My chat with Trace is lengthy and so I’ll keep my comments short. It’s important that all of us to do our part in aiding Native American adoptees tell their story. As Trace mentions below, “This history of Split Feathers/adoptees is important to understand in the context of America’s history and past treatment of Indians.”
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You have a very interesting genealogy. Would you mind giving us a synopsis of your familial history?
Trace: My blood is a mix of American Indian – Shawnee-Cherokee and Irish. This year I was contacted by a new relative since we share the same great-grandfather and Peter shared with me that we have ancestors from Quebec and Ottawa, the capital of Canada. Now I can add Canadian to my mix!
I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1956, conceived in Chicago, and raised in northern Wisconsin. So, I became a traveller quite early, like many of my ancestors. My adoptive parents were second-generation Americans: Sev DeMeyer’s family was from Belgium and Edie’s were from Great Britain.
Relatives on the Thrall side, my birthmother’s side, met me and shared ancestry and stories and I visited my grandparent’s graves in Wisconsin a few years ago. On my birthfather’s side, I met siblings and other relatives who also shared stories of my dad Earl Bland, his parents and my grandparents. My dad’s side has the Native American ancestry.
Each ancestor I learn about helps me understand who I am and this completes me. As an adoptee, I have a deep appreciation for all of them and their struggles. I say in my memoir, being abandoned was my initiation into being human. Statistics say one in three Americans has a family member who was adopted. There are possibly 10 million adoptees in the USA today. That is a lot of bogus ancestry, which is why adoption records must be opened everywhere. Opening my adoption was nothing short of miraculous since Wisconsin had sealed its adoption records. I went to a kind compassionate judge when I was 22 and he let me read my file.
After meeting relatives and knowing my Native ancestry, this was healing for me, what I call going full-circle. It became clear to me there was much more about adoption than was being told in books or newspapers. Academic friends questioned me intensely, since little is known or compiled about Native adoptees or the adoptions that came before, during and after the Indian boarding school era.
After you read my memoir, I believe that you’ll never look at adoption in the same way again.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’ve written two books. Would you mind giving an overview for each?
Trace: My memoir One Small Sacrifice: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects was finished in 2009 and self-published as a paperback and e-book in 2010. What started out as a story about Native American adoptees for a New York City Native newspaper turned into a journey I never expected. My feature story “Generation after Generation We are Coming Home” for Talking Stick took over a year to research and write. There was very little writing on the Stolen Generations in America, thousands of children who were First Nations and American Indians adopted then raised by non-Native parents. After that story, my memoir took five more years because I was very reluctant to dig up my own past and write about me. Yet I knew I had to do it. Yes, I open up my life like a can of worms and give all the details of my adoption search, my childhood, emotional and sexual abuse, then my reunion with my birthfather and relatives in Illinois. Once I had a grasp of the history of the Indian Adoption Projects, I edited the book down to 227 pages, but had enough research for three books.
The second book Split Feathers: Two Worlds is an anthology of Native American adoptee voices and stories, and essays of my own research. We are querying presses now and hope to have it published this year.
I share writing and editor credits with my friend Patricia Berdan Cotter-Busbee who is also Shawnee-Cherokee and an adoptee. I’d met many Native adoptees since I started publishing on the topic so I asked them to share their search and reunion stories. For many of us, writing is a way of reliving so it became very healing and therapeutic. This history of Split Feathers/adoptees is important to understand in the context of America’s history and past treatment of Indians.
This quote sums up our history: “Civilization was defined as white, Christian (preferably Protestant), capitalistic, modern and industrializing… Indians were still primitive…,” Margaret D. Jacobs wrote in White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940. “Perhaps the most crucial goal of the nation builders in each settler country was to gain complete control over the land; authorities looked to indigenous child removal, in part, to help them achieve this objective.” (Jacobs, page 82-83.)
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’ve had the opportunity to talk with a great number of adoptees. What story has struck you the most?
Trace: One pressing issue facing all adoptees today is lack of documentation. I became friends with Navajo adoptee Leland Morrill who had trouble replacing his driver’s license in California where he lives. When he was adopted by a Mormon family in Utah, the Navajo tribe had not issued a census number or tribal enrollment so his birth was not recorded. Leland’s story was published in News from Indian Country this year and is one of the narratives in Split Feathers: Two Worlds. I have it posted on my blog. Here is the link.
Like Leland, I do not have my original birth certificate, which could present a problem, not just for me but for all adoptees. I was issued a passport in 2005, even with my fake birth certificate, which lists my adoptive parents as my natural parents. With new identification laws, it’s very doubtful I could apply for and get a passport. Leland educated me on how troubling this is. He even met with Chai Feldblum, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner, to discuss the Real ID Act of 2005 and how it affects Native Americans who are adopted without a birth certificate, Census number, or Certificate of Indian Blood. When the Final Decree of Adoption does not state the biological parent name(s), birth date, birth place, or census number, this separates the adoptee from their birthright as tribal members. Even worse, now it could affect employment, since proper identification is mandatory to find a job with current immigration policies. This creates a sub-class of unemployable “former” US citizens. Adoptees will be forced to get documented, which is nearly impossible with sealed adoption records in all but seven states. Intercountry adoptees could face deportation if their adoptive parents did not file for their citizenship. Leland is writing an amendment to the REAL ID Act of 2005 with Feldblum. You can read more about the Real ID Act of 2005 here.
Leland’s story is one of many in my second book that will enlighten the reader, possibly anger them, but educate them about our history as American Indian adoptees and the government’s attempted genocide of our tribal ancestry through closed adoptions. I heard this more than once, “You’re not completely well until you grieve all of it.” For some of us adoptees, that process may never be completed. Answers may not come. One reunion may lead to another and another, with more to process or grieve or celebrate.
I collected lots of stories, news and research, so if anyone wants to learn more, read my blog at www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Thanks for reaching out to me, Trace. I very much enjoyed the conversation. And to you, dear reader, Trace is happy to send you a free e-copy of One Small Sacrifice: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects. Just go to her site for more information. Yu can also hear her read from her book on blogtalkradio this Saturday, 8 pm EST.