as well. International adoption as a whole has contracted drastically, with the number of children entering the United States falling by two-thirds since the peak of international adoptions in 2004. Numerous nations slowed or shut down their adoption programs for a variety of reasons. China’s economic development, for example, led to increased domestic demand for adoptable children. Russia stopped sending its orphaned children to the United States for complicated political reasons. Still others, like Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia, reduced or stopped adoptions completely following corruption scandals involving children wrongly sent abroad.
As a result, scores of adoption agencies have gone out of business, and this summer, one of the most stalwart international adoption lobby organizations, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, closed shop as well. A 2013 bill drafted by adoption advocacy organizations and initially supported by Christian adoption leaders was designed to dramatically increase international adoptions—what many saw as a last-ditch effort to revive the failing industry—but it gained little support and ultimately failed. On the whole, says Smolin, the infrastructure for international adoption is crumbling. The boom of previous years has begun to look like just that: an unnatural increase that was never sustainable.
Part of the Christian adoption movement’s change in direction, notes Smolin, is simply a reflection of this new reality: it’s hard to continue forcefully advocating for international adoption when the supply has declined so much. “It’s not that [the Christian adoption movement has] admitted being wrong about international adoption,” he told me, “but they just don’t talk about it that much anymore.”
However, Smolin also sees a change of heart among Christian adoption advocates. Starting in 2014, the flagship coalition of the movement, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, began to back away from promoting international adoption at its annual conferences. Movement leaders invited Smolin to speak at their annual conferences as a critical voice from within, and the audience seemed increasingly sympathetic to his concerns. To Smolin, it seems like the movement has at last caught up with modern, secular discourse about child welfare: rather than make a messianic call for white U.S. evangelicals to save “Third World children,” the church has been wading into the thorny, technocratic issues that dominate international child policy debates. Today, he said, it is common at annual conferences to discuss whether orphanages are ever appropriate shelters for children, and how to support domestic fostering initiatives in developing nations. “It’s not the same movement that it was,” said Smolin.
Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, agrees that there’s been a significant shift in the movement’s emphasis. “I’d note a steady ‘maturing’ in understanding and priorities overall. I think there’s still a recognition that there are many children that do very much need families today (both in the U.S. foster context and globally), but also a counter-balancing desire to do all possible to preserve and reunify struggling families and to promote local adoption in developing countries.”
Some Christian adoptive parents who might once have been drawn to the movement have instead led the way in creating small, local organizations in developing nations designed to help broker local adoptions or foster care initiatives, removing the profit motive from the question of child stability. In Ethiopia, for example, one such group has worked to establish daycare centers for the children of working mothers, so that a woman isn’t forced to place a child in an orphanage in order to provide for the rest of her family.
Reunite has to date helped place thirty-five children back with their Ugandan parents or other relatives.
In Uganda, a nonprofit run by Keren Riley, Reunite, helps support and resettle children wrongly placed in orphanages or offered for international adoption with their biological families (often after prospective adoptive families begin to suspect something is wrong and contact Reunite to investigate). Though a small organization funded primarily by donations, Reunite has to date helped place thirty-five children back with their Ugandan parents or other relatives.
These attempts are still small, and don’t yet have the same momentum or finances that the massive effort to promote adoption once did. But on an ideological level, it amounts to a major shift in thinking. Over the course of a few short years, the Christian adoption movement grew to reenact some of the most significant and troubling problems within the adoption industry: its propensity to disregard or demonize birth families, to minimize the significance of adopted children’s heritage, and to participate in a system that too often needlessly separates families for profit. But many of these advocates have begun to recognize those problems and are now trying to make them right. And larger organizations like Lumos, a nonprofit founded by author J.K. Rowling to combat unnecessary institutionalization of children in orphanages, have bolstered the call.
The changes in the U.S. movement haven’t completely solved the problems in adoption. Riley said the pace of adoptions in Uganda hasn’t changed, and most of the adoptive parents she meets are still U.S. Christians. And, as I’ve reported elsewhere, some of the old problems of international adoption have been replicated among vulnerable immigrant communities within the United States. Additionally, for the many thousands of children adopted during the height of the American international adoption boom—whether secular or religious—the decades ahead are likely to bring more questions, and possibly years of searching for the families they left behind.
On Friday, February 5th, in unison with the International Days of Solidarity with Leonard Peltier, on the 40th anniversary of his imprisonment for his role as an American Indian Movement organizer in the aftermath of the occupation of Wounded Knee, I plan to hold a dawn to dark vigil at Peskeomskut Park on Avenue A in Turner Falls, MA. I am inviting friends to join me for any part of that vigil, or to contact Obama to free Peltier – – America’s Nelson Mandela.
It’s hard to find words when you examine adoption as an industry. First you think (and you’d be right) that adoption was meant for war orphaned children. Orphans, of course, had no living parent, grandparent or other close relatives. With all the war, conflicts and climate refugees in the world right now, indeed some events do kill both parents, leaving children orphaned, like in Syria. One solution, the SOS Village, was created in Austria in 1949 for this very reason. (HISTORY) That is why SOS Villages were created internationally to house and home the children who are then raised by one dedicated stay-at-home mother and the village school would educate the orphan – again, these children are war orphans with no living parents. (Top Photo) The village (with more than one house dedicated to these orphan children) is a necessary form of care. (These children retain their names and cultural identity, of course…)
Approximately 63,000 children and young people live in 518 SOS Children’s Villages and 392 SOS Youth Facilities around the world. (2015)
There is another dark age of adoption to consider. That is when organized religion stepped in and created a profitable industry of peddling babies and the children of unwed mothers to infertile adoptive parents who were practicing the same religion. I wonder if these religions found the need, or were creating the need, or worse, making judgment on unwed women – intending to create a brand new adoption industry, a baby market called adoption, aka child trafficking (and for handsome profit.)
A child is not an orphan if they have living parents, right? Not exactly. The orphanage industry (like in Haiti and Samoa) became a cesspool of human trafficking. Even in the US today, child protective services could be transferred to this type of SOS Village program to serve the needs of children without a parent.
In 1993, the organisation opened the country’s first two SOS Children’s Villages in Broward County, Florida and in Lockport, Illinois. In 2004, a third SOS Children’s Village went into operation on the South Side of Chicago, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the area. SOS Children’s Villages is an independent, non-governmental, social development organisation that provides family-based care for children in 134 countries and territories and that advocates the concerns, rights and needs of children. More than 140,000 children and young people attend SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools, SOS Kindergartens and SOS Vocational Training Centres.
Veronica Smith, calm and charming, exudes a quiet capability perhaps forged by a lifetime in nursing. She lives in a house on the south coast with panoramic views. The sitting room is full of photographs of laughing children. Veronica, now 72, married for the first time in her 60s. Roger, her husband, was a divorcee with three grown-up children and now several grandchildren. “On the first night we went out, I told Roger the truth,” Veronica says.
The truth, the secret Veronica had kept for years, is that far from being childless, in 1964, in her 20s, she had given birth to a daughter, Catherine. What happened after the birth has fuelled an anger in her that refuses to be dampened. “I, and thousands of women like me, were coerced into giving up our children,” she says. “I was a perfectly healthy, capable adult. I’m still angry my child was taken away.” The social, economic and religious pressures that existed at the time are easily forgotten now that the stigma of illegitimacy has been erased and sex without a wedding ring is the norm.
Veronica was a nurse in Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Bognor Regis in 1964, and going out with Sam, when she became pregnant. “There was no abortion. The doctor suggested gins, a hot bath and a douche, ” she says. “I wrote to my sister and she said, ‘Mummy and I are coming to see you.’ My mother was very religious and my father was a lieutenant colonel. She said it would kill him, so he never knew. I was sent to the Catholic Crusade of Rescue. I was a trained nurse, how could I not think for myself? But I was brought up to be an obedient Catholic. It destroyed my relationship with Sam.” She was sent to a Catholic hostel in Brixton, south London. “It was the so-called Swinging Sixties, yet we were made to scrub the floors as penance for our sins. I held my daughter for a week. And then she was gone.”
Earlier this month, Veronica was one of a small and unlikely group of doughty women, in their 60s and 70s, dressed in varying shades of red, carrying placards, who demonstrated outside the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, London. For many, it was their first taste of public protest. The women are members of MAA, the Movement for an Adoption Apology. Set up in 2010, it is an offshoot of the Natural Parents Network that offers support to people affected by adoption. What prompted MAA’s launch was the decision by the state of Western Australia to issue an official apology for forced adoptions that took place several decades ago.
Other states followed, culminating, in March this year, in the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, announcing a substantial support fund and a national mea culpa. “We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamentals rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children,” she said in front of 800 people affected by forced adoptions. “You were not legally or socially acknowledged as mothers and you yourselves were deprived of care. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and, in many cases, illegal.”
The members of MAA argue that adoptions during the same period in the UK were similarly highly flawed. They seek a public apology from the British government for women who were also “coerced, cajoled and conned” into giving up their babies. Earlier this year, an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons for a UK apology attracted 88 signatures, but progress has been slow. Perhaps this is because it’s a challenge now to fathom the ferocity of punitive disapproval for a girl who “got herself into trouble”.
The MAA supporters are hoping the lack of understanding may be countered by the film Philomena, starring Judi Dench, about the forced adoption of a three-year-old boy, Anthony, in postwar Ireland. Hence MAA’s presence at the screening in Leicester Square.
The film, co-written by and co-starring Steve Coogan, tells the true tale of Philomena Lee’s 50-year search for her son Anthony – a hunt helped by the journalist Martin Sixsmith. Philomena had been “put away” in a County Tipperary convent as a teenager, pregnant and deemed a “fallen woman”. She worked without pay in the laundry, seeing Anthony for an hour a day until he was given to an American couple from Missouri in return for a “donation”. Mother and son repeatedly returned to the convent for information about each other, but the nuns kept silent. Anthony – now Michael – finally left his mother the only clue he could, his tombstone in the convent’s graveyard. The film, Steve Coogan has said, “is about tolerance and understanding”.
