The internal Other: American Indian nations and adoption.

A father regains custody of his child through the Indian Child Welfare Act:

Alaska’s Supreme Court’s ruling on one such case:

And then there are the adoptive parents:

Who echo the sentiments of organizations such as this:

In the above case race, nation, and culture won.  What do transracial adoptees think of the dissatisfaction of many in the United States with the verdict?

9 thoughts on “The internal Other: American Indian nations and adoption.

  1. Ha, beat me to the punch. I stumbled across just a snid-bit of this story on Anderson Cooper (during a commercial break elsewhere). So, my consciousness raising at least has me to the point of even having this be a blip on my radar. Progress!

    The legal pundits on Anderson Cooper pretty much only said that the US Supreme Court might be likely to review this decision. One analyst (an “adoptions rights specialist”? perhaps) noted how the State Supreme Court’s decision gave an impression of reading two entirely separate cases–the majority leaning on the intent of the law in question (which was passed originally, they reported, to prevent Native American children from effectively being abducted from Native American parents); the minority insisting that the interests of the child were not taken into account. Both legal experts agreed that the majority considered “the best interests of the tribe” along with (if at all) “the best interests of the child.”

    The reporting on the story itself was wholly in favor of the “devastated” adoptive parents. I’m not going to mock their sentiment, and unfortunately (or fortunately) I don’t remember some of the exact language that was used. But the idea that (at least int eh abstract) a Native American child might “best” (I’ll put that in quotation marks) be raised by a Native American father obviously had no traction whatsoever on the show. The legal experts were the only ones who brought it up.

    Let me back up half a second. I did not watch the whole story. I ame in late. But in the part that I watched, whatever good there could be in repatriating the child, that was mentioned by no one, except the legal experts, in an abstract way as a matter of conformance with a Federal statute. In the meantime, of course, I got pictures of the child, culled sentimentally from the adopting family’s photoalbums,and the half choked-up father expressing the loss he was feeling–whatever the “validity” for the basis of those feelings. One sentence that sticks with me is the adoptive father stating, “She was just loaded up in a pick up truck with a stranger and driven 2,000 miles away.” He (or his family, or his attorney) also described the Supreme Court (state) decision as a “travesty of justice” or something like that.

    I like that story from Brecht’s “Caucasian Chalk Circle” (his retelling is considerably better than the biblical original), where a mother and a step-mother are in a custody dispute over a child. The judge orders the child place in the center of a circle with ropes tied to his arms, and orders that whichever mother can pull the boy to her side gets to keep him. The women begin; the boy screams in agony; and at some point, the step-mother cries and let’s go–the judge awards the child to her.

    The adopting family in question have the opportunity to appeal this decision and potentially send it to the Supreme Court (US).

    I would frankly find it unconsciousable to pursue such an appeal. I try to put myself in those people’s shoes, and if it was me, I would never be able to convince myself that I wasn’t filing an appeal to (1) spite teh biological father, (2) to re-fulfill whatever need it was that drove me to adopt (transracially) in teh first plae, and teh like. Much as it might haunt me every day, I would know (or at least suspect) that whatever arbitrary or imaginary version of “the best interests of my daughter” were, thsoe couldn’t include putting her in the midst of a tug-of-war.

    Tolstoy argues in his book on nonviolence that when one uses violence preemptively to prevent evil, all one can say with certainty is that you have increased sum of evil in the world by that much and not necessarily prevented anything. I wouldn’t be able to convince myself that continuing to subject my (adopted) child to an ongoing custody battle wouldn’t be the antithesis of “her best interests”. No one wants to lose someone they love, however misguided that love is; but placing above all else the illusion that that relationship (of love) must never, can never, come to some kind of an end is an extremely problematic trope that is deeply complicit in the needs-dependencies that capitalism instills in US (and which reward-oriented hierarchies, in general, instill wherever they arise). The fact that adopting families are called “forever families” points to exactly how salient this point is in a context of adoption. Goodness knows I don’t want to lose my mate; and if I do, I’ll understand that was how long I got to have him and I’ll destroy the world by fire before I’ll belittle the memory of him by asserting, even for an instant, that I needed to have him, just for a couple seconds more, and then, maybe, we’d REALLY be at the point of relationship. people who are parents might say I’m mad to say this, and that I “don’t understand.” I count my ignorance a blessing, since it isn’t making me stupid about how to conduct my life as a human being. As an adopted child, no one can tell me that family must be, can only be, by blood–there’s the essential sentimental bullshit above all else that, again, I will say is central, perhaps even structurally defining, of how hierarchy (empire, capitalism, culture) co-opts our better selves to worser ends.

