“FORT WORTH — The 3-year-old boy who could upend a 40-year-old law aimed at protecting Native American children barreled into the suburban living room, merrily defying his parents’ prediction that he might be shy. He had a thatch of night-black hair and dark eyes that glowed with mischievous curiosity. As he pumped a stranger’s hand and scampered off to bounce on an indoor trampoline, his Superman cape floated behind him, as if trying to catch up.
Zachary, or A.L.M. as he is called in legal papers, has a Navajo birth mother, a Cherokee birth father and adoptive parents, Jennifer and Chad Brackeen, neither of whom is Native American. The Brackeens are challenging a federal law governing Native American children in state foster care: It requires that priority to adopt them be given to Native families, to reinforce the children’s tribal identity.
Last fall, a federal judge ruled in the Brackeens’ favor, declaring that the law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, was unconstitutional — in part, he said, because it was based on race.
The case is now before a federal appeals court. Whoever loses is almost certain to ask the Supreme Court to hear it.”
This is an incredible story, thank you Jan Hoffman. I had trouble processing it, but the comments were very articulate and persuasive, and helped me understand my own position. Here are three of many good comments, but these three particularly pushed me to see the point of view of the Indian family.
It’s misguided for the foster father to turn around and say the only reason is because “We don’t have the right colored skin” and just shows that he is missing the entire point. this is not about the colour of your skin, it’s about the fact that you are taking this child away from the rich culture and history of his family and bringing him into a completely different one. It’s ignorant and naive to reduce this right down to skin tone and ignore everything else
My grandfather was sent to the Carlisle Indian school “for his own benefit”. He could never talk about that experience, even as an adult. As a child I sat on his knee and he talked about being in the trenches during WWI and the horrors of mustard gas. But the shame and horrors of Carlisle he could not discuss. Those of European settler descent do not understand that Native Americans have profound ancestral connections and memories which are broken only with a great sense of loss. I just spent two years writing a book about this in my own life, the return of such connectivity several generations “off the rez”. Well-intentioned non-Native Americans cannot uproot Native American children and then replant them in suburban greenhouses without shattering a spiritual connection. If this seems too mystical, just think Treaty Rights. They are not “merely” legal, they are moral obligations. Canada is moving toward truth and reconciliation, providing economic support to its First Nations people so that families and communities can be preserved. And we south of the Canadian border? Are we about to undermine Native American rights in order to advance the larger agenda of white people who would eviscerate any mild concession to righting historical wrongs? Randy from Vermont An enrolled member of the Citizens Potawatomi Nation
When I was five years old I chose to leave my Navajo parents to live with a white family. I was never adopted by this family. Eventually my mom wanted me back and it turned into a bitter lawsuit. My white parents were able to obtain legal guardianship because at 12, I did not want to go back. I refused to speak with my family until I turned 18 and graduated from high school. During breaks from college, I spent more and more time with my large Navajo family. As I became more integrated into my family’s life, I came to realize what I lost in relationships, culture, language and especially spirituality. Today I live in New York, but I am learning to speak Navajo. My grandmother passed away and she only spoke Navajo. I would sit with her, but other than smiles I could not communicate. I am so sad I could not speak Navajo to any of my grandparents. Now I try to speak Navajo with my mom but I’m still a long way from fluent. Growing up without my mom left a huge hole in my heart even though my white parents loved and cared for me. I see the struggles my brothers underwent, the poverty, the neglect and I know I’d be a different person if I had grown up there. Today, I love visiting my mom on my grandmother’s land in the middle of nowhere. A month ago she got hot water in her shower and a toilet that actually flushes. She rises before dawn to tend to the sheep and other animals. This is the life I was born to and knowing everything I do, I would choose my Navajo family this time.