When I first met Veronica and other MAA supporters, several months ago, it transpired that it was action not tolerance that they seek. Initially, it’s hard to see how a government apology is appropriate when their stories are of such profound personal loss. In the 1950s and 1960s, an estimated half a million women became unmarried mothers. Their experiences are a television staple. The drama of lives lived in reverse has a powerful hold, beginning with the mourning for the loss of a child and ending – at least on the TV screen – in celebration at the birth of a new relationship.
However, as I met the women of MAA, they revealed the extent of the stain of secrecy and internalised shame. For some, there were also the complexities of reunions; the negative emotions unexpectedly triggered as deep-frozen memories thawed; the impact of families reshaped and the joy but also the fresh wounds that sometimes prove impossible to heal.
Helen Jeffreys became pregnant at 17 in 1965, in Harrogate. She gave birth to her son in Leeds. “I was 18 and a perfectly competent mother. I wanted to keep him,” Helen, now 65 and a counsellor, says. “My social worker refused to offer any help other than to facilitate adoption. When Adam was two months old I had to leave the mother-and-baby home. I was told that if I had nowhere to go he must be placed for adoption. When I signed the papers not one official asked me if this is what I wanted.”
Adoption then meant a complete break. Helen believed she would never see her son again. Only much later, in 1975, did it become possible for adopted children, at 18, to request their birth certificate. Adam’s birth was also long before legislation that would have given him and his mother a home; the benefits system was limited and the voluntary organisations which offered help did so in the language of sin and moral welfare. Other influences were in play, too, that shaped the ” free choice” of unmarried mothers to give up their babies “for their own good”.
Half a Million Women, an analysis published by the Post-Adoption Centre in 1992, illustrates how unmarried mothers were seen not as victims of bad luck but often pathologised as “emotionally disturbed” and a “discredited person”. (The men, at worst, had to endure shotgun marriages.)
Paradoxically, the woman who gave her baby up for adoption was judged mentally healthy and emotionally stable; those who fought to keep their child were classed as immature and unfit to be a mother. This was a cruel twist as the lack of practical and emotional support might eventually drive a woman to the edge. Add to that the then much stronger influence of religion and the role of society in coercion becomes more of a reality.
“Anna”, a MAA member now aged 75, came from an affluent Catholic family. Training as a nursery nurse, she became pregnant at the age of 21 in 1959, as the result of a rape. Her parents would only consider adoption. “The baby was mixed race so I knew she would be hard to adopt,” Anna says. “For three months I visited her at the foster home. I don’t know why I gave her away. I still can’t answer that question. It makes me ashamed. On the appointed day, I told my daughter, ‘I’m going to find you one day.’ That was my goodbye. I hate the church for what it made me do and how it’s made me feel. It’s hard to disentangle your own identity from the idea that you are somehow ‘unfit’.”
In 1968, the peak year for adoptions, 16,164 children went through the system, three out of four under the age of one. By 1984, the colloquial term “bastards” had been banished. Official documents referred to “births outside marriage”; contraception and abortion were available, the social mores were changing dramatically. The number of adoptions in 1984 had fallen to 4,189, only 43% of whom were babies. But the cost to many of the unwed mothers of the 50s and 60s proved high.
“I lost my son for 29 years and it had a huge effect on me,” Helen Jeffreys says. “I went through a period when I drank, I took drugs. I have underperformed for my entire life. I am no good at relationships. On the day Adam was adopted, right until the last minute, I was hoping for a reprieve, for clemency. It was like a death sentence.”
Jean Robertson-Molloy, 77, is a retired social worker. She is open and effervescent, a founder member of MAA who is also active in the Green Party. Her life has also been moulded by that one decision. “My story,” she says wryly, talking at her home in north London, “is a very downbeat Mamma Mia.” In 1963, aged 24, she travelled to New Zealand, and in a short space of time she had had sexual encounters with three men. The first was Keith, who raped her. The other two, Andy and Don, were consensual partners. “Don and I drove up the west coast in his little Fiat,” she says. “We had a tent and camped for four or five days. I enjoyed it. He was a lovely man.”
Soon, Jean realised she was pregnant. She arranged to have her baby adopted in Australia, telling her parents that she was sightseeing. “Later, when my mother learned the truth,” Jean says, “she was in tears. She said they would have helped me to keep her if they’d known. I never held my daughter,” Jean adds, eyes brimming. “I was so afraid to hold her in case I had maternal feelings. Of the three men, I chose the one I liked least, Keith, as the probable father. Ever since, it’s almost as if I want people to accept the worst things about me. Years later, when I did find my daughter, I realised that the lovely guy, Don, had to be her dad.”
Jean married in 1970. Her husband was 10 years younger. When their children, Johnny and Caroline, were four and five, “he waltzed off so I ended up a single parent anyway”. Twenty years, later, in 1991, Jean traced her daughter, Amanda, who had been raised by an affluent Australian family. “I pretended I was travelling around Australia and asked if I could see her. I think I overwhelmed her. She said we could meet for three hours.” Amanda was happily married to an architect and had three daughters. “She was very ambivalent,” Jean says. “Worse than anger is anger you don’t express. We never talked about our feelings.”
For years, contact consisted of two or three letters a year. Then, in 2010, Amanda saw a newspaper photograph of Jean in the Green Party. “She said she felt a twinge of connection.” Amanda came to London and stayed with her birth mother for two weeks. “I said all the wrong things,” Jean says tearfully. “I was trying to cram in 40 years of advice. I asked her, ‘Why do you always wear black?’ I didn’t mean it critically.” For the last few days of her visit, Amanda moved into a hotel. “She said, ‘We are two very different people.’ Back in Australia, Amanda told Jean that she didn’t want to have any further contact.
Jean hasn’t heard from her daughter since. “The apology isn’t so much for me,” she says, “but for the many women, still silent. It might make the unspeakable speakable.”
Veronica is one who kept her secret until she had a breakdown in 1989. “All the grief that I had locked away came tumbling out.” Aged 58, she then began to look for her daughter. Catherine was eventually found, aged 24. “She didn’t want to know me,” Veronica says. “I was devastated.” She had to wait another 10 years before Catherine resumed contact, prompted by the arrival of her own child. “Catherine’s adopted mother died recently and we’ve become closer,” Veronica says. “Feelings are bound to be complicated if your child has been rejected. I just want her to be happy.”
Linda Jones, 63, like Philomena, raised her daughter, Carly, until she was three. Then, Linda’s mother arranged an adoption. “My mother was respectable and found the idea I wasn’t married difficult. I was finding it hard to cope,” says Linda. She subsequently married and had a second daughter. Now divorced, it was her younger daughter, aged 29, who traced Carly, 34, through Facebook. “The sisters are in touch, but I have a very strange relationship with my older child,” says Linda. “It’s a lifetime of grief and yearning because she belongs to someone else. Then, when you meet, you realise you will always be half a mother.”
Helen Jeffreys found her son in 1995. Adam, now called David, was 29. Helen, who had married, divorced and had a second son, says: “I had a feeling David needed to be found. Doors opened as if it was meant to happen.” He had been an only child. His adopted mother had died when he was 12, and his adopted father at 18. “He is part of my extended family now,” Helen says. “He gets on really well with my father, which is ironic. My dad said, ‘Why was he adopted? But he was the one who told me to leave the house.
“When I met David it was as if he was an old friend. We went to music gigs and drank a lot of real ale. He was a bit lost. We talked and talked.” Helen is a Buddhist and now David is, too. However, Helen’s second son no longer speaks to her, although he is friends with David on Facebook. “He said he felt displaced. He told me, ‘I look at this bloke. I can see he’s my brother, but he’s a complete stranger. It does my head in.'”
“It’s not always been easy with Helen,” says David, who is now 47 and has been happily married to a younger friend of his mother’s for 13 years. “But I am glad I know her. I don’t feel resentment. My mother says hardly a day went by when she didn’t wonder what had happened to me. She never wanted to do it. That’s a big burden for any mother to carry.”
Many who gave up their children for adoption in the 50s and 60s did so willingly and without regret. For others, MAA insists, a government apology, backed by funding to help those women who have silently fallen apart over the years, is vital. It is unlikely to happen under a coalition government, but MAA has more faith should Labour win power. A public acknowledgement might appear a superficial gesture to younger generations, but for the redoubtable Jean and Veronica and friends, it offers atonement, and that is beyond price.
For information on MAA, email MAANPN@gmail.com. The film Philomena was released internationally.
[I have suggested that tribes adopt this type of village in South Dakota where social workers still remove children at alarming rates, despite the federal law called the Indian Child Welfare Act… Solving and ending tribal poverty in 2016 and beyond could change everything for children… Lara Trace]
In 2008, on a dig in the First Nation’s Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, archaeologists made a small but stunning discovery: a tiny clay pot.
Though it might not have seemed very impressive at first glimpse, this little piece of pottery was determined to be about 800 years old.
And inside that pot? Something that changes how we’re looking at extinction, preservation, and food storage, as well as how humans have influenced the planet in their time on it.
It’s amazing to think that a little clay pot buried in the ground 800 years ago would still be relevant today, but it’s true! It’s actually brought an extinct species of squash that was presumed to be lost forever. Thank our Indigenous Ancestors! Even they knew what preservation meant. They knew the importance of the future, Is it not amazing that they are affecting our walks of life even to this day?
Here it is! The pot was unearthed on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, where it had laid buried for the past 800 years.
Inside, archaeologists found a stash of seeds. The seeds were probably buried in the pot as a method of storing food supplies. They were determined to be an old, now-extinct species of squash.
