In 1967, Jewish Family Services began putting Native children into Jewish homes.
These stories tell what it is like for a Native American to be adopted into a white Jewish family. It is told through a series of interviews involving four adults. The questions are direct and will give you a view into their lives and experiences. You will learn about their experiences growing up and in school. Questions were asked concerning finding their own birth parents, going back to their homeland, embracing their native culture and how they see themselves today. Also, you will find out how they will raise their children culturally, and if they believe they are assimilated. All people mentioned in the stories have been in contact with their birth parent(s) within the last year.
This practice stopped overtime and today Jewish Family Services no longer exists and has been absorbed into the existing government bureaucracy. I tried to find out when it stopped and why. One woman told me that it stopped because of lack of requests for Native children. Another woman said by 1985 the law changed and that children of a different race should be matched with their own. The reason why it stopped was because of identity issues and people’s rights. She told me she has been working with Social Services in Kahnawake.
This subject of assimilation through adoption is extremely interesting and it generated quite a bit of excitement. I feel people need to be educated on this subject so history doesn’t repeat itself. Early this year, United States passed legislation that Native children can be adopted into white families. That means a whole new generation will go through the same problems. Bottom line is that it doesn’t work. Somebody has got to do something about it. Perhaps we can make a difference.
In this issue we meet Dakota. In future issues I will introduce you to Melanie, Ellah, and David. These are their stories.
Dakota is 26 years old from the Cree Nation. She was born in Manitoba and was two and a half years old when she was adopted.
Q: Do you know why you were given up for adoption?
A: My mother was on the road to alcoholism. My parents were very young, and their union was not working. My grandparents chose to put me up for adoption. It wasn’t my mother’s choice. I never met my grandparents. My grandfather, he passed away a couple of years now. I spoke to my grandmother on the phone, but we didn’t have much of a conversation.
Q: What new culture were you adopted into?
A: I would call it, uh, the major culture, that we call Canadian and American (because my mother’s American). Secondary, Judaism, but I wouldn’t put Judaism as the first culture.
Q: How was the relationship with your parents growing up?
A: Well, it was generally good. I had a lot of fun pretty much when I was growing up, umh, but it was hard at times because… umh… I had a lot of emotional things that I didn’t… that I couldn’t … They were all happy, it was me that was upset. I guess it was stress (laughs).
Q: What was stressful about it?
A: Well, as a child I was angry, and they didn’t want me to be angry. They were very supportive. They would try to talk to me about it, but we didn’t really have any answers for what the anger stems from. Nobody really knows why I was angry. I think it was because I was adopted. I remember at a young age, not wanting to be adopted. I was in two foster homes and by that time I was pretty angry. So, I guess, all in all, it was good.
Q: How is your present relationship with your parents?
A: I would say it’s the same. It’s still the same kind of emotional… umh… triggers… that might still be there. I mean I still have things that I don’t feel comfortable telling them about, or they don’t feel comfortable hearing, so there’s stressful areas, but generally the relationship is good. I see my parents about three times a month.
Q: How many siblings do you have?
A: My parents have three children.
Q: How was the relationship with them?
A: It was good. It was great! My brothers were considerably older than me, like nine or 10 years, so we didn’t have any rivalry problems, but with my sister, because I was closer to her, I vented my anger at her.
Q: How old is she?
A: A year and a half older than me. They treated me wonderfully. It was me who sort-a had this anger. I think it was from being adopted. I really didn’t have a reason to be angry at them.
Q: When did you first realize that you were Native?
A: I knew from as long ago as I can remember. I can remember the foster home. I can remember other young Native children. We all looked alike. We were wearing the clothes from the foster home, and they had a uniform.
Q: Did your parents ever introduce you to your own culture?
A: Well, not really. I would say that I was introduced to my own culture the way any white person was introduced to Native culture. It comes through like perimetres. Like if you go to a museum and there’s an exhibit of Native art. That sort-a hurt me because I wanted to learn about my culture and I was afraid to ask for it. I had no concept of how to go about asking for my culture. I felt like I would offend or maybe it would be wrong to want my culture.
My parents