Thursday, July 07, 2005

An Adoption Question

For about two-point-six seconds, CNN featured a story about an American Indian woman, part of the Meskwaki tribe in Iowa who is fighting her tribal council to have her baby be adopted by a white, Indiana couple. It seems that the Indian Child Welfare Act gives the tribe some authority to intercede on behalf of a child in an adoption to prevent the child from being wrongfully taken and to keep children within the tribal community. This raises interesting concerns that remind me of a conversation with an online friend of mine who discovered she had American Indian blood when she was in her twenties. Raised as a Caucasian Canadian, when she found out about her heritage, she felt extremely cheated, as if she had lost an integral part of her history and a culture that should've been hers. Which begs the question, should the tribe in this article have the right to prevent children from being removed from the tribal community? To preserve their links to their history and heritage, should the tribe have the right to stop adoptions to families outside the American Indian culture? Of course, the first inclination is to say that the protection of a child's ties to their heritage is crucial. Certainly, I can imagine that many people would argue that no amount of wealth or adopted whiteness would make up for the kind of loss that one might feel after realizing how little they know about their own culture. However, on the other hand, I'm not sure that I like the idea that a body of government should have more say over what decision a mother makes regarding who her child lives with. Had the child still been within her body, the ties to the abortion debate would be even more apparent -- and while the government should have the ability to prevent an abusive situation, I don't think a government forcing a mother to raise a child beyond her own economic means is a good precedent to set for mother's rights.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless that government is going to pay for that child's wellbeing, education, and be able to provide as well or better than the adoptive couple, I vote no (and I'm half NA myself, so I can say that). If I hadn't been adopted and raised by my very white, middle-class parents, college would have been out of the question, and I probably would be living in a trailor park on the reservation right now, drinking copious amounts of rotgut.

Well, I guess I just set myself up for some major spamming. I think for the first time in my blogging life, I will post anon, as much as it galls me. I just don't want to hear the abuse over on my blog.

7/07/2005 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

anonymous, for the most part, i agree with you in that the tribal government is essentially demanding that they know better for a mother's child than she does. if a mother cannot raise her child, i don't think she should not be forced to by the government, either through adoption intervention or prevention of abortion -- it's just far too much intervention by the government into personal rights, in my opinion. especially because this mother has taken it upon herself to find a home for her child.

however, the loss of the child's american indian culture, is an issue, in my opinon. having been raised by a white middle class family, i assume that you are detached from your native american heritage, and i don't think it would be hard to argue that while you benefited from economic privilege, that loss is hard to reconcile. i can see the tribal council's point, especially considering that many of the american indian cultures are in danger of dying out.

that being said, i disagree with the characterization that all american indians live in trailers and do nothing with their lives than drinking copious amounts of rotgut and that to be born on a reservation is basically to live a wasted, low-class life in an eternal alcohol-induced haze. that's too much stereotyping and not enough self-determination even for me, but hey, maybe it's the model minority in me talking.

either way though, i don't begrudge you going anonymous in this case, and i would hope no one would spam you for stating your opinion based on your personal experiences.

7/07/2005 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

Having lived in a First Nations community for a short period of time, I can tell you that especially for the northern bands, it IS like that. It is extremely sad, and a total waste. There are those amongst the white men who deliberately keep them that way, I have found as well and that is criminal.

I have seen babies (dressed only in a diaper) playing unattended not 2 feet from the dirt road while trucks full of drunken band members whiz by at 60-80kph. I have seen drunken fights spill out into the street in front of my home because they have no other outlet for their feelings. The RCMP never came until it was over. Nice huh? I have seen the local school principal (white) having a teenage mistress - one of his students no less and having had to accept a ride from him to get back to the city (an 8+ hr ride), listen to him spout 17th C views on First Nations people.

Sadly these stereotypes are borne out in almost any major city in Canada, as well as the US. There are very few wealthy First Nations reserves in Canada, and those are mainly so because of lucrative deals they've signed with the government and corporations for rights to their land. A very few of the west coast bands are wealthy because of fishing, tourism and sporting rights. The Sarcee in Calgary are wealthy because of the fact they leased their land to the DND until recently. They also have oil reserves on their lands that they earn royalties from. Some Ontario bands are wealthy because of selling land to developers. That is about it for non-stereotypical behaviour and treatment.

Now getting back to the topic at hand, I believe that the tribe has every right to protect the heritage of the child in cases like these (tho they should ideally be taken case by case) with the caveat that if the adoptive parents (of whatever ethnicity) agree to provide for whatever heritage their adoptive child has, they should be given the right to do so. This should apply for African American children being adopted by non-African American parents as well. It seems in most cases, the only reason a Native mother would give up the rights to and of her child would be for sheer financial incentives. Not for the child, but for herself. Mothers are paid a lot for their kids so it stands to reason that she'd try and get as much for the kid as possible. Harsh of me to judge people but yeah, this is how I see it. As long as the practice of paying people for their children like that goes on, it will always be open to abuse. It doesn't directly say this is what is happening in this case, but it's all too common in many cases, even where racial issues are not present.

As this particular tribe is NOT one that is less well off, there should be no reason why the child shouldn't stay there, registered status or not, as it is still part of his heritage and it seems they are willing to accept that. It's not like the tribal members can't look after the child in this case or provide any more or less opportunities than non-tribal parents. One can argue that it's governmental interference in the rights of a mother but not all the facts are apparent in this case, and any good lawyer is going to argue this regardless anyway, given the current fashion for protesting whenever the government has to enforce something a person (or persons) doesn't like.

Whatever the outcome, I do hope that the eventual adoptive parents of this child are sensitive to his needs and make sure he has contact with and recognises his heritage.

7/08/2005 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

"Whatever the outcome, I do hope that the eventual adoptive parents of this child are sensitive to his needs and make sure he has contact with and recognises his heritage."

I would hope that any adoptive family would do that if they adopt a child of another race or ethnicity, regardless of the mother's wishes. But I know that even if they choose to (which they often don't), I'm not sure they could adequately do so because of their own lack of access to the child's culture. That's why I'm hesitant about transcultural adoption -- especially because adoption of Asian children by white Americans is a huge phenomenon. On my other forum, you get parents who are trying to give their child more understanding of their Asian heritage, but in the end, end up with these totally bastardized, General Tso's chicken interpretatiions of Asian heritage, all with the best of intentions.

It's interesting that Kaede, you agree with the tribal council and I seem to agree with the mother. Both sides have their pros and cons here, I guess it really depends on what you see as more important... I never like the idea of the government having that much power to dictate to a mother what is best for her child.

7/08/2005 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous different anonymous said...

"That's why I'm hesitant about transcultural adoption"

Just to see how far this extends... what about a baby from the cultural majority being adopted by minority parents?

And just to be more difficult (to be clear about this: I'm playing devil's advocate on this one), why should one's birth be the sole determinant of which culture one associates oneself with?

7/08/2005 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous sheldiz said...

I agree Jenn, I think the preservation of culture is HUGELY important in the adoption process. Going along with Diff Anon's questions, here's another one: what about 'majority to majority' adoptions?? We hear a lot about asian or african american babies being adopted by white families and the questions (like the ones above) about preserving their cultural identy. But what happens when a rumanian baby is adopted by italian parents (or any number of same race/different culture combinations)? There doesn't seem to be as much pressure on these parents to preserve the baby's cultural identity. I think its unfortunate when any child's history and ancestry is lost due to adoption.

7/08/2005 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

DA, Shel, I should think that raising your child to be aware of the culture of their birthright is extremely important whether race is a factor or not. That's just something I would expect adoptive parents to assume as a responsibility. Having an Italian child being adopted by Romanian parents, I would expect that the adoptive child should automatically expose their child to Italian culture so they can have an understanding of their history. Whether the child later chooses to embrace being Italian or Romanian is up to the kid.

However, let's not cloud the issue -- transcultural is one issue and transracial is another, and at this point, we aren't talking about transracial adoption. Race and culture are not the same thing, folks, and my outlook doesn't change whether the cultures are of one race or another. A white child raised by black folks is still a white child, even if they are "culturally black", so that's a whole other thing entirely.

To answer DA's question, "why should one's birth be the sole determinant of which culture one associates oneself with?", I wouldn't think that a child born Native American should only associate with Native Americans, but it's also true that they are by blood American Indian, and are part of that heritage and culture. To raise a Native American child without access to that history does the child a disservice because it essentially steals from them the culture that they were born into, a tribe asking that a child not be adopted out of the culture is saying basically that this loss of the child's heritage will do irreversible damage to the child because it is essentially forcibly removing the child's cultural identity.

If we DO bring transracial into the discussion, then the question is compounded by whether a member of one race can adequately provide the same "cultural education" opportunities and understanding for a child as parents of the child's same race and culture. Can a white parent teach a black child what it's like to be black in America (or vice versa)?

7/08/2005 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

The thing is, at least they would be trying, in however small a way to give the child access to his/her racial/cultural heritage, however bastardised it becomes. More and more people are becoming sensitive to this very issue and I wouldn't be surprised if more resources aren't set up for this kind of thing, where people have the chance to expose their children to a more accurate cultural/racial outlook...

7/08/2005 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous different anonymous said...

"[A] tribe asking that a child not be adopted out of the culture is saying basically that this loss of the child's heritage will do irreversible damage to the child because it is essentially forcibly removing the child's cultural identity"

The underlying assumption here is that the only way that a child (person) can have access to a given cultural heritage is to be raised entirely within it, and that no matter how much exposure parents might provide an adoptive child, that child is still cut off as soon as they're outside the birth-culture. Do you agree with this?

7/09/2005 03:48:00 PM  

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