Now, seven years after making this stunning discovery, students in Winnipeg decided to plant the 800-year-old seeds… To everyone’s amazement, something grew!
The squash was named Gete-okosomin. It means “Big Old Squash” in the Menominee language. (Respect to the Science people for respecting the Indigenous people who’s land this was found on, We See Your Good Nature!)
Now, they’re working to cultivate the squash so that it doesn’t go extinct ..again.
It may be just a humble squash, but it’s also a symbol of First Nations’ community and history, as well as a fascinating look into how amazing plants can be.
It just goes to show you that plants can be pretty incredible.. and that sometimes, history has a funny way of coming back around. The Wheel of Life really stands out in this instance of history. Our Indigenous roots are strong and very much tied to the land. I was taught once that the people of Turtle Island were keepers of the land, not owners. I feel like this Squash is proof of that teaching.
If you love history, science, or you’re just curious about what this would taste like in soup, please SHARE!
David Groulx is a poet of Indigenous and French-Canadian heritage who was raised in Elliot Lake, Ontario in Canada. His recent book of poetry, Wabigoon River Poems, has Canada’s Indigenous experience at its core, but places this history into a global context. A single poem can leap from Algeria to Vietnam, always within the context of a post-colonial viewpoint. The name of the book comes from the Wabigoon River near Kenora, Ontario, which suffered mercury pollution from a pulp and paper plant, with tragic results for local peoples.
The final poem in the first section is a meditation on a picture of the poet’s mother taken at the “St. Joseph Residential School for Girls.” In Canada, perhaps 150,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their families and placed in Church-run and government-financed schools, which were designed to assimilate them into Euro-Canadian culture. They failed, but caused immense suffering. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has sought to document this history, and has issued recommendations to address this legacy. Still it remains to be seen whether these findings will be truly embraced by the federal government, educational institutions, churches, and average Canadians. Although Canada is a developed country with a progressive reputation, the nation has always had a curious blind-spot regarding its own history of colonialism, as though colonialism was a European sin eradicated with Confederation.
Groulx undermines nationalist mythologies within Canada, as in his poem “They’re Not Looking for the Franklin Expedition.” The Franklin Expedition set out from Victorian England in 1845 to search for the Northwest Passage, only to disappear with all hands. As Margaret Atwood discussed in her book, Strange Things, the expedition has become a trope in Canadian literature. Last year one of the two ships from the expedition was found in the Victoria Strait, upright and remarkably preserved. While fascinating in its own right, the focus on this expedition also has served at times as a foundational narrative, in which Arctic history begins with the British explorations. This approach elides the Indigenous history of millennia in the region. It is this perspective that Rudy Wiebe sought to challenge in his novel, A Discovery of Strangers, which tells the story of Franklin’s earlier expedition of 1819 to 1821. His novel wove an Indigenous point of view throughout a familiar narrative. In his poem on the Franklin Expedition, Groulx similarly shifts perspective to Indigenous women and the painful legacies of colonialism.
Groulx works also locates the experience of Canada’s Indigenous peoples with a global context. Groulx’s poetry has a special focus on the epistemologies that justified conquest, whether they focused on race, law or economics. The book’s second poem is titled “Hobbesian notions.” The work also deals with the environmental damage caused by economic philosophies, as in the poem “Global Warming,” which has the striking image of fish howling. Groulx’s work is particularly caustic towards Christianity, as part of the intellectual armature of conquest and dispossession. This attitude comes through in poems such as “I Have Given You God,” “Blind Mind’s Eye,” “God Scab” and “Coyote Cosmos,” with its reference to the Jesuits. This perspective is unsurprising given the legacy of the residential schools in Canada, which is a key theme in Canadian Indigenous literature, such as the work of Tomson Highway. In lesser hands, the discussion of Western thinkers might have come across as precious, and the rage as a screed. Groulx balances the tension between the intellectual and the emotional to create a narrative thrust that runs through his poems, which read as a global tour of colonialism and its legacies. This poetry has a coiled power and beautiful imagery.
The second section of the book is a study in erudition. Many of the names have footnotes, which was helpful when rereading the poems for a second time. I had never heard of the Gracci brothers, who advocated for land reform in Ancient Rome. I teach about Hayek’s life and work in my “Foundations of Global Studies” class, but did not know that his work had influenced the dictatorial regime of Chile’s Pinochet, even though my first book was on military terror in Brazil. Groulx leaps from references as diverse as Auschwitz to Rousseau, in poems such as “I Wretched Red.” The depth of his knowledge is impressive, and this work is an intellectual treat.
A little over a year ago I attended a Global Studies conference in York, England. The keynote address was on the African art of the Atlantic diaspora, and it was brilliant. At the time, I thought about how unlikely it would be to have such an address at the International Studies Association. In the United States we pay homage to the role of the Humanities in International and Global Studies, but the presence of the Humanities in conference programs is limited. Groulx’s work shows why the Humanities should be central to these programs. His poems allow one to view the world through a post-colonial prism, which challenges the epistemology of Western Civilization in a way that is fascinating, beautiful and horrifying. The work would be a good supplementary text for Global Studies courses that address the post-colonial experience. We need more such works in Global Studies syllabi. Of course the classic works and social science studies still stand. Everyone should graduate from an International and Global Studies program having read Kwame Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism and Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Groulx’s erudite and frightening collection of poems will similarly challenge students, and give them food for thought long after the course. They are also simply beautiful to read.
The windigo is a cannibal spirit prevalent in the traditional narratives of the Algonquian peoples of North America. From Labrador in the north to Virginia in the south, and from Nova Scotia in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west, this phenomenon has been discussed, feared, and interpreted in different ways for centuries. Dangerous Spirits tells the story of how belief in the windigo clashed with the new world order that came about after European contact.
Dismissing the belief as superstitious, many early explorers, traders, and missionaries failed to understand the complexity and power of the windigo—both as a symbol and as a threat to the physical safety of a community. Yet, judging by the volume of journal entries, police records, court transcripts, and other written documents about windigo cases witnessed recounted by Euro-Canadians over three centuries, it was a matter that perplexed outsiders greatly. Drawing primarily on these written documents, historian Shawn Smallman does not seek a logical explanation for what was believed to be a supernatural phenomenon. Rather, he asks how windigo narratives reflected the societies in which they were told and how the arrival of colonial authorities changed these narratives. How did the outsiders who heard these stories understand them, and how did they use the windigo to further their own political, economic, and religious goals? In a contemporary context, why have ethnic groups outside the Algonquian world appropriated the symbol of the windigo, and how have First Nations artists and writers reclaimed it? In an age where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are demanding truth and seeking reconciliation, Dangerous Spirits is a revealing glimpse into cross-cultural (mis)communication and the social and spiritual impact of colonialism.
Shawn Smallman is a professor of International Studies at Portland State University. He received his PhD in history from Yale University and is the author of three critically acclaimed academic books, Fear and Memory in the Brazilian Army and Society, The AIDS Pandemic in Latin America, and (with Kim Brown) An Introduction to International and Global Studies.
A model wears a Lloyd Kiva New dress from the exhibit. Photo: Kelly Capelli/Peabody Essex Museum
The Reclaiming of Native American Fashion
A new generation of designers gains visibility in an industry that’s misappropriated its culture for decades
Science is moving at a breakneck speed — the idea of genetic engineering is something we saw coming a long time ago (notably in science fiction); yes, (regrettably) YES it may already be too late… It seems (Aryan) supremacist-types are still working behind the scenes, with control of science… creating (in their demented mind) a perfect baby…
NO, no one should engineer or modify a baby.
In my mind this is a new form of violence and racism. A violence against the “other” who are still dominated in every way, shape and form… now by science, or rather the mad scientist. Nothing good can come from this…
In April 2015, researchers from Sun Yat-sen University in China reported they had used gene editing techniques to alter human embryos for the first time in history. READ
“Germ line” is biologists’ jargon for the egg and sperm, which combine to form an embryo. By editing the DNA of these cells or the embryo itself, it could be possible to correct disease genes and pass those genetic fixes on to future generations.
The Center for Genetics and Society also released an open letter, signed by more than 130 advocates and scholars, calling for a ban on heritable genetic modification of human beings.
“Genetic modification of children was recently the stuff of science fiction,” said lead author Pete Shanks, consulting researcher with the Center for Genetics and Society and author of Human Genetic Engineering: A Guide for Activists, Skeptics, and the Very Perplexed.“But now, with new technology, the fantasy could become reality. Once the process begins, there will be no going back. This is a line we must not cross.”
“It is critical to not breach our scientific and moral integrity in the face of these rapid developments. Historically, research projects thought of as exciting research with no consideration for ethical or moral implications, were in fact egregious mistakes with unintended harmful consequences,” said Milton Reynolds, board chair of Literacy for Environmental Justice. “Only after the harm had been committed — witness the Tuskegee experiments on African American men, and syphilis experiments on Guatemalans — was it clear to those researchers that scientific and moral integrity had been breached resulting in tragic consequences.”
We wouldn’t need to make a perfect baby or super-human if someone out there wasn’t afraid. Fear is a strong motivation for the 1%. Infertility is a crisis, an epidemic in certain places.
Some societies (including numerous tribes in North America) view dis-ease differently, in spiritual-terms, and treat ill-ness holistically with great success, even with cures. Some illness is spiritual and not physical. There are actual cures around the world that do work – but if someone can’t make money on that cure, we never hear about them (as in Big Pharma squelching them.) For example, there are 300+ cures for cancer. A friend in Austria was cured of colon cancer.
As you read on this blog, the “other” (non-white minorities) have already been studied and their DNA collected. Will the “other” be deleted out of existence in a test tube by mad science? Or did they want and take certain things from the “Other” DNA?