    So of course the story on the news places to sentimentality 9and this from an openly gay newscaster, who might have a thing to say about the “essence” of what family is perhaps). I feel sorry for the adopting family, being the occasion for such exploitation. It’s interesting that the biological father 9who apparently waived his parental rights because he believed his daughter was going to her mother, not to be adopted) declined to be interviewed for TV. Obviously, this allows for any amount of speculation–and maybe I’m imagining things, but I feel some sympathy for him, probably because people on TV are talking shit about him (as it were). he wanted his daughter, for all of whatever fucked up reasons he might have of his own. In the screenplay version, I’d make his motivations as venal and backward as possible–like, maybe he gets some kind of tribal stipend because he has a kid–just in order to make it that much more essential that his undoing of the transaction of adoption (again, let it be for all the wrong reasons) is still more morally right than condoning adoption.

    I feel it is really necessary to separate the “social” from the “personal” in these sorts of things. Obviously, the adoptive parents are sad. We can say they’re crocodile tears or that they’re like people who cry because they lose money at Vegas. You gamble, sometimes you lose. I’m not pleased they’re sad; that’d be the easy way–they resorted to a fucked up choice? They deserve their sadness. Unfortunately, they likely have no reason to understand how their choice was fucked up. They were raised in a culture where certain markers are equated with happiness, and they went for it. And besides, if we let the thing be merely “about the people involved,” then we get into stupid shit of debating whether a person would have a better life here or there. This is true on the father’s side as well. Let him have the most miserable or excellent reasons, they’re not salient to a “policy” on adoption. I’m not about to say that one can make a blanket statement that biological parents should be given preference where the raising of children is concerned. The number of gay runaways and suicides suggests otherwise with stark violence. And least of all am I inclined to trust some imaginary “best interest of the child” when entities and cash are at stake in determining that answer. The fact that the news story could only resort to gross sentimentality (on the adoptive parents’ side) and helpless recourse to constitutional guesswork on the other shows the lack of middle ground here, as a basis for policy.

    What is interesting is, precisely, the notion of “what’s best for the tribe.” Now, obviously this can end up with all kinds of problematic stuff, but what I like about it is that it takes a social 9structural) view of the matter rather than resorting to “what do the people think.” If there’s anything awesome about the Rule of Law, it is the ostensible dispassion with which it is applied. (We all know that money and poverty skew this dispassion in both directions.) As transracial adoptees, we’re often not so naive as to believe the discourse that “we’re better off” in our new families and, because we know that family is not a given, we’re not inclined to unreservedly embrace the notion like biological relatedness is everything. An alternative is to posit a community (“our village”) as our desirable place to grow up–a place where the supposed socioeconomic benefits of the receiving home are not a substitute for the sense of safety that comes with community or belonging in “our village” and where the specific straitened circumstances of our biological progenitors is not our only recourse for growing up because “everyone in our village” is available to raise us. My guess is there is still a lot of this elsewhere in the world where reward-oriented hierarchies have not penetrated so neurotically or deeply as they have in the US.

    So I like the idea that the return is “in the best interests of the tribe” so long as those good interests are met (in a kind of moral economy) in a supportive and nurturing way for the child as well, whatever her biological father’s motivations or (financial) circumstances.

    I was going to stop there, but there’s one hanging tidbit. From what I’ve said, one could conclude “Oh, so you advocate, Snow Leopard, that Black kids should be raised by Black parents, and Native American kids … &c.” I would be advocating that if we lived in a world where race was not hierarchicalized. White people are fucked up by White socialization, to be sure, but the kind of fucking up is a different one than socializing non-white per those rigors. nor am I ignoring that Black people aren’t fucked up by Black socialization in their own way, etc. (as an aside, I would like to see what happens if gay identified youth were raised only by gay parents.) Civil Rights in the United States, whatever its assimilationist trappings in places or consequences, was more ‘from within” than “from without”. Putting it this way, I feel like I’ll be stepping on some toes, especially as there are various individuals who, having been adopted in White families, may feel they are in a better position to “fight the good fight.” And they could be, but primarily by (if not only by) “going back to their communities” and finding the “locally grown” folk to rise up and demand change. White people did help with Civil Rights, but not by leading,a s it were. As a matter of human principle (as a matter of social policy, that is bigger than the people involved), that the girl’s return was “in the tribe’s best interests” (“interests” here not understood as merely self-serving, but in the sense of helping all of humanity), then perhaps one can really say that it is “best” she should return to her people, not because they are “biologically” or “racially” Native American per se, but because our best hope for human rights must necessarily come (has successful come in the past) “from within”.

