How adoption affected me: I'd never told my story of opening my adoption while I lived it. A few friends knew details but not all of it. I got the idea for a book when I wrote an article in 2005 about stolen generations of North American Indian children placed for adoption with non-Indian parents. That article, "Generation after Generation, We are Coming Home" was published in Talking Stick magazine in New York City and then in News from Indian Country in Wisconsin. It took me down a path I never expected.
I'd lived as an adoptee but had not done research into its history. I was not aware of the various medical terms for adoptee issues such as severe narcissist injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. There is new science called birth psychology so I read studies about adoptees in treatment for identity issues, reactive attachment disorder (RAD), depression and suicidal thoughts. Then I found statistics. So I wrote my memoir as an adoptee and wrote about the history and business of adoption as a journalist. I found more adoptees after my article was published, which really added to my understanding of the devastating impact of the Indian Adoption Projects.
Trace A. DeMeyer is also the author of ONE SMALL SACRIFICE: A MEMOIR / Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Project (Blue Hand Books, Massachusetts, 2010-2012). This is part of her Preface to the First Edition:
I’m a fly on the wall, one who listens, the observer of the absurd, and a young girl wearing braids. That’s me standing in front of an Ojibwe wigwam with my adoptive mother Edie and my adopted brother Joey. I’m the only Indian in this family. It was 1969. I’m 12 and the family is attending the famous Lumberjack Festival in Hayward, Wisconsin. Then I heard the drum. The Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe powwow was happening on the same grounds. The sound of the drum, the men singing filled me, like my heart opened up and the sky fell in. I could not tell anyone what I was feeling that day but it made me feel good, proud, and different. I knew I was an Indian girl just like the other girls I saw there but no one could tell me anything since I was adopted.
Back then life was about mystery. I knew little to nothing about being adopted or Indian, just that I was.
North American Indians call adoptees Lost Birds, Lost Ones or Split Feathers. Adoption messes with the brain’s natural order so we Split Feathers get two experiences. I explain how later. One could argue which experience is best.
Adoption practices affecting one race of people had a specific purpose—the break-up of Indian families, to disrupt tribal culture across North America. I guess the idea was to assimilate us, tame us red devils and dirty savages. No kidding. So what is known about the Indian Adoption Projects and the aftermath, it’s pretty much been secret. Few books acknowledge it happened, but it did...
It hurts to think secret adoption files (thick binders of papers with real names and the identities of real people) are still guarded (sealed by law) in 2011. This pretty much guarantees adoptees won’t be rejoining their tribal nation or family any time soon.
Wisconsin was my home. I was transracially adopted and I’m American Indian and Irish. I am one of the lucky few who opened my adoption in a sealed record state...
Someone blogged in 2008: “Anyone who questions the Adoption Game gets thrown in jail or called crazy.” Call me crazy then. Ground Zero for me was 2004, when I decided to write about it. Adoption “secrecy” made that nearly impossible. As a journalist I soon discovered nothing about adoption is simple or open; not after 1,000 drafts of this book; not after reading my file at age 22 back in 1979.
I expected little help or new discoveries. I didn’t know there were six to ten million adoptees in the USA (alone). Some are blazing hot new trails on the internet global highway. I make friends, both Indian and non-Indian. Nor did I expect to find so many of us. We’re all clinging to the same boat. Some even blog about it.
One in three Americans has an immediate family member who has been adopted…
Every Indian reservation in North America has a story about missing lost children and future generations who carry the stigma of lost language and culture. Some say Indian reservations were baby factories for social workers to fill their orders, or the place where churches and government abducted children for residential boarding schools.
Very few Americans witnessed this upheaval firsthand. Very few saw the Indian boarding schools and assimilation by whip or by washing the child’s mouth with lye soap. Few knew that the Indian Adoption Projects and Programs were an orchestrated act of genocide, the same as ethnic cleansing. Many friends remember when they were abducted as children, not babies, virtually erased from tribal rolls, not told their tribe or their family’s name.
These children, now adults, are expected to accept this? Funny thing is lost birds/adoptees don’t look like adoptive mom or dad. So we are not supposed to notice this or dare to ask?
I strongly believe adopted children are in training to become warriors. I know many strong courageous adoptees.
Who said wild animals bred in captivity can never return to the wild? Can an Indian child return to the wilds of Indian Country? Sure, but not without baggage…maybe a language barrier, maybe a fear of the unknown.
Indian Country is still our home and adoptees like me will not be satisfied until they get some answers and meet some family.
This book could have many names: Innocent Kid Running into a Minefield; Outside the Circle; Adoption Didn’t kill our Spirit; Orphan Trauma; Babies to Distribute: Cultural Genocide; Not Exactly Grateful; Our Ancestors Prayed for Us to be Born; The Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian; and Adoption Reality is No Place for the Weak. All would fit.
My Irish blood advised, tell your whole story. The Indian in my heart cautioned me to stay balanced, humble. Shame tried to interfere and told me to keep quiet. I took my old humiliations and used them like keys. I open up my life like a can of worms.
Take a journey with me. Keep reading.
Trace A. DeMeyer/ Laura Thrall-Bland/ Winyan Ohmanisa Waste La Ke
HOW HAS THE ADOPTION EXPERIENCE AFFECTED YOUR POETRY?
My poetry has come in spurts my entire life. There are months I may fill a notebook and other times nothing comes. I do have to be inspired. Gathering the poems for Sleeps With Knives was a challenge for me but I am glad I did it. Many of the poems relate to my childhood and experiences as an adoptee. I told a friend that each poem comes with a free knife, since many are cutting and sharp.
PLEASE SHARE A SAMPLE POEM(S) ADDRESSING (IN PART) ADOPTION:
what we inherit. . . a ghost shell. . .
I dream of this, the weight,
a tortoise shell on my back, a heavy hull.
Did I choose its protection? I was asleep.
No one ever said, “You can drop it now” or
“It’s safe to drop that, you’ll be ok.”
Maybe the shell did protect me at one time
when I needed armor.
Maybe it isolated me for reasons
I do not know or understand.
It was heavy and hard to balance.
When I woke up, I could feel its weight.
I can still feel it, like a ghost,
like an arm or leg amputated.
Somehow it still signals my brain,
Maybe my mother put this shell on me before she left me.
Maybe I inherited it, like a talisman.
Maybe the shell was what women in my family wore to survive.
All I know is I was born with it.
[First published in Sleeps With Knives notionally by Laramie Harlow, a pen name (Blue Hand Books)]
ABOUT THE POET:
Professional blogger, mosaic artist and award-winning journalist Trace A. DeMeyer is former editor of the Pequot Times in Connecticut and editor/co-founder of Ojibwe Akiing; in 2012, she free-lances for the national newspaper News from Indian Country in Wisconsin and maintains three blogs and a Twitter newspaper: Modern Ndn.
Her academic writing, “Power, Politics and the Pequot: The world’s richest Indians” was presented in Munich at the 26th American Indian Workshop. She is also the author of “Honor Restored: The Story of Jim Thorpe” in the book “The Olympics at the Millennium: Power, Politics and the Games 2000, published by Rutgers Press. Her book, One Small Sacrifice: A Memoir, Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Project, describes the little-known history of the Indian Adoption Project and Indian Child Welfare Act; the new second edition was released in February 2012 on Amazon and Kindle.
Trace blogs about American Indian Adoptees at www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com.