What would be that purpose? What are “they” creating? Who exactly is funding it? Who is policing the mad scientist? Other scientists?
How do we know “they” exist? Eugenics. Genocide. Medical Experiments. Mind Control. Prejudice. Institutionalized Racism. Evil.
New rules for natural gas –> “The Obama administration on Friday proposed new rules that would lead to a crackdown on oil and gas wells that vent or flare methane into the atmosphere on public and tribal lands. Methane is about 35 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas driving climate change over the span of a century, and it’s the chief component of natural gas produced in the U.S.” Bobby Magill writes for Climate Central, via Scientific American.
We are living in a world today in which the struggle between knowledge and ignorance, civilization and desecration, creation and destruction, is raging. – Albert Litewka, Chairman of the Board, Los Angeles Review of Books
Journalism has changed! There has been a fascinating change in the traditional journalistic press over the last several years. Take corrections as an example. It used to be that corrections to printed news stories were a really big deal. There was a high bar to get a correction accepted in a newspaper or magazine. The story as printed was the permanent record. That was then. – MARC ANDREESSEN LINK
I can’t bear to watch regular TV news – it makes me CRAZY …
By Lara Trace Hentz, aka “Lethal Journalist”
I want to thank everyone for the good words concerning the loss of my brother Danny. It’s very appreciated. I wrote this post prior to his death:
Do you remember your first writing assignment? Or your first computer?
I was living in Seattle when we bought our first PC computer and it was a VERY BIG THING (and heavy) in the early 1990s. At my job at Jerden Records, documents were still being typed. I recall Jerry my boss had a credenza and kept double copies of all his typed correspondence in file folders. The Zerox purred; this Goliath copy machine had its own room- it was HUGE! We published a marketing newsletter NORTHWEST LOG that was distributed to Seattle radio stations. It was hand-typed too.
In 1992, there were only about 200 websites. Can you imagine?
Soon I brought my own computer to work and loved using it. Do you recall WYSIWYG – I think it was a way to convert from PC to MAC and print documents from floppy disks? There were places in Seattle that would print documents for us. That seems like a million years ago, right? Most people don’t even know what a floppy disk is!
Using a personal computer was the way I worked and how I wrote. After writing my first play in Oregon, I decided to write professionally, even get paid for it. Looking way way back, I got the urge when I wrote (badly) for the high school newspaper. I didn’t get a minor in English at UW-Superior because of two required courses (on Shakespeare) I didn’t take. (sigh) I studied theater for my BFA major and had all I could handle of Shakespeare!
All along, I knew writing is what I’d be doing – eventually. I kept journals all my life. I wrote a few magazine articles for Oregon Coast Magazine while I lived on the west coast, hoping to find more work freelancing.
My first (good paying) editor job was working at the Sawyer County Record in Hayward, Wisconsin. Our crew had to cut-and-paste and layout our computer-generated stories onto big sheets for the press. We used hot wax! Can you imagine? That was in 1996. We were a weekly newspaper so Tuesday was layout night and often we worked until 2 a.m. to get it all done. I drank Mountain Dew (as a drug) to stay alert. Driving home was hard when I was friggin’ exhausted
Is that how journalism changed me? Not exactly.
At the RECORD, I wrote my first feature story about a woman who lost her son to AIDS in 1996. I went to her home and we talked and I took a photo of her as she showed me a quilt piece she’d sewn-by-hand to be added to a large traveling AIDS quilt exhibit. In those days, creating awareness was the key to AIDS prevention. This mom was honoring her son. I had no judgment about AIDS or this mother or her son or homosexuality.
A letter to the editor came in the following week, calling me a “Lethal Journalist” for writing that story: the letter writer implying I condoned homosexuality and more importantly: he was a local Mennonite minister.
BAM! That fast I’d made my mark! Proud of myself? I really was. Lethal Journalist was a badge, better than a journalism award. (I did win awards later, but that label stuck.)
Then more changed! I shifted jobs to a national Native American newspaper. I found my niche – writing news and features. Native American news and history was my big love.
In 2000, my adoptive mom Edie got a TV satellite for her rural lake house in Wisconsin. Edie kept telling me about this young journalist Amy Goodman and Democracy Now. She watched it daily and took notes, it was that good and important, she said. She used a VCR to make copies of the broadcasts for her local priest who didn’t have satellite TV.
It was Edie’s awakening and shift to a different kind of news program that stuck with me … Mom was elderly. Now she spoke of other news shows (CBS, ABC, NBC) with disgust and how Amy was reporting news those major media outlets dismissed or refused to cover. [At Mount Holyoke College, I got to meet Amy at her book signing and I bought a signed copy of STATIC for my mom.]
This is a quote about Rebel Journalist John Ross and Amy and others who are not mainstream but as important in my mind:
The journalistic heroes and heroines, including Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill and John Nichols among others, operate in a wide array of venues, print to radio, television and web, wherever they can find space. They are often alone, it seems, in opening up debates that do not occur in the mainstream, obsessed as it is with fast-breaking trivia and assuming, as it does, a conformity of views about American goodness and the terror threatened or actually imposed upon the virtuous by the barbarian outsiders. LINK
Back in 1998, I interviewed famous political prisoner Leonard Peltier (see Incident at Oglala documentary by Robert Redford) while he was still an inmate in Leavenworth, a federal prison in Kansas. I’ll save that story for another post for this blog but I do recall I was very very nervous… I remember Leonard told me, “Write a good story.” This interview was done over the phone at his Defense Committee Office.
PRESSURE?! I was scared sh*tless! Back in Wisconsin, Mom assured me I would be fine. I had taken a boatload of good notes. I could write a good story about Leonard Peltier.
And I did it (actually twice).
[footnote: I met Amy Goodman again in 2008 at the Wisconsin Book Festival. I was invited to Madison to read an excerpt from my memoir. My husband Herb and I went to hear Amy and Jeremy Scahill at the book festival…]
A sampling of Features I wrote for News From Indian Country: Wisconsin’s independent national Native newspaper
Lakota artist Dee Whitcomb (2004)
Narragansett award-winning Author John C. Hopkins (2003)
25th Anniversary of Wounded Knee, series of interviews (Pine Ridge, 1999)
Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier (1998,1999)
Hollywood Native Actor Joe Runningfox (1998) Apache
Grammy winner Bill Miller (1998) Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican
Native Journalist Patty Loew (1997) Bad River Anishinabe
Grammy Winner Musician Joanne Shenandoah (1998) Oneida
Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark (1997) (Incident at Oglala, Leonard Peltier)
500 Nations, 500 Years: A Forum of Tribal Sovereignty (1997)
Hollywood Lakota Actor Floyd Red Crow Westerman (1996)
Some are archived at News From Indian Country website…
TOP PHOTO: Leonard Peltier arrested (Archive photo)
What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World
January 22 – 24, 2016
The Forum for the Academy and the Public is pleased to announce our 2016 conference, Freedom of Expression in a Changing World: What Cannot Be Said, which will take place on January 22nd, 23rd, and 24th at the UCI and USC campuses in California.
Timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, this conference will look at the changing parameters of freedom of expression in a rapidly shifting world. We’ll be talking about freedom of expression on campus, and about the digital era, the law, and freedom of expression. Another panel will address problems of freedom of expression and journalism in conditions of repression. A further panel will address the conflicts and possible concords between freedom of expression and religious belief. Edward Snowden will appear via the web in conversation with his biographer, the prize-winning American journalist and author Barton Gellman. The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan and Zunar, the embattled Malaysian cartoonist, will be among the many brilliant and insightful participants. Steve Mumford, whose outstanding paintings of secure locations off-limits to photojournalists have broken the boundaries of repression, will be speaking and presenting his work. There will be a roundtable of notable political cartoonists discussing their drawings, censorship, and self-censorship. Sandra Tsing Loh and Azhar Usman will perform stand-up with Q&A after their performances about the extent of comedians’ freedom of expression. UCLA historian David Myers will lead a discussion about tolerance and intolerance of and by religion with NPR’s Krista Tippett, USC’s Sherman Jackson, Rabbi Sharon Brous and novelist Laila Lalami. The conference will end with a grand finale musical performance by a surprise musical guest and a discussion of race and rap lyrics led by USC law professor Jody Armour.
We were away when I heard the news that John Trudell passed. I had the honor of meeting him and interviewing him more than once. All I could think was:
“It’s a loss to the world….”
I will be writing more about John in an upcoming post but read these moving tributes… If you didn’t know about JT, you will now…
Here’s a recap about John from the NAMMY’s:
Our beloved Brother, Father, Uncle, Grandfather and Friend made the journey to the ancestors at 2:20 am this morning December 8, 2015. He was in the arms of Johnny Elk, Havoni Coupe, and Kevin Marsh. We are deeply grateful for all your prayers, love and support. May our beloved’s words, work on behalf of our people, Mother Earth, all relations and His journey bring you peace in your life, as he loves all of you so very much.
Peace and Love Relatives. On John Trudell’s Facebook page it states: My ride showed up. Celebrate Love. Celebrate Life. John Trudell February 15, 1946 – December 8, 2015
John Trudell was a poet, recording artist, actor and speaker whose global following reflected the universal language of his words, work and message. He was presented with a Living Legend award at the Inaugural Native American Music Awards in 1998 which he called “Heart Medicine”. Throughout the years, he appeared as a special guest participant and took the Artist of the Year award in 2000 and the Song/Single of the Year for his full length recording Blue Indians with Quiltman & Jackson Browne.
According to the Associated Press, a trustee of Trudell’s estate, Cree Miller, confirmed John Trudell died of cancer on Tuesday morning, December 8th at his home in Santa Clara County in Northern California surrounded by family and friends. He was 69 years of age.