    I feel half-uncomfortable putting it this way. Certainly, this is partly because there’s that powerful narrative that where an adoptee comes from biologically is broken, bad, undesirable, impoverished, etc, so that to call for a “return to origins” seem easily equatable as, “Be poor.” Of course, I’ve seen Vietnamese families who have nowhere near a US family’s s stuff and nowhere near a US family’s money, but they are rich in relationship, rich in tradition, rich especially in laughter, etc. So who is really “condemned to poverty”? But Vietnam is not Compton.I think in the US when someone says “It takes a village to raise a child,” that the “take-away” thought from that is, “I takes a lot of effort, a lot of resources.” s I understand the saying, it’s that it takes a variety of resources, not a wealth of them; it takes a safety net so that when, for whatever reason of failure or bad luck or circumstances, a child’s needs cannot be met by one caregiver, there is another who can. Putting this another way, child-rearing in Vietnam appeared to be light work because it was so amply distributed (even in one family). Because “White” communities (such as they no longer are) cannot distinguish between authentically valuable white cultural things and oppressive (capitalistic) reward-oriented hierarchies, the notion of diversity remains a novelty and the emphasis is individualism, not community. (Obviously, this is not everywhere true of all White communities, but where such communities prevail, adoption is probably not so common–it’s easy to see why.) Reward-oriented hierarchy eventuates that come communities (some villages) must, by definition, be inferior, and nd this is what makes it seem like “condemning a child to poverty” in appearing to say “repatriate them to their own ‘race'”. But what I’m really saying is, “repatriate them to a village where they are recognized as a member in full standing”–so long as racism, etc., is in effect, adoption will not be a method for bringing a “fully recognized person” into the village, especially since “community”is so broken down these days (and shifting more and more onto the Internet–for those classes of people who have access to that).

    Just one more time, I want to say that I don’t like how some of this language can be read, but I’m not sure that any attempt by me at this point to “repair” it would achieve that end; it would simply add length. So I apologize if something here is offensive or hurtful (to people on this blog); that’s not my intent.

    See? Told you I as going to write a blog post.

  2. You hit many nails on the head here, and I agree with most of your points. I don’t have much to add except a bit of anger stuck in my craw. Personally I think it is perfectly valid to mock their sentiment. In their mediation of this, with their only concern themselves, aided by an anti-American Indian organization that is trying to overturn this law, they reveal something dark and morbid about American culture that I am glad to no longer be a part of, to speak quite frankly. I had a little email exchange with the woman who heads up the organization that is fighting this, and her tone as well as those of the publicity hounds they’ve hired sent chills down my spine. These are jackals going for blood.

    After eight years in Lebanon, I’ve “hit the wall” as it were, and am constantly thinking about this “better there or better here” devil’s bargain and all things considered, I am better off here. This doesn’t answer the paradox of cultural relativism you raise. I would only say that unlike other TRAs, this child will never be going to a “heritage camp” about indigenous culture. This says something. My problem with TRA is not the mixing of cultures, though I have a lot to say about that. It is the maintaining of power dynamics that map onto historically speaking really horrifying fucked up stuff that will stick with the child. This child is better off with her parents and extended family, period.

    This adoption cannot be viewed outside of the context of every legal effort to exterminate the indigenous populations of the United States. Even the determination of what makes for a Native American is based on the U.S. anti-miscegenation laws that were also applied to the imported slave population. The whole thing is steeped in every horrifying degrading and dehumanizing weapon of power that one culture can hold over another. That we even consider it valid to leave this to the courts condemns us to agree with this system. That we listen to what Anderson Cooper has to say on this subject condemns us to agree with this system. Every last aspect of this society’s control over such a situation is called into question by allowing this child to be with her parents, and this is a great victory. This is what is raising hackles; I don’t believe it has anything to do with the child’s best interest whatsoever.

