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Thursday, June 25, 2015

If Truth Be Told

By Lorie Graham and Kathryn E. Fort | THE HILL, Congress Blog


For more than a century, the governments of Canada and the United States pursued a policy of forcible removal of indigenous children from their homes and communities.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada recently released a report on these removal practices, recognizing them to be part of a policy of “cultural genocide.”

On June 14 the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its own official findings on the widespread removal of Wabanaki children in that state.  This is not a story unique to Maine or Canada, nor is it a story of the past. These removals occurred throughout the United States and continue today.  According to the Maine Wabanaki TRC, indigenous children are five times more likely than non-indigenous children to be removed from their homes.  Nationally, there are similar disparities in foster care and adoption rates, leading one United Nations human rights body in 2014 to express “concern over the continued . . . removal of indigenous children through the U.S. child welfare system.”

And in an ongoing class action suit in South Dakota, a federal court recently ordered state officials to stop violating the due process rights of Indian parents and tribes in state child custody proceedings.  In some cases, children were taken from their parents in hearings that lasted less than 5 minutes, without any opportunity to present evidence.
 
Forcible removal of indigenous children from their families dates back to colonial times, when missionaries set out to “Christianize” and “civilize” Indian children under the guise of educating them.  The federal government continued these practices, establishing boarding schools around the country, such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.  This school was founded in 1879 by Army Captain Richard Henry Pratt, who is well known among indigenous peoples for his brutal methods of “civilizing” Indian children.  The destructive intent of Pratt and other federal officials is evident in his famous statement that   “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. . . In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all Indian there is in the race should be dead.  Kill the Indian, in him, and save the man.”

In the mid-1900s, other mechanisms beyond the federal boarding school were used to sever a child’s ties with her tribal community, such as the 1958 BIA-sponsored Indian Adoption Project.  By 1974, when the U.S. Senate convened a special hearing on the Indian child welfare crisis in this country, 25-35 percent of all indigenous children were being systematically removed from their homes by nontribal public and private agencies.  According to Congress, “child welfare agencies failed to recognize the essential tribal relations of Indian people and the culture and social standards prevailing in Indian communities and families.”  These findings led to the passage of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”), groundbreaking legislation designed to protect Indigenous children, their families, and tribes. Yet as a matter of practice, the law has been misconstrued, misapplied, and at times completely ignored.

To address these shortcomings, the federal government recently enacted new guidelines and proposed new regulations to ensure nationwide uniformity in the interpretation of ICWA.  However, this federal commitment is under attack by some who claim the guidelines do not address the “best interests” of Indian children. But what these legal challenges fail to recognize is that the “best interests of Indian children” is at the heart of ICWA. Congress recognized that there was a need for minimum federal standards to counter abusive child welfare practices and the negative consequences that those practices have on Indigenous children, their families and tribes.

As First Lady Michelle Obama recently noted, “given this history, we shouldn’t be surprised at the challenges that kids in Indian Country are facing today.  And we should never forget that we played a role in this.  Make no mistake about it – we own this.”


ICWA and its guidelines recognize that indigenous children have a right to maintain their cultural and familial relations, and that tribal governments have a sovereign right to protect their children from wholesale removal.  At its core, ICWA is about keeping children with their families and communities, which is why it has been recognized by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other national child welfare groups as the “gold standard for child welfare policies and practices in the United States.” These aims are consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the United States endorsed in 2010. And the aims are as important today as they were forty years ago when ICWA was passed, given the ongoing issues in Maine, South Dakota, and elsewhere in the United States.

Rather than legal challenges, perhaps what we need in the United States is our own national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (using the UN Declaration as a guiding document). As the Maine Wabanaki TRC noted in their Declaration of Intent “important progress has been made with the passage of the ICWA,” but “Maine’s child welfare history continues to impact Wabanaki children and families today.  We have come to realize that we must unearth the story of Wabanaki people’s experiences in order to fully uphold the spirit, letter, and intent of ICWA.”  Unearthing the stories through a national TRC may be essential for the wellbeing of indigenous children, families, and tribes across the United States. In the meantime, the new guidelines and proposed regulations ensure that state courts and others who are involved in Indian child welfare cases move forward with greater clarity and understanding.  