Born February 15, 1946, in Omaha, Nebraska to a Santee Sioux father and Mexican mother, John Trudell grew up near the Santee Sioux Reservation. He became involved in Native American activism after serving in the U.S. Navy on a destroyer off the Vietnamese coast.
In 1969, Trudell joined American Indians who had occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to demand that the former federal prison should be given to Native Americans under treaty rights. John, who studied radio and broadcasting at a college in San Bernardino, California, became spokesman for the group that called itself the United Indians of All Tribes, and ran a radio broadcast from the island called Radio Free Alcatraz during the 19-month takeover.
John went on to serve as national chairman of the activist American Indian Movement from 1973 to 1979. While he was demonstrating in Washington, D.C. in 1979, his pregnant wife, Tina Manning, their three children and mother-in-law were killed in a fire at her parents’ home. After the tragedy, John was compelled to write poetry. He said it just came to him, like Tina was talking to him and he was just “following the lines.”
He published a chapbook in 1982 entitled, Living in Reality. That same year he began recording his poetry to traditional Native music by talking his friend Quiltman into backing him on drum and vocals. By 1983, he released his debut album Tribal Voice on his own Peace Company label. His relationship with Jackson Browne led him to other supporters like Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan.
In 1986, the late legendary Kiowa guitarist, Jesse Ed Davis came up to him and said, “I can turn your poems into songs.” Together, they recorded three albums. Their first, AKA Graffiti Man, was released in 1986, and dubbed the “best album of the year” by Bob Dylan. AKA Graffiti Man served early notice of Trudell’s “singular ability to express fundamental truths” through a unique mix of poetry, Native music, blues and rock. It was followed by But This Isn’t El Salavdor and Heart Jump Bouquet, both released in 1987.
Kelly Ed Davis, wife of the late Jesse Ed Davis spoke of the incredible connection between John and Jesse in a documentary entitled, Trudell; “Immediately they were like brothers. They shared a common understanding of what it is to be an Indian in America. The work he (Jesse) did with John was some of the best work he ever did. That connection will go on throughout eternity.”
Despite Jesse Ed Davis’ untimely death in 1988, John Trudell would go on to release a total of fourteen albums, eight with his band, Bad Dog.
John with members of Bad Dog
Fables and Other Realities was released in 1991 featuring a collaboration with Mark Shark who would remain a consistent member of Bad Dog, Trudell remade and re-released A.K.A Grafitti Man which was originally on tape, as an audio CD. In 1992, he also released Children of the Earth: Child’s Voice. His 1994 album Johnny Damas & Me was critically acclaimed as “a culmination of years of poetic work, fusing traditional sounds, values, and sensibilities with thought-provoking lyrics, and urgent rock and roll.”
In 1998, John Trudell was honored as a Living Legend at the Inaugural Native American Music Awards which he called it, heart medicine. His other musical releases included; the multiple Native American Music Award-winning, Blue Indians (1999), the all spoken word effort, JT – Descendant Now Ancestor (2001) which he performed at the 8th Annual Native American Music Awards VIP party, Bone Days which was which was produced by actress Angelina Jolie (2002), John Trudell & Bad Dog – Live à Fip, a rare live album recorded in Paris, France (2005), the double album, Madness and Moremes (2007), Crazier Than Hell (2010), and Through the Dust (2014).
Little Steven, Rita Coolidge and John
His latest album entitled, Wazi’s Dream, was just released in 2015. John called it, “a mixing of poetry and singing and music.” It was recently reported that John also collaborated with other groups including; A Tribe Called Red, and a band called The Pines. “Bad Dog is who I really work with” he said, “but I’ve gotten some opportunities to work with different artists, because I enjoy it. Anytime I can get this stuff out there, put to music, I enjoy it.”
John has authored three books of poetry. The 1999 release of Stickman: Poems, Lyrics, Talks edited by Paola Igliori brought international attention. His most recent book, called Lines from a Mined Mind, is a collection of his album lyrics over the decades and is currently a #1 Best Seller on Amazon.com.
John’s many celebrity fans and friends included; Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, who paid tribute to Trudell with the 1995 song “Johnny Lobo,” a tune Kristofferson still frequently performs live and Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina Jolie’s mother, who John partnered with as she dealt with cancer, which she succumbed to in 2007. Marcheline and Angelina also executive produced the 2005 documentary, Trudell, with Heather Rae. Click the link for the .Trudell Documentary
Trudell also played roles in a number of features films and made for television films, including 1992’s Thunderheart with Val Kilmer and 1998’s Smoke Signals with Adam Beach.
In 2012, Trudell became the creator of Hempstead Project Heart (Hemp Energies Alternative Resource Technologies), a national initiative that creates awareness of the many uses of hemp as way of establishing a green economy in America.
When it had first been reported that John was battling cancer, many reached out to express their love and appreciation. He responded back to them saying;
“I appreciate all of your expressions of concern and I appreciate all of your expressions of love. It has been like a fire to my heart. Thank you all for that fire.”
John Trudell and his family ask for people to celebrate love and celebrate life. He asked that people pray and celebrate in their own way in their own communities.
“I don’t want to tell people how to remember me. I want people to remember me as they remember me.”
So we are to remember John as we remember him.
Here are some remembrances now circulating:
Remembering John“I was very saddened to hear of his death this morning and will always cherish the few brief times I got to spend with him. He was a very down to earth, inspiring and amazing man.”
Shyanne Chulyin Ch’ivaya Beatty
Network Manager at Native Voice 1 (NV1)
He helped spark a spoken word movement that is a continuation of Native American oral traditions…To define his voice and presence, words like empowering, authentic, intelligent, inspirational and necessary. He believed in the Spoken Word, that it had power.
Indian Country Today Media Network
I honor and thank this man for his words that changed my life as he embarks upon his journey home to be with our creator.
Lance A. Gumbs
Area Vice-President Northeast Region
National Congress of the American Indian
To John Trudell, my dear old friend and mentor of 30 years ago.
May your journey to the Creator be filled with beautiful memories
and insights of all those lives you touched.
With love always,
Joanne & Leah Shenandoah and Doug George
We lost a great Warrior today. My prayers are with the Trudell family in these hard times. Heart is hurting but he is at peace. Ba-ma-mi-naa until we meet again
He was a hero to me and many others.
Jennifer Elizabeth Kreisberg
Thanking him & his family for their unselfish gift. All Nations loved him because he loved them. A warrior, Leader, Brother & Friend to all.
Today the thunderbirds took one of the greats home to watch over his people.
Rest in Paradise
It was an honor to have had the time to visit with him and stand with the Trudell family and be there through this time. John wanted the world to know he is not dead he’s simply transformed energies and dimensions.
Thank you John!
Cody Thomas Blackbirdand from NAMA…A true leader. A fearless warrior. A master philosopher and a prophetic poet, unmatched, unequivocal and inimatible. We will miss his smile, his humble presence, and his profound greatness. He was an integral part of the Native American Music Awards since its inception and before. Thankfully, he has left us with his extraordinary gifts of music and words that will remain in our hearts and minds forever.
President, Native American Music Awards
Joanne Shenandoah, Ellen Bello and John Trudell at the First Awards Show
He was JT to his contemporaries—too charismatic for just plain John; too Native for such a European name as Trudell, although it’s one of the most common last names in the Santee Sioux Tribe in Nebraska.
Calling JT solely by his last name always sounded rude to me, but it didn’t seem so as the title of the film about his life (Trudell by Heather Rae, 2005). (Trudell is not to be confused with the actual-events-based, but fictional movie, which many of us think of as a documentary, wherein JT plays the shape-shifting rez warrior, Jimmy Looks Twice, hunted by the law (Thunderheart, Michael Apted, 1992).
I got to talk with JT before he made his journey to the other side. He was already on his way and eager to unite with the Ancestors. He was concerned that people might be sad or confused. Upbeat and energetic, he wanted everyone to celebrate his passage and to know that he was content and had no fear. But, then, JT always was fearless.
His disembodied voice sounded strong and healthy over the telephone, in sharp contrast to those startling photos showing his skeletal frame. “It’s not like it was with Angie’s mom,” he said, referring to his partner, actor/producer Marcheline Bertrand, the mother of actor/director Angelina Jolie. He said she was ill for six years, before passing in 2007, “and that last year—whew—she was on so much medication, because she was in so much pain.” He said his doctor said, “It won’t be like that with me—there’s not that kind of pain and I’ll go fast.”
As it turned out, he crossed over one week after our talk, which we ended by saying we’d have another soon and knowing we would not.
I knew JT from the late-1960s, when he was in college in California for broadcasting. By 1969, JT was part of United Indians of All Tribes, which occupied Alcatraz Island, and was broadcasting as Radio Free Alcatraz. At that time, only a handful of Native people worked in radio, and we all made a point of knowing and supporting each other.
My husband—Frank Ray Harjo (Wotco Muscogee) (1947-1982)—and I worked at WBAI-FM Radio Station in New York City, co-producing “Seeing Red” and public affairs, drama and literature programs. We often put JT on the WBAI air and picked him up from Pacifica Network’s sister stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and he gave a lecture or two for our Native issues series at New York University’s School of Continuing Education. He was a fine teacher and a terrific interview.
Frank Ray liked JT and, more importantly at that time, trusted him. They shared the same birthday, February 15 (JT was born in 1946; Frank Ray in 1947). They didn’t look or act anything like each other—except for their love of the people, search for justice and voices made for midnight radio.
When we started our last talk, I heard something new in JT’s voice. Often when people’s bodies are giving out, even the most self-assured get very humble very fast. I heard hints of JT slipping over the edge from humility to low self-esteem and wanted to awaken his memories of courageous, dignified moments. Sometimes people need to have a little help remembering their lives.
I reminded JT about some moments when he demonstrated high ethical and moral character. He joked that, in his mind at those times, “I just thought I was a kid running around with pot.”
