Thursday, December 9, 2010

They're Indian Kids. Let the Tribe Take Care of 'em. They Aren't Our Business.

Carrie had been with us now for only about three or four months. It seemed like a much longer period of time had passed, but that was only because so much had happened in that short period of time.

Child Protection informed us that although there was proof Carrie was abused, there was no proof as to who did it. Without proof, they couldn't hold anyone accountable.  We were told Carrie's father and his family were to be allowed visits again.

Dalene, anxious to see her, took Carrie home for the weekend. On Sunday evening, they returned. Setting the baby out of the car onto the sidewalk, they handed her the overnight bag and gave her a nudge.  We had heard the car drive up and had come out, surprised to see 18-month-old Carrie climbing the steps to the door - by herself - dragging the little bag behind her.

They watched from the road until they saw us pick her up, then drove off.

When Cheri finally came back a week or so later and took Carrie, I laid on my bed and cried for a couple hours.


I returned to the Ojibwe class in the last semester. I still felt it was important for the children to understand their culture, so I took Andrew and sometimes Joy with me to class. Pregnant again, I even considered wearing headphones on my belly in order to assimilate the baby to the language. Mickey’s brother Troy, whose friends had shaved his head during a drunk, moved in with us, too. I wanted the boys to get better at speaking also, so I wrote onto slips of paper the Ojibwe names of household objects and then stuck them around the house.

It seemed like a good idea, but no one was really interested. Those slips of paper remained stuck to our furniture for a good year, little noticed by anyone.

The boys weren't interested in the language, but attained other minor victories. While staying with us, Troy obtained his driver’s license, had his chipped front tooth fixed, and worked on getting his GED. Mickey worked on getting his driver’s permit and attended high school.

One day Mickey came home an hour early from class.

"What are you doing home?" I asked him.

"My advocate let me out."

"What do you mean, 'let you out'?"

"Well, I didn't like my art teacher, so a month or so ago my Indian advocate let me drop the class and go to study hall in his office instead. He'd ask me a couple questions and stuff, but I wasn't really doing anything there so now he just lets me come home instead."

I called the advocate. "In the first place," I told him, "I don't agree with letting him drop art.  He has to work out his problems with his teacher. But in the second place, Mickey got two 'F's' last quarter! How come you’re letting him cut out of school?"
"What are you worried about?" the advocate, also a tribal member, responded, "He's got three years of school left. He's got time to catch up."

About ready to blow my top and getting nowhere with this man, I called the principal, who agreed Mickey shouldn't be leaving school early. It was too late to get Mickey back into the art class, so he placed him into the real study hall instead.  Unfortunately, the principal didn't have the cojones to fire the advocate for being the idiot he was.

The following day, Mickey confided that the Indian advocate had told him  "Don't listen to Beth, all white people talk like that."

'What a jerk,' I thought angrily, 'why isn't that so-called advocate helping Mickey apply himself? Don't they think an Indian kid can be expected to work hard?  Do they look down on Indian kids that much?  If anybody dares treat Andrew that way when he gets to school, expecting less of him just because he's Indian, I'll knock em to the moon!

Right - it's easy to blow up at all the fools outside the family.  But to open my mouth and say something to family members?  Not so much...


Cattle and Cupcakes said...

The last paragraph was what was SCREAMING in my head.

They're just as smart, talented, and able as any other kid.

Is it still like that now?

Lisa said...

Yes, many places do still treat kids of tribal heritage with lower expectations. Worse, the attitude is encouraged and propagandized by tribal government itself.

One tribal attorney in an Arkansas court just 3 yrs ago - while fighting to take 2 children from a safe, loving home where they were well-cared for and place them in an overcrowded, troubled (documented issues) home that had connection to the tribe - said that Indian children shouldn't be expected to live by "European standards." He said Indian children are used to sleeping on floors - and that was okay.

Who is he kidding? Why is tribal government allowed to make racist statements like that? I can tell you with absolute certainty that given the choice, every single child I raised, as well as every relative child that I know, would choose a good bed over a floor. What a bunch of garbage.

The propaganda that children of heritage are somehow different than other kids is in effort, we believe, to keep jurisdiction (and power) over them. The idea put forward is that kids of heritage have an intrinsic attachment to the reservation and will be spiritually destroyed if detached from it.

An article ten years ago said something about looking into the eyes of an Indian child and seeing 'past generations.' Was that writer able to look into the eyes of children of other heritages and see the same thing? Why not?

It's so easy to put one's own expectations and romanticisms onto a child. People do it all the time. And in doing so - they neglect who the child really is - his/her individuality.

I'm very tired of what boils down to racist rhetoric.

Personally, I looked into the eyes of the nine I raised and saw THEM. I want the 'powers that be' to quit pretending these kids are somehow different than others. It’s an excuse to control them as if they are chattel.

This brings us to the Indian Child Welfare Act. It’s a terrible law. Current laws governing placement of children of other heritages already cover the need to keep families connected if possible. At the same time, they protect children from being subjected to abusive and neglectful family, which is something the ICWA does NOT do well because it gives tribal governments the right to decide placement, and they have a conflict of interest. I have seen children placed in inadequate, if not downright terrible situations for the sake of keeping the kids within the system,

The real purpose of ICWA as far as we can tell has nothing to do with the ‘welfare’ of children. It has everything to do with the ‘welfare’ of tribal gov’t. The last census showed that a majority of enrollable people now live off the reservation. Some are still connected, but many no longer choose to be part of the system. But as people move away and don't enroll their kids in the tribe, tribal govt’s lose federal money. They also lose people over whom they can rule. That's the bottom line for ICWA.

This is why the ICWA includes language that claims jurisdiction over "enrollable" children, not just "enrolled" children. They are also free to decide their own membership criteria. For the Cherokee tribe, all that is required is a direct line to the Dawes rolls.

Put those two facts together, and federal gov’t has created a terrible situation for children. Example: Six years ago, a firefighter in Texas, with his wife, took in a newborn baby boy to adopt. After a few weeks, during the process of adoption, it was discovered the child had less than 2% heritage in the Cherokee tribe. The tribe then decided it wants the child, who is more than 98% non-tribal. The child is still unadopted as of today, and the family has spent years and tens of thousands of dollars fighting for him. We have many stories like that.

It's a genuine crime against these kids.

There - I went on a rant...

Cattle and Cupcakes said...

No, I agree. The line "Was that writer able to look into the eyes of children of other heritages and see the same thing? Why not?"

I wholeheartedly am in the belief that every child deserves to be proud of their heritage, OR NOT BE, and they shouldn't have to live up to any other expectation due to their bloodlines, their family's social status, etc.

It's sad to see that the government, and if you'll excuse my offensiveness, teamed with the ICWA, are making indians victims all over again.

Greed is a disgusting motivator.