Graham is professor of Law and Co-Director of the International Law Concentration at Suffolk University Law School in Boston and a visiting professor of Law at Harvard Law School.  Fort is an attorney with the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law, and has extensive experience in the field of Indian child welfare.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Aboriginal history, culture coming to B.C. schools curriculum

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Marines from the Royal Navy destroying a Kwakwaka'wakw village in 1850, from The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, by Gord Hill.
Marines from the Royal Navy destroying a Kwakwaka’wakw village in 1850, from The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, by Gord Hill.
 
‘You can’t have reconciliation unless you understand what the truth behind it is,’ said Peter Fassbender

 
By All Points West, CBC News, June 19, 2015

It’s meant to be a step towards reconciliation: B.C.’s new education curriculum will include more instruction on aboriginal culture and history.

The province says this is a response to a “call for action” coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission really showed us the urgent need we have to move forward in a very positive way,” said Education Minister Peter Fassbender. 

John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, says the changes will better reflect the full history of aboriginal peoples.

“There’ll be everything from having an opportunity to learn a little bit about indigenous plants and animals,” said Rustad.

“There might be also opportunities around concepts of environmental stewardship … to go along with history of residential schools and other components of our interactions over the years.”
Rustad says the hope is that the curriculum will role out this fall but it could be another year until it’s adopted by every school in the province. The new curriculum will start in grade 5 and be implemented across various classes.

Fassbender says a single course would not have be sufficient and that this curriculum revamp will give teachers a great deal of latitude to insert the material into their teachings throughout the years.

The new curriculum also does not shy away from Canada’s dark and racist history, he says.
“We will be sharing the truth of what happened,” Fassbender said in regard to residential schools.
“You can’t have reconciliation unless you understand what the truth behind it is.”

For aboriginal students, he says, this will give them an opportunity to be able to better understand some of the challenges they see in their communities.

“You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from. To have all of our young people understand some of the tragedies that took place will begin to help enhance the healing process.”


http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/aboriginal-history-culture-coming-to-b-c-schools-curriculum-1.3121335

Thursday, June 18, 2015

60s Scoop: ‘They just wanted to remove an Indian child into a white home’


Art by Tania Willard, Secwepemc.
Art by Tania Willard, Secwepemc.

By Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press/CBC News, June 17, 2015

Child welfare agents took Christine Merasty from her mother’s arms shortly after her birth at a hospital on Christmas Day in 1970.

It was supposed to be a six-month arrangement to allow her mother — a residential school survivor — to get her life together after living on the streets of downtown Winnipeg.

But child-welfare workers were already showing the infant’s picture to prospective white families for adoption. Christine was taken to her new home in the rural Manitoba town of Bowsman when she was four months old.

“They didn’t give my family a chance. They just wanted to remove an Indian child into a white home,” Merasty says. “That wasn’t right. I had a family searching for me for 20 years, wanting me. They would have wanted me in 1970.”

It was called the Adopt Indian Metis program. Today it’s referred to as the Sixties Scoop.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, thousands of aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child-welfare services and placed with non-aboriginal families.

Many view the program in the same light as residential schools. Adoptees have been calling for a formal apology similar to the one given to school survivors.

On Thursday, Manitoba is to become the first province to apologize to Merasty and hundreds of others for the loss of their family, culture and heritage.

For many, including Merasty, it comes too late. It won’t give her back a childhood immersed in her culture or teach her the language of her grandparents.

“I’m angry. How can you not be angry?” she says. “Who gave them the right to make a decision on my life and for my family?”

It took 23 years for Merasty to find her roots.

She grew up thinking she was French, but never knowing where her dark eyes, hair and high cheekbones came from. She endured racist taunts from classmates because she looked aboriginal.
While searching for post-secondary funding, Merasty found out she was from Lac Brochet, a reserve in northern Manitoba. When she called the band office, she ended up talking to the chief — her uncle.
By then, her mother, Claire, had been dead for 20 years. She had become one of Canada’s almost 1,200 missing or murdered aboriginal women, her body found on a highway on the outskirts of Winnipeg. No one has ever been charged in her death.

Merasty couldn’t ask her any of the questions she had pondered for years. But she found grandparents and a community that had never given up searching for her. When she visited her home reserve for the first time, hundreds lined up at the airstrip to greet her.

She couldn’t communicate with her Dene grandmother except through a translator, but the connection with her family was instantaneous.

“The connection I felt was the love. It’s so unconditional. I’m raised white but that love is indescribable.”

Merasty had eight years to get to know her grandfather before he died in 2001. Her grandmother died in 2011. Merasty lost out on a lifetime with them, but still considers herself fortunate.