I reminded him of a day in November 1972, at the end of what started as the Trail of Broken Treaties and became a six-day occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. On that day, $66,000 went from federal coffers to the National Congress of American Indians’ bank account, and NCAI delivered a briefcase of cash to some leaders to end the occupation and go home. Six people got $10,000 each; five left town, leaving everyone else to split up $6,000. Only JT stayed.
People gathered in the BIA cafeteria, where Frank Ray and Gerald Crane (Sac & Fox) tried to work out a distribution formula, with butcher-block paper, an easel and magic markers. It was apparent that the $6,000 was not going to stretch as far as needed.
Most of the people were waiting to see if they could get gas money and something for sandwiches, red pop and, of course, cigarettes. Some of the elders were pretty tired and had modest requests—maybe a night in a motel and a couple of hot meals.
JT jumped onto one of the tables, tossing nearly $10,000 out to the people, saying, “Here’s 10,000 those f**kers aren’t going to get.” No one moved until he finished; then they simply took what they needed to get home. Way beyond a generous gesture, his was a downright noble act.
“Yeah, I saw (Ponca Elder) Martha Grass waiting,” he remembered. “I only took enough for Tina and me to get home.”
I never heard JT talk about his action or motivation before, and I just waited for his unprompted remembrances. “It was about fairness,” he said. “My mother died when I was six and all I could think was it wasn’t fair, that everything was unfair.” When he got older, he didn’t think that things were fair or unfair, but “I always looked for fairness… What you saw was me trying to be fair.”
There was nothing fair about the tragedy that struck seven years later, in 1979. Tina Manning (Paiute-Shoshone), JT’s wife, who was a water rights activist and education specialist, was killed in her parents’ home on the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada, along with her mother, Leah Hicks Manning, her three children with JT and their unborn son. Her father, former Tribal Chairman Arthur Manning, was badly burned, but survived.
An early report of the federal investigation blamed the fire on spontaneous combustion at three electrical socket sites. After much speculation about possible causes, the origins of the fire were characterized as unknown.
JT was driving from D.C. to a speaking engagement in Pennsylvania when fire consumed those he loved most. As National Chairman for the American Indian Movement, he had made a speech in the front of the FBI building and burned a flag there. He always thought that his family was killed because of his speech and actions at the FBI building.
I was a political appointee in the Carter Administration then. JT stopped by my office for a quick visit before leaving town. He said he was tired of being on the road and looked forward to going home. The nightmarish news from Nevada was carried to me by Interior Department legislative, public affairs and law enforcement officials, who asked if I knew where he was going and if I wanted to contact state governors’ offices to have them send the highway patrol to stop JT and tell him what happened. I contacted the people he’d stayed with in Washington and everyone agreed that no good could come from that. So, everyone waited until he reached his destination, and a close friend called him.
As JT said many times in many ways: “I simply lost my mind.” He would tell friends, old and new: “I’m crazy, you know; just so you know that.” And: “I’m crazy, but I’m not always wrong.”
JT became a vibrant, original poet, writing what he called “lines” and “lines from Tina,” saying that he had to hold, to follow them “to stay alive.” When we read together in Oklahoma, New Mexico and elsewhere, the raw truth and beauty of his work often left me almost too filled with emotion to continue.
He also became a recording artist. Guitarist/producer Jesse Ed Davis (Kiowa & Comanche), Quiltman (Milt Sahme, Tygh from the Warm Springs Reservation), his band, Bad Dog, and other musicians set JT’s lines to a blend of rock, blues, jazz and traditional Native music. One time JT called me about his hugely successful A.K.A. Grafitti Man, saying, “People are calling me a rock star and I can’t play the guitar or sing a note.”
JT suffered another major loss in 1988, with the sudden passing of his friend, Jesse Ed Davis (1944-1988), a rock legend who was greatly admired by fellow musicians. JT asked if I would produce a memorial concert for the 1989 Oklahoma City convention of the National Congress of American Indians, which I was serving as Executive Director.
The concert honored Tina and Jesse Ed on the tenth anniversary of her passing and one year after his. Arthur Manning, who was active in NCAI, helped plan it and was front and center at the concert, with many other relatives and friends of Tina and Jesse Ed.
Among the featured artists were singer/songwriter/musician/actor Kris Kristofferson, guitarist Mark Shark, Quiltman and JT. During an on-site production meeting, JT looked across the hotel atrium and saw people he had faced off against during the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation, who were there in opposition to the candidate JT favored for NCAI leadership. “When the lines get drawn,” said JT, “they stay drawn.”
JT always could be relied on to do what he could to protect Native land, especially sacred places. He stepped up for Hickory Ground Tribal Town and Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma, and denounced the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ desecration of the historic, ceremonial and sacred Hickory Ground in Wetumpka, Alabama.
Even when JT’s health failed, his commitment never did. In our final call, he talked about what “an honor and privilege” it was for him to work for the Ancestors at Hickory Ground. And Hickory Ground Warriors were there with him as he began his last journey.
His old friend, Kris Kristofferson, wrote the 1995 song, Johnny Lobo, about JT, and it seems fitting to end these honor lines with his lyrics:
Holy phoenix rising from the ashes
Into the circle of the sun
Johnny lobo’s warrior heart was burnished in the embers
OK — my head is exploding with ideas for 2016… and I’m tidying up this blog … (fonts, etc.)
By Lara Trace
It’s good to be home and I’m revved up to resume a weekly schedule of blog posts. (I missed you guys [I really did] but I was reading your inspiring bad-ass blogs!) (for some weird reason I stopped getting email notice of your new posts – um, still working to fix that.)
I do hope you all made good memories this past month or so…
We traveled to Philadelphia PA twice and had a great time babysitting our youngest grandgirl (she’s a one-year-old) and of course we watched Sesame Street. We didn’t have many shows when I was a tiny kid like her, other than Captain Kanagroo. Remember him?
Each week I may give you some of what I have been reading and these stories are truly worth a read!
How the Federal Government Continues To Victimize American Indians (no big surprise!)
…”Upfront I will stipulate that the treatment of the American Indian by the federal government has been nothing less than an egregious nightmare. It is a case study in progressive paternalism that has enriched a small coterie of privileged contractors, provided a bevy of bureaucrats with job security and self-importance, and reduced the American Indian population still living on reservations to a dystopic and nightmarish existence.
The Indian schools, at least in some areas, face challenges most public schools don’t face. The Indian bureaucracy, BIA and BIE represent the very worst impulses of government: big, unwieldy, unresponsive to citizens, slavish to big contractors and the powerful, uncaring, and casually cruel. Where the BIA merely steals from today, the BIE steals the future. It is a national shame that this situation is allowed to persist.”
Photographer Aaron Fallon shared an idea with seven other professional photographers in Los Angeles. Together, the group collaborated while donating their efforts to a three-year project that will move and inspire you. In today’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family®” series installment, RaiseAChild. US founder and CEO Rich Valenza interviews the group that now calls themselves the Image Hoarders about their recently published book called “Aging Out.”READ
++++++++++++ Research… hard to read…
1976: Government admits forced sterilization of Indian Women
A study by the U.S. General Accounting Office finds that 4 of the 12 Indian Health Service regions sterilized 3,406 American Indian women without their permission between 1973 and 1976. The GAO finds that 36 women under age 21 had been forcibly sterilized during this period despite a court-ordered moratorium on sterilizations of women younger than 21. Two years earlier, an independent study by Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri, Choctaw/Cherokee, found that one in four American Indian women had been sterilized without her consent. Pinkerton-Uri’s research indicated that the Indian Health Service had “singled out full-blooded Indian women for sterilization procedures.” SOURCE
“…The mother in question has published her own book, which promotes itself as a “guidebook” for white adoptive parents of black children. Whatever her intentions, wherever her heart may lie, this should, in and of itself, set off a million alarms.” via Racism, Class and Adoption.
“…For starters is the myth that adoptive parents have some kind of unique agency and free will outside of the society in which they acculturate the children temporarily in their care. By this I mean to say that adoption, as an institution born of and reflecting its roots in indentured servitude, racism, and class warfare, does not suddenly “shift” into a tragedy based on the adoptive parent’s “awakening”. It is a tragedy, and a criminal one at that, from the start…”
“Something much more sinister is transpiring, and this shows up how unequal our words are when spoken on corporate-sponsored platforms equally bent on painting a Happy Gotcha Day for all involved…”
The “adopter narrative” is morphing and adapting in order to silence us; it is stealing the power of our words and the weight of our tropes in order to render us harmless and pointless…
(the power of propaganda is immense when it comes to the trafficking of children for profit…)
Dr. Amy Helen Bell: Recently my excellent colleague Tom Peace and I found out that among these rich sources are dozens of rare prayer and hymn books in Indigenous languages, written and used by both European and Indigenous scholars, missionaries and priests. The Diocese Archives also holds personnel files on six Indigenous men who graduated from the Theological College in the nineteenth-century and went on to work in churches and parishes in both indigenous and settler communities. And exposing the darker side of the Christianizing mission, the archive also holds some records of the Mohawk Institute, a residential school run by the Anglican Church in nearby Brantford. Along with hundreds of other punitive institutions, the school sought to assimilate Aboriginal children into Euro-Canadian culture in a process the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has described as “cultural genocide.” And nobody at Huron has ever looked at these sources.
The MIX e-magazine is up and running for its second year. Go take a read! Send us some writing on your mixed ancestry and ethnicity! Carol Hand and I are expecting more writers in 2016… The topic is timely and important – we are all related – really truly we are – INFO
And if you missed this post, it’s one of my MOST popular – about HEALING HERE – it doesn’t surprise me we ALL want healing in this crazy world!
I am working on a brand new anthology STOLEN GENERATIONS with first person narratives of First Nations and American Indian adoptees in 2016 – should be out in early 2016. It’s the fourth book in this series on Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects and I am so excited to have many new adoptees in this book!
OH OH – that other big project was an academic paper that I’m co-authoring with Dr. Charles Bland on Dr. Thomas Augustus Bland – It should be done SOON!
I’ll be back with MORE of everything soon … Happy New Year! xoxoxoxoxox
[I have a new author page on Facebook – all my posts will be here]
The affirmative argument is presented by April Dinwoodie, Chief Executive, the prestigious Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), an organization with no ulterior motive or financial backing that would impact their conclusions. It is on point and factual, backed by extensive research of experts in the fields of child welfare and law as it relates to this issue conducted by DAI. Their position is in keeping with the AMA, The American Pediatric Association, and The Surgeon General, all of whom recognize the importance of a family medical history which adoptees are denied without access to their original birth certificates. The DAI’s position paper on access is available here and here.
I finished up my classes. The blogging and social media students were some of the best EVER!
The above post by author Mirah Riben is a MUST READ. It covers the arguments and is “on point” with my views… Follow the hashtag #flipthescript on Twitter for some of the best writing I have EVER read on National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). Many adoptees have taken over the blogosphere this month. Their voices will change the world!
My friend Paula Peters and I met at the Native American Journalists Association years ago
Paula Peters is an active member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe based in Mashpee, Massachusetts and owner of SmokeSygnals, a media and communications consulting firm.
She is currently producing a documentary on nine Mashpee Wampanoag men jailed in 1976 for drumming and singing their traditional music. The Mashpee Nine were later acquitted and law enforcement held accountable for their actions. Mashpee Nine: The Beat Goes On will premier at the 2016 Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow in July, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the raid on the men.
An independent scholar of Wampanoag history Paula is also the Executive Producer of “Our”Story: 400 Years of Wampanoag Survival,” a traveling multi-media exhibit telling the back story of the colonization of Plymouth from the indigenous perspective.
A graduate of Bridgewater State College she was formerly a writer at the Cape Cod Times where she won numerous national awards for her journalism.
She lives in Mashpee with her husband, two daughters and elder mother.
About the FILM
During the summer of 1976 the revival of cultural and traditional values of the Mashpee Wampanoag was occurring at the same time tribal leaders and town government were clashing over land entitlement. An incident involving an over zealous tactical police force disrupting a group of traditional drummers and singers evolved into a high profile trial of nine young men arrested, eight Wampanoag and one non-native friend. Defended by one of the American Indian Movement’s most skilled and dogged attorneys the Nine won in a rare case of a court ruling against law enforcement. Court documents shredded, news accounts buried in microfilm, the case has faded into distant memory but the stories of the surviving Nine and those who rallied to their defense. What does survive is the tradition the Nine sacrificed their freedom for, even for a night, and fought vigorously to defend, the drum, the songs and the night. This documentary will resurrect that legendary incident and preserve the memory of those who experienced it for the generation now sitting at the drum, and those to come.
INDIGENOUS FILM FEST in New Hampshire: Nov. 6 and 7, 2015 READ MORE
How the Supreme Court and a divided Congress have stymied efforts by poor tribes to recover long-lost lands.
Custer’s long gone, but a hostile Supreme Court and divided Congress are still playing havoc these days with Indian tribes trying to get some of their lands back.
“With all due respect, there’s not anybody on the court who knows very much about Indians or Indian law,” says Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who hails from the Chickasaw tribe. It’s little better in the House and Senate where the growth in Indian gaming has so poisoned the well that getting any relief for the tribes is harder and harder.
The immediate issue is how Congress should respond to a 2009 ruling in which the justices narrowed the mandate of the Indian Reorganization Act that has guided federal policy since the New Deal. In the process, the court effectively created two new classes of tribes under the 1934 law and cast doubt on decades of land conveyances approved by the Interior Department.
“They literally overturned what both parties and successive secretaries of the Interior thought was the law for 80 years,” says Cole.
But getting a simple legislative fix is anything but simple in Congress, as major stakeholders have seized the chance to demand larger changes — not just in IRA but also the direction of Indian gaming.
Indeed, the whole Indian lands debate in Washington has turned 180 degrees. The fight is less about the justice of returning historic territory and more simply cash — whether measured in the revenues gained from casinos or property taxes lost for local counties. From Oklahoma to California, rich tribes play the political system to protect their share of the gaming markets. Lost is any perspective on the hundreds of poorer tribes just trying to establish some economic foothold and homeland for themselves.
“You’ve hit the nail on the head,” says Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) with a rueful laugh. But defying the odds, this Yale-trained orthopedist and rodeo physician has set out to mend these old bones and try to end the impasse this year.
The early spadework has been done in the form of hearings and discussion groups held since Barrasso took over the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last winter. A first draft of his bill was filed in July. A manager’s amendment is now in the works. And the Wyoming Republican brings two important assets: his Western GOP credentials and the learning experience of having watched past efforts fail.
“Anybody who thinks they can solve this on their own has to be kidding themselves. What we’re trying to do is put a whole group together,” he says. “We have draft legislation. We’ve asked for input … Nobody’s saying `stop the process.’”
Nonetheless, the political obstacles remain huge. And no debate in Congress goes more to heart of the American experience.
“We didn’t invade Europe. Europe invaded the tribes. And just because that invasion was successful doesn’t mean we no longer want the tribes,” said William Rice, a tribal member himself and co-director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Tulsa. “We never gave up our rights to self-government, we never gave up our rights to territory. We’ve been recognized as nations since the days of the Founding Fathers.”
Land is inextricably part of this calculus, not just for the property itself but the opportunity to establish a tribe’s identity and sovereignty. That’s why IRA was such a watershed event, and Franklin Roosevelt’s administration billed it then as a “New Deal” for Native Americans after the destructive policies enacted by Congress in the late 19th century.
Prior to IRA, the federal goal had been more one of forced assimilation, imposing new blood rules on the tribes as to who qualified as a member and breaking up community lands. Between passage of the General Allotment Act in 1887 and 1934, total Indian land holdings had fallen by almost two-thirds, from 138 million acres to 48 million. Nearly half of what remained was better described as desert or semi-desert.
The new IRA law sought to go in the opposite direction by promoting self-governance and tribal sovereignty. Stop-loss provisions were put in place to protect the remaining lands. Most important to the current debate in Congress, Interior was charged with supervising a new lands-to-trust process by which tribes could bring lands under their control.
In the decades since, about 8 million acres have been added to Indian land holdings. But to the surprise of many, the 2009 court ruling said IRA only narrowly applied to those tribes that can prove they were both recognized and “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934.
It was a quirky little case, matching Rhode Island’s small Narragansett tribe against the Republican governor at the time, Donald Carcieri, and will have a place forever in the annals of Indian law. Just 31 acres were in dispute and it all turned on the legislative meaning of a single word: “now.”
But by ruling as it did, the Supreme Court cast a cloud over IRA and a much broader universe of land transactions covering thousands of acres more. Lawsuits have since popped up in states like Alabama. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) accuses the justices of imposing a “caste” system on Native Americans. Most striking is how raw relations are between the tribes and the court, once viewed as their protector.
The central question most often is where to draw the line between state and tribal authority, two competing sovereigns. It’s here where Native American professionals and legal experts say there has been a decided shift beginning with Chief Justice William Rehnquist and now his former clerk, Chief Justice John Roberts. In fact, the 2015 edition of the casebook, American Indian Law: Cases and Commentary, found that the Roberts court had decided 11 Indian law cases thus far and ruled against tribal interests in all but two of them, an 82 percent loss record.
“Every Indian lawyer, expert, close observer cringes every time they take a case,” said Joe Valandra, an attorney who has long been active in Indian affairs and gaming. “I will say there are folks on the Supreme Court who are reflexively anti-Indian,” said Matthew Fletcher, a professor of law at Michigan State University.
Robert Anderson once served in the Interior Department and now teaches law at the University of Washington and Harvard. He opts for the gentler-sounding: “anti-tribal sovereignty.” But the bottom line is still the same.
“They are definitely hostile,” Anderson said of the current majority. “It is all federal common law and the court is basically legislating through these decisions what the powers of the tribes are in the absence of particular congressional direction.”
“They are very protective of states’ rights,” Anderson said. “When Indian governmental powers run up against the states, they give a very hard look to the Indian powers. There’s a majority that wants to trim the Indian sovereignty back in favor of the states.”
Anderson’s description of the high court as “legislating” is telling here. And it illustrates what’s become a three-arena battle in Washington over who sets Indian policy.
The Constitution assigns that power foremost to Congress. But the current paralysis has created a void in which the court has been more aggressive on behalf of the states while the executive branch under President Barack Obama has championed the tribes.
This administration has sped up approvals for restoring lands to Indian sovereignty; more than 305,000 acres have been approved since 2009. And alarm bells are going off now in Congress over new proposed rules drafted by Interior to update the process by which tribes can seek recognition from Washington.
Leading the charge is Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, a soft-spoken former law school dean who is of Chickasaw ancestry.
“I do think there is hostility among certain segments of Congress to tribal sovereignty in general,” Washburn says. “To some degree it’s a backlash against our own success. The Obama administration has done a lot of positive things for tribes and I feel this is a backlash against all the positive steps we have done.”
He welcomes Barrasso’s efforts at compromise. “We don’t agree with everything in it, but it looks like they’ve done some difficult thinking,” Washburn says of the Senate bill. “At this point after seeing so many efforts fail, I’m really grateful that someone’s willing to take up the task. He has bravely plowed forward.”
But there are flashes of anger in Washburn: moments which show his impatience with what he sees as the core injustice of the Indian lands debate and his growing concern that time is running out on the chances for a deal.
“You’ve not hidden your prejudices and I respect that … [But] I worry that your vision returns us to what some believe were the darkest days of Indian policy,” Washburn snapped back at Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) at a tense hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources in May. And in an interview, Washburn mocks demands from Western Republicans that federal lands should be “returned” to the states by Washington.
“That’s just a misreading of history,” he says. “Most of it was not taken from the states. It was taken from the tribes. If they really wanted to return it, give it back, it would be given back to the tribes from whom it was taken in the first place.”
Navigating between the Supreme Court and executive branch, Barrasso wants Congress to reassert itself and address the issues at hand. He finds the court confusing but is frustrated too by Interior’s reliance on executive memoranda to map a path forward. From his experience, the tribes and local governments can work well together but clarity is needed to improve the process and avoid litigation for both sides.
“The idea is to add some certainty,” he says. “Because ever since the Supreme Court ruling, things have been pretty confusing for just about everyone … We want to allow tribes to take land into trust by statute, not by lawsuit and Interior Department memorandum.”
To give himself some running room, Barrasso broadly titled his bill, the “Interior Improvement Act.” Introduced in late July, the 15-page measure includes a retroactive provision to protect existing Indian lands from lawsuits born of the high court’s decision in Carcieri. But it would also tighten the lands-to-trust process going forward. Tribes would be required to be more specific about their development plans. Interior must give more timely notice to local towns and counties affected by the outcome.
“This goes beyond a fix,” Barrasso says. “This is a complete reform.”
That said, the challenges ahead are illustrated by the tangled politics of two states, California and Oklahoma, where the advent of Indian gaming has affected the landscape.
Total annual revenues for the industry nationally run near $28.5 billion, a number that dwarfs Washburn’s entire budget or tribal receipts from oil and gas revenues. But the dark side of gaming’s success has been the often poisonous tribal divisions it creates between the haves and have-nots. And this being Washington, the haves tend to be heard first.
In California’s case, public sentiment is running against further expansion of Indian casinos and some of the most successful gaming tribes are spending heavily to keep out new entrants — and perhaps block Barrasso.
This was seen just a year ago in the Proposition 48 ballot referendum fight, in which the “no” forces enjoyed a huge financial advantage and rolled up 61 percent of the vote against a new casino in the Central Valley that had been endorsed by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratic state Legislature.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has tapped into this state movement and is out front demanding that Barrasso do more to rein in what she calls “reservation shopping” by tribes, who want access to urban markets far from their historic lands.
“As currently implemented, there is effectively no limit to where a tribe may propose a casino,” she wrote in an Oct. 1 letter to the committee. And Feinstein proposes to reopen the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and insert tougher language that would require tribes to show a “substantial, direct, aboriginal connection” to any lands that are taken into trust for gaming.
A former mayor of San Francisco, Feinstein’s roots in local government make her naturally sympathetic with the added burdens on county officials imposed by the casinos. But her critics add that she and her allies are pulling up the draw bridge after they have already gained advantage on the other side.
In fact, the senator’s husband, investment banker Richard Blum, held an important stake in the Perini Corp. from November 1996 to January 2006 — a window during which Perini profited from major contracts to build some of the biggest tribal casino projects in California. And the “no” forces in the Proposition 48 fight received large contributions from some of the same tribes, enriched by their own casinos.
A Feinstein aide said she had no involvement in her husband’s business dealings and keeps all her assets in a blind trust. But there’s a significant overlap between those casino tribes that helped bankroll the Proposition 48 fight and the client list for Ietan Consulting, a prominent Washington lobbying shop on Indian issues.
Ietan’s principals share past ties to the Clinton administration, which was aggressive in promoting the spread of Indian gaming. But Ietan has since promoted what it calls the “Aboriginal Lands Coalition” — a collection of often wealthy tribes that fear gaming’s image and their own profits could suffer unless more is done to prevent new casinos far from historic lands.
The coalition has yet to endorse Feinstein’s language outright but clearly shares common interests with the senator and worries about the direction taken by Barrasso thus far.
“Allowing tribes to `leap-frog’ other tribes for better gaming markets would undermine public support for Indian gaming,” said Larry Rosenthal of Ietan. “Tribal leaders have met with Sen. Feinstein to discuss their concerns about off-reservation gaming outside a tribe’s aboriginal lands.”
Oklahoma has its own set of haves and have-nots, but the politics break very differently than in California.
That’s because the often-preferential treatment enjoyed by a handful of dominant tribes has allowed them to largely corner the gaming market at the expense of the often-poorer Plains Indians. For these haves, the top priority for any Carcieri fix is to make it as broad as possible, then to protect their gains from future legal challenges.
This is seen in Cole’s own Carcieri bill introduced in the House in July and quickly matched by a companion Senate measure put forward in August by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).
Like Barrasso, Cole includes a retroactive section protecting against lawsuits. But he goes well beyond Carcieri and would ratify “any action” taken by the secretary on past trust deals quite apart from whether the tribe was recognized in 1934 or not. “It was drafted as broadly as possible,” an aide confirmed. “To address as many `fee-to-trust challenge scenarios’ as possible, and avoid further litigation on the issue.”
Cole’s approach has won the support of the Chickasaw tribe, which dominates the Oklahoma gaming market and has grown to be a major political contributor at the state and federal level.
“The Chickasaw Nation stands with Indian Country in urging Congress to enact a clean fix to the Supreme Court’s Carcieri decision,” said the tribe’s long-time Gov. Bill Anoatubby. “We appreciate the efforts of Tom Cole and Sen. Jerry Moran for introducing legislation to accomplish that goal.”
Cole insists his bill was not tailored for any Oklahoma interest. And in Congress, he is well-respected as a voice for tribal rights far beyond his home turf. But Cole also likes to tell his colleagues: “Just remember when you are involved in Indian wars, be on the side of your Indians.” And his legislative language clearly serves the Chickasaw.
That’s because legal questions still hang over the tribe’s huge gaming empire, built on a series of rapid-fire land deals approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the first decade after passage of IGRA in 1988.
Because all such land-to-trust approvals constitute a “federal action,” an environmental impact analysis is typically required under the National Environmental Protection Act. Yet records show the well-connected Chickasaw often received categorical exemptions from BIA, even though the newly-acquired land was clearly being converted to a very different purpose.
A second legal question arises from how the BIA enforced the tougher standards set by IGRA for gaming on lands brought into trust after 1988. Here again the Chickasaw benefited from an expansive view of what qualified as “former reservation” lands in Oklahoma and was therefore exempt under Sect. 20 of IGRA.
An early draft rule circulated by the BIA in 2006 defined “former reservation” lands as those that are “within the jurisdiction of an Oklahoma tribe and that are within the boundaries of the last reservation for that tribe in Oklahoma.” But the jurisdiction clause was later dropped after the Apache tribe of Oklahoma quoted back BIA’s own language in challenging what grew into the Chickasaw’s Chisholm Trail casino in Stephens County.
The history of this case is telling of what still angers the poorer Plains tribes who have felt squeezed out of the gaming market. The lost revenues compound the inequities in how federal aid is distributed among the tribes.
Records indicate the land itself was acquired by the Chickasaw in 1992 and brought into trust soon after in 1993. The property fell within the old treaty boundaries, but the Apache argued that the Chickasaw had not exercised jurisdiction prior to the purchase and therefore did not meet IGRA’s standard for what constitutes Indian lands for gaming.
When BIA nonetheless signed off on the compact, the Apache brought suit. A federal judge remanded the case back to BIA in 2007, saying the administrative record is “so lacking in substance that it fails to provide a satisfactory explanation” to support the approval.
The following year the jurisdiction language was dropped from the final BIA rule without explanation. In 2010, the agency again approved the compact in a lengthy solicitor’s opinion that cited the less restrictive definition of a “former reservation.” In a final twist, the same 2010 legal opinion cited a tribal police substation on the site as evidence of the Chickasaw’s jurisdictional claims. But that station didn’t even exist at the outset of the case.
For sure, history played a big hand in how the Oklahoma gaming market took shape. The old Chickasaw treaty lands included a wide swath of southeast Oklahoma, near key highways and customers from Texas.
But the fast pace of BIA approvals also helped. In the 23 years from 1985 to 2008, an estimated 16,915 acres were brought into trust by BIA’s eastern Oklahoma regional office, according to government numbers requested by POLITICO. That’s almost three times the 5,713 acres conveyed into trust in western Oklahoma since 1980 — a much longer time period.
Today, public records of how much the state of Oklahoma collects in fees from each of the 30 tribe’s gaming operations are a good measure of who is enjoying the most revenues from gaming and who is not. The Chickasaw alone accounted for 35 percent of this in 2015. When the Cherokee and Choctaw gaming operations are factored in, the numbers show that just these three powerful tribes account for almost two-thirds of the market shared with 27 others.
“They essentially created a land rush for the preferred tribes who were given special locations to start to grab the market way ahead of everybody else and before the rules were equally applied,” said Richard Grellner, an attorney with a long history of representing the Plains Indian tribes. “Everything since then has been to move the goal posts to protect what was previously done.”
Given his own Chickasaw ties, Washburn must recuse himself from matters now involving the tribe. He remains proud of its success but admits too that fairness is not always served by the growth in Indian gaming.
“It’s not fairly distributed, that’s the heartbreak of it, “ Washburn said. But he then adds: “The fact is everybody used to be have-nots.”
US title to the land depends on legal fiction, crafted by the colonists to benefit themselves. Under the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, which had its origins in the Crusades and underpinned the pioneering navigators of the 15th century, ultimate sovereignty over any pagan land belonged, courtesy of the Vatican, to the first Christian monarch who discovered it. Embraced by imperial powers around the world, the doctrine was adopted by the US Supreme Court in 1823. The US did not rely on Papal Bulls alone, however. It also extinguished the land title of the continent’s first peoples by treaty, executive order, and federal statute. – Claudio Saunt