The following chat with Sandy is lengthy and so I’ll keep my comments brief. We here at Land of Gazillion Adoptees are huge fans of the Adoptees Have Answers (AHA) Advisory Group. Sandy and the advisory group’s other members are certified rockstars, and I would strongly suggest all adoptive parents and adoption agencies in MN to take a close look at what the group and its members are doing for the adoption community.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Parents love talking about their kids. Would you mind talking about yours? What do they do? What do they like?
Sandy: I have two children. My daughter, who is 34, just graduated with her MFA from the University of Madison, WI. She and her fiancé have a 9-year-old daughter. Right after she graduated they moved from WI and are now going to make their home in Minnesota. My son, who is 28, graduated with his BA in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. He also lives here in the state. He has worked in community development and is currently looking for work in the nonprofit sector.
I started using when I was 14 years old and became an addict. I got clean when I was 28; my daughter was 5. It took five years sobriety for me to begin to heal enough to parent in a healthy way.
I am proud of my children for many reasons. What I am thinking about today is how both of my children have accomplished more than I had when I was their age. They both are confident and living drug and alcohol free lives. They have chosen to live our Lakota way of life — a life of balance and drug and alcohol free. They made this decision when they were in college. I think this amazes me so much because I am a recovering addict. I have been sober for 30 years. The cycle of addiction and abuse stopped with me, and now I can grow old knowing my grandchildren live in balanced and loving homes.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Thanks for sharing that, Sandy. For readers who don’t know you, would you mind giving an overview of your work with the First Nations Orphans Association and the Truth Healing and Reconciliation community forums?
Sandy: First Nations Orphan Association is now First Nations Repatriation Institute. It’s basically the same with some additions. The term First Nations people is used when referring to American Indians or Native Americans. An elder advised us that we were a people of Nationhood pre-Columbian contact; we had governments. We were the First Nations of this land. And the term repatriation comes from the Latin word repatriatre – to go home again, to restore or return to the country of origin, allegiance or citizenship.
The overall purpose of First Nations Repatriation Institute is to create a resource for First Nations people impacted by foster care or adoption to return home, reconnect and reclaim their identity. The Institute also serves as a resource to enhance the knowledge and skills of practitioners who serve First Nations people. The First Nations Repatriation Institute will eventually fill a significant gap in resources available for First Nations people. There is currently no organized effort at a local, state, national or international level to address the needs of people separated from their culture by foster care or adoption.
Specifically, the First Nations Repatriation:
- Connects First Nations Adoptees with other First Nations Adoptees;
- Supports First Nations people in searches for relatives during family reunification;
- Assists First Nations Adoptees with tribal enrollment;
- Supports emotional, physical and spiritual health of all adoptees/fostered individuals, their families and communities in accordance with First Nations peoples’ traditional spiritual heritage;
- Provides consultation and education to social service providers and mental healthcare providers and the legal system in the cultural traditions and values of First Nations people.
As for Truth Healing and Reconciliation Community Forums, they are day long events that bring together First Nations adoptees and fostered individuals with other adoptees, professionals and community and spiritual leaders to strategize ways to address post adoption issues and ultimately lower the rate of child removal.
Truth: At the forums, we have adoptees, fostered individuals and birth relatives share their stories. Social workers, Guardian ad Litems, adoption professionals, judges, lawyers and others hear first hand the long-term effects of being raised outside of culture and away from family. For many adoptees/fostered individuals and other family members, their life stories for the first time have a purpose. The many years they spent wondering why they had to go through years of isolation, anxiety and often depression are used to educate those who work with Indian families.
Healing: At the forums, we do not to blame and attack those who represent the child welfare system. This brings about great results, as demonstrated by the following response from a participant:
- “Another circle I was in was powerful as two small brothers told their stories of being taken from their families and who were still in placement. Their story of abusive foster homes and what they went through was painful to hear. A white lady social worker was there and she broke down. She cried so hard her shoulders shook. She apologized to the boys, although she had not worked with them. She apologized to the ones she had taken from their families. She apologized for not understanding and not listening and just following those policies of her organization. I cried when one of the little boys got up, went to her, put his hand on her shoulder and said, ‘It’s ok. It isn’t your fault.’ He allowed her to hug him. The strength of spirit that little one possessed amazed me. He was so small in physical form, but mighty and pure in spiritual form. As she held him she said she would do things differently (I hope she did and is still doing it).”
Reconciliation: At the forums, the recognition is made that Reconciliation begins with the individual in a process of sharing. It is not an event. It is a process that begins after Truth and Healing. Truth Healing and Reconciliation Community Forums provide a space and time to establish new relationships, evaluate and reflect for change.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Wow. That’s some fantastic stuff… Based upon your experience, what do you think is the biggest need for adoptees here in Minnesota?
Sandy: The biggest need for Minnesota adoptees is access to their original birth certificates. I would take it a step further and say that we should also have access to our social work case files. Why not? It is our history, no one else’s. We have no idea how many birth mothers and fathers would welcome the release of guilt and shame through meeting their relinquished children. Access to records could be a first step in the healing process.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Word to that…