“I’m just one lucky person that found a family that completely loves me.”
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/sixties-scoop-they-just-wanted-to-remove-an-indian-child-into-a-white-home-1.3117815

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Australian church apologises for "baby snatching" - ABC 110725



Where hasn't this happened?

US should follow Canada’s lead and reckon with its own destructive legacy


Library and Archives Canada / Reuters

Canada confronts ‘cultural genocide’ against aboriginal people

June 16, 2015

On May 31 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released a summary of its report on the history and legacy of the nation’s residential schools. The report concluded that Canada’s aboriginal policy, designed “to eliminate aboriginal governments … and cause aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada,” has caused unspeakable and enduring suffering that amounts to “cultural genocide.”

The U.S. also had a shameful program of residential schools for its Native American children, often operated by churches with government funding. A reckoning for the destructive legacy of forced assimilation is long overdue. It’s time for the U.S. to follow Canada’s lead in establishing a truth and reconciliation commission and acknowledge the havoc its policies have wrought.

Canada’s legacy

Started in the 1880s, the schools were funded by Canadian government but run primarily by churches. An estimated 150,000 aboriginal children attended the residential schools during their century-long tenure. But the goal was never to educate the children. Instead, the schools were designed to destroy aboriginal culture by removing children from reservations and severing ties with parents and communities, in order to inculcate ‘civilized’ and Christian values. The last residential school closed in 1998, but the after-effects continue to exact a devastating toll today. This is true not only for those haunted by their stay at the schools but for the entire community of aboriginals whose culture and systems of government were targeted for annihilation.
Many of the 80,000 survivors recounted their harrowing tales of forced separation from their communities and brutal physical, sexual and psychological abuse to the Commission. And the TRC found that more than 3,000 aboriginal children perished in the in residential schools from abuse, neglect and illness. Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, estimated that the figure could be far higher, since shoddy record keeping obscured the Commission’s final accounting.
The TRC was formed as part of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, in the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged and apologized for the harm caused by Canada’s residential schools. But he has refused to commit to implementing the Commission’s 94 recommendations, including provisions for health, education, justice and commemoration. Canada cannot simply close this sordid chapter and move on. Instead, it must enact policies and programs that would ensure aboriginal communities have the support, tools and resources to heal and thrive.
The grave injustices of North American residential schools and their aftermath are clear. But seeking and speaking the truth is only the beginning of a long process of reconciliation.
Kill the Indian in him, and save the man,” Richard Pratt, a U.S. Army officer who pioneered the concept of off-reservation boarding schools opined in an oft-quoted 1892 speech. At the time, Pratt’s goal of cultural rather than physical genocide, though despicable, was less extreme for its time than that of others who advocated for the outright extermination of the nation’s native people.
But, as in Canada, the U.S. schools served their intended purpose of demolishing Native American traditions and history. Thousands of children died from abuse, neglect and malnutrition. Others were harshly punished for residual ties to their culture or spirituality. And the schools often pushed boys toward manual labor and girls to domestic service. As a 2009 United Nations report concluded, instead of working toward full integration “the training prepared Native children to be assimilated into the bottom of the socio-economic ladder,” where many continue to struggle.
The historical trauma inflicted on parents can haunt subsequent generations. Researchers found stress hormone adaptations in the children of Holocaust survivors, perhaps caused in utero, that may predispose them to ill health. And the effect is not limited to environmental factors: it may actually be woven into DNA. This trauma may partly explain the social ills that continue to plague Native communities both in the U.S. and Canada, including high rates of addiction, mental illness, domestic and sexual violence, family disintegration and poor physical health. Reservations in the U.S. experience suicide epidemics, and though the reasons are not clear, there is agreement that one of the factors is “the legacy of federally funded boarding schools that forcibly removed generations of Native American children from their homes,” according to The New York Times.

Need for reparations

The U.S. has made some efforts to end its history of forced assimilation.  For example, in 1978 Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act to keep Native American children with their families or communities. But nearly 40 years later, the law has failed to meet its mark, and Native American children are still being fostered and adopted into communities that fail to reflect their cultural heritage.
Last month a commission in Maine found that the state placed five times as many Native American children in foster care as non-native children. Maine is hardly alone: In 2013, advocates in Nebraska linked a spike in the number of the state’s Native American children in foster care to the legacy of boarding schools. And placement of children within their communities for fostering and adoption is hampered in part by lack of appropriate homes.
That shortage, which reflects the damage inflicted by governmental policy, reinforces the need for comprehensive reparations to heal and rebuild damaged communities. The specifics of a reparations package must be crafted and embraced by Native American groups. It would likely include individual and collective restitution, restoration and truth telling.
The grave injustices of North American residential schools and their aftermath are clear. But seeking and speaking the truth is only the beginning of a long process of reconciliation. Both Canada and the U.S. must commit to atoning for the schools’ horrors by expending political capital and economic resources to help Native communities truly recover.

Lauren Carasik is a clinical professor of law and the director of the international human rights clinic at the Western New England University School of Law.

SOURCE: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why isn't there a US Truth and Reconcilation Commission?

Last Thursday, with tears, a few angry remarks, and a traditional folk song, some of those children came together at the University of Southern Maine to share their experiences.
a new 2nd Edition is coming out in 2015
More than 100 people turned out  to hear Passamaquoddy tribal members Esther Ann Altvater and Denise Yarmel Altvater discuss the plight of Maine's Wabanaki people in the state's child welfare system.
The meeting also educated the public about Maine's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission, signed into law in June, is the first such group formed between Indian nations and a state government.
Truth and reconciliation commissions are fact-finding groups that investigate past wrongdoings by government. One of the most well-known commissions was created to study the effect of apartheid in South Africa. Only one other commission has been organized in the United States, a group that examined the 1979 massacre of five protesters in Greensboro, N.C.
The goal of the Maine commission is to record the experiences of the Wabanaki ("dawn land people") with the state's child welfare system, provide feedback on how the system can improve its work with Wabanaki children, and help native people heal.
"When I was very young, my sisters and I were removed from the reservation where we lived. The reservation was the world, and I didn't think anything else existed," Denise Altvater said.
"Then one day, strangers showed up, put our stuff into garbage bags, and drove us off. And the more they drove, the more our world disappeared into nothing. They brought us to this horrible place where we were basically tortured for four years."
Others attending the meeting shared similar stories. One man told the audience how he was taught to be ashamed of his Wabanaki heritage, and refused to help his mother comb her dark Indian hair.
Forced relocation was common in Maine for many years. It began in the 1870s, when church groups took Indian children and sent them to schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language, wear their own clothes or practice their own religion.
In 1958, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America began a 10-year "experiment" to place 1,000 Indian children in the foster care of white families. While the federal government initially thought the experiment would be a success, Native Americans have called it cultural genocide.
While it's not known exactly how many of those children were taken in Maine, the state placed them in white homes at a rate many times higher than other states, according to the commission.
At one time, the state had taken custody of 16 percent of all children in the Maliseet tribe, one of the four Wabanaki tribes that still exist in Maine. Originally, the tribes numbered more than 2o.
In 1978, the federal government passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, which gave Native American children more protection and recognized that a child's tribal citizenship is as important as a family. But in the 1990s, federal officials cited Maine's Department of Health and Human Services as "failing" in its compliance with the ICWA.
The commission is one attempt to correct that failure.
"One of the most distinct aspects of this initiative is that there is no shame and blame, but just people from the tribes and the state who are committed to making sure this never happens again," said Chief Kirk Francis, one of the Maine five tribal chiefs who signed the agreement creating the commission with Gov. Paul LePage.
For Denise Altvater, the work of the commission is more than the letter of the law.
"We can work together to make sure everyone simply follows law and policies," she said. "Or we can go deeper to figure out how to make changes because it is the right thing to do."

**********

Monday, June 15, 2015

Manitoba to apologize to aboriginals adopted into white families in '60s Scoop

Manitoba is set to apologize to aboriginals who were taken from their parents decades ago and adopted into non-aboriginal families. Premier Greg Selinger said the apology, expected next week in the legislature, will acknowledge damage done to those taken from their homes and their culture. Manitoba was one of the provinces most affected, so it is appropriate that it be among the first to apologize, he said.

Manitoba to apologize to aboriginals adopted into white families in '60s Scoop (published June 11)

Beyond the Mandate: Maine TRC

Report Released by the Maine Wabanaki-State Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Here. (78 pages, pdf).
We further assert that these conditions and the fact of disproportionate entry into care can be held within the context of continued cultural genocide, as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. In particular, the convention notes that genocide means “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” We posit that Article 2, Sections b and e –“Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” and “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” – apply to what Wabanaki communities face here in Maine.

***
This, too, we found to be true: providing and sustaining preventive support to Native families might be of the greatest use of all. One Wabanaki service provider commented, as did many, that tribal people view child rearing as the responsibility of an extended network of kin and connections. This person noted that the best way to help children is to “strengthen families as a whole and communities as a whole to be able to step up and care for kids when things aren’t optimal in their home lives so they don’t ever even need to enter the system.” (11/4/14)

Many of those who work in the state child-welfare system share this exact desire. When reflecting on the process of being involved with the Commission, a DHHS supervisor wrote, “This has been an amazing journey to bring truths to light. To bravely state fact, to move through and past pain toward healing. My vision for the future is a strong family system without the need for foster care.” (4/9/15)
The report ends with 14 recommendations, and comes out amid tensions between tribes and the state over fishing, water quality standards, and jurisdictional concerns.

THEIR WEBSITE: www.MaineWabanakiTRC.org

Saturday, June 13, 2015

TRC reports and comments pour in on ICWA regulation

http://www.wearecominghome.com/

Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report


Recently released, here is the executive summary on residential schools, the survivors’ stories, and the call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. There has also been extensive news coverage in Canada surrounding the release of the report.

Executive Summary (pdf, 388 pages)

The Survivors Speak (pdf, 260 pages)

Calls to Action (pdf, 20 pages)

=================================================================

Additional Comments on Proposed ICWA Regulations


More than 1,000 additional comments were posted this week to regulations.gov on the proposed ICWA regulations, bringing the total number of comments to 1,869. We have updated the tribal nations comments page here, and the organizations page here.

Here are a few additional individual comments we noted as we scrolled through them:
361_-_Erdrich,_Karen_Louise
942_-_Jones,_Laura
919_-_Spotted_Elk,_Sheldon
2097_-_Blanchard,_Evelyn
1524_-_White_Hawk,_Sandy
298_Hirsch_Bertram
1525_-_Houska,_Tara
886_-_Lidot,_Tom
1280_-_Drobnick,_Heidi_A
Sweet_Victoria



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sheshegwaning First Nation adoptee connects with family through art

  CBC News
 







Artist Paul Whittam has always wondered about his birth family, as he was adopted when he was just ten weeks old.
He had a loving childhood, but knew he was a member of the Sheshegwaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island and has had a longing to connect with his blood relatives.
During his time at Trent University, he asked an elder for his spirit name, and through a traditional naming ceremony, was given the name Negik, which means Otter.
Paul Whittam is seen with his birth sister, and his mother, Virginia. (Supplied)
After finishing his degree, Whittam said he started to deal with depression. He turned to First Nations healers, and one from Manitoulin Island told him he believed he knew who Whittam's birth mother was.
"I was just stunned by this information," he said.
He said his adoptive mother got the adoption records and the information matched. He later found out the healer he was speaking with, named Joe, was his uncle.
Whittam contacted his birth mother through e-mail and the two started to correspond.
"It came to the point about a year later that it was time to go for a visit up to Manitoulin Island," he said.
The two decided to meet on Mother's Day.
"It was a little frightening at first but as soon as I saw her, she looked exactly like me," he said. "We just gave each other a big hug and shared a tear of joy. It's been wonderful ever since then."
Since that moment, Whittam said he's no longer depressed as he now has two families — including a brother and sister.
"My sister's name, her spirit name that was given to her years before I even met her is Young Otter Woman in Ojibwe language," he said
"I had the same name as my sister who I had never met before and I got my [spirit] name when I was at school."
Whittam said he describes his artwork as visual healing through colour, shape and form.
His birth family recently came to the event to see his work. The display is at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation centre on Manitoulin Island until July 2.


To Veronica Brown

Veronica, we adult adoptees are thinking of you today and every day. We will be here when you need us. Your journey in the adopted life has begun, nothing can revoke that now, the damage cannot be undone. Be courageous, you have what no adoptee before you has had; a strong group of adult adoptees who know your story, who are behind you and will always be so.

Telling our Stories

Telling our stories is a critical piece to healing the trauma of Indigenous adoption and so, as an adoptee, it is important to be both a teller and someone who “bears witness” to the stories of others. Although I am happy to be closing the door on telling mine, there are so many stories yet to be told.

~ Raven Sinclair

LAND OF GAZILLION ADOPTEES

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