Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Adoption and the ICWA
I just found out about the Talon Larson adoption controversy going on in Utah where a six month-old baby was ordered to be returned to tribal custody from the parents who had adopted him at birth. Most of the press coverage, both national and local, seems to favor the adoptive parents. Sounds like a difficult situation for all involved and I do feel badly for the adoptive parents. There is certainly a lot of anger right now towards the Ojibwe tribe because of their actions, but I don't share that view at all.
I'm 7/32 Native American and was adopted at birth 30 years ago by white parents. I've definitely had financial and social advantages compared to my half-siblings that were raised by my birth mother; but do they make up for the cultural loss? Hard to say. Although I've probably received a better education and more "stuff," I also dealt with a lot of emotional abuse/trauma from my adoptive parents (who I do consider to be my "real" parents since they raised me). This doesn't mean that all white adoptive parents are bad, or that mine were evil (everyone is human and I do love my parents). But it does mean that seemingly wholesome appearances can be deceiving and that there are also benefits for a child from being raised in his or her own culture. (Granted, Talon is half Mexican, 3/16 Ojibwe, and 5/16 white, which complicates matters further.)
I've been formally enrolled as a member of my tribe for ten years, but still feel separated by distance and mindset. I don't necessarily believe that my life would have been better overall had I been raised by my birth mother or my tribe, but I can say from experience that it has been a struggle to deal with my mixed-race ethnicity and mainstream American upbringing in figuring out my own identity. Even though I was raised knowing about my Karuk heritage, I still had no real connection to that culture. As a young adult it was confusing trying to reconcile the fact that I wasn't entirely white with societal implications that my caucasian background and upbringing were what made me socially acceptable and worthy of praise.
Even now, I face mixed responses from people regarding my legitimacy as a Native person; for instance I've had people tell me that I must "choose" between one or the other (white versus native). But the reality is much more complicated and I don't believe that any sort of "choice" is necessary. I'm not willing to act as a personal battlground in any sort of war between Euro-American and indigenous cultures.
For the Larsons, I feel sadness that their family has been broken. The legal implications of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in this case has created an unfortunate situation. But I don't believe that the Larson's emotional distress should overturn any of the legal protections that the ICWA affords.
I read the Larson's blog about the events and they were aware of the child's ethnicity before the birth. They also knew within a week (and before taking Talon home from the hospital) that the Ojibwe Tribe had requested they deliver the baby to them and intended to fight for custody. As heartbreaking as the situation is to have to give up a child after raising it from infancy for six months, they were aware that the situation might not turn out in their favor and still chose to take him home.
The Larson's and their attorneys raised some really good points about about the ICWA and the Ojibwe's claim to Talon based on his percentage of Indian blood. And yet, the Ojibwe Tribe is a sovereign nation and not always subject to the same laws, rules, and regulations as the rest of the United States. Whether one believes it is right or wrong, that is the legality of the situation.