    • I agree entirely that “the child’s best interests” cannot be what’s raising hackles, not the least of which because asking the child’s opinion about those best interests isn’t possible and wouldn’t be legally necessary if it were. And the (unfortunate) length of my response was due primarily to finding my way through the thicket of “affect” that stands in (on US news programs) for analysis, where the function of the media is to stampede all of us into missing the forest for the trees about any issue that bears on our (collective) self-interests as citizens.

      And I will still belligerently separate the personal facts of the adoptive and biological parents’ circumstances (the meaning those people give to events) and the social meaning of those events for all of us. As you emphasize, what is important here is not that one set of parents are sad (and think following the Rule of Law should be called a “travesty of justice”) or that another parent is happy. In fact, even the premises that (as you point out) the ultimately correct outcome to the situation (the child being returned to her tribe) is not even the factual or circumstantial basis that you would advocate. (Even a stopped clock is right twice per day.). It can be the right outcome for the wrong reason AND nevertheless the process is still capable of getting right. Even as we envision or demand another one.

      As what the neocons call a suck-ass liberal, I will tend to be forgiving (not forgetting and not condoning) of people who respond to their environment in the way they are apparently being asked to respond. Not everyone who is an “individual thinker” resists those status quos on the principle of rational reflection, but simply in as much of a knee-jerk rejection as the “conformists” conform. People do terrible things, but so long as we pretend that there are not environmental forces (social structures) that not only enable but actually create impulses and the circumstances to fulfill them, then I’m going to feel like I’m right back in the “blame the person” mode, which is the flip side of the “argument” that the child should have stayed with her adopting parents because it makes them sad to have her taken away. Mocking them might in some cases have a salutary shock; mocking them might model to bystanders that the assumed validity of their grief is not so valid after all; it essentially denies any possibility of allyship, and maybe that’s the way to go, maybe not.

      If being gay is only about me, then there’s no social aspect, there’s no solidarity, there’s no political future for hope. It’s not just about me. My genes didn’t make me gay. Neither nature nor nurture get the palm–it is, rather, the hylomorphic interaction of self-expression of the available social structures that “caused” me to be gay. And the fact that I experience and understand that in the kind of binary gendered way that I do is a sign of the social structure I came to sexual maturation. If it is easier to hate those adopting parents, it’s easier to hate me for being gay, and I don’t want to encourage that in the social structures any of us have to (or get to) inhabit.within.

      And as for “better here or there” … just as a final ringing note of solidarity: every day I more and more convinced (at a minimum) I don’t want to be here.

    • I think my reply above (or below … I don’t know where this will appear relative to that comment) is more strident or disagreeing than I mean for it to sound. I did raise my voice, to be sure, but it was to add, not subtract, to try to expand, not negate, what has been said. I hope it doesn’t come off as otherwise.

  3. There is so much that much of the media leaves out when telling this story. We must remember that the prospective adoptive parents (the adoption was never finalized) were the ones to contact media so much of the media reports are biased. You can even read from the ruling, that the laws were not followed and they failed to even notify dad that they had his child until he was literally ready to hop a flight for Iraq. I guess my take is you cannot complain in the end if you didn’t follow the rules in the first place. A parent has an inherent right to their biological offspring.

    Here is the ruling per S.C. Supreme Court with more details.

    Click to access 27148.pdf

  4. Even worse than I thought. A barely “positive” ruling (our hands are tied) that basically agrees “with heavy heart” with the dissenting voices on the court. There’s no hope in this God-forsaken place.

  5. Well it was encouraging slightly in that they acknowledged the couple did not follow procedure and they upheld his right to be a father. They didn’t simply give them the baby on based solely on their emotional media campaign.

  6. “Supreme Court Strikes a Hard Blow to Tribal Sovereignty in Adoption Case” [link]:

    What Alito (along with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer) is perhaps willfully missing is that the Cherokee Nation does not classify its citizens in that way. Baby Veronica is not a certain percentage Cherokee—she is Cherokee, as determined by her nation. The High Court’s first sentence, based in the colonial practice of blood quantum instead of the way that citizenship is determined by the Cherokee Nation, illustrates that the Justices made this case about race—in their minds—and not about tribal sovereignty in the law. By this flawed logic, the High Court ruled that Baby Veronica is somehow not Native enough to be protected by ICWA.

    So-called Justice Alito’s comment—””Under the State Supreme Court’s reading, a biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother…and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother’s decision and the child’s best interests”—is particularly racist and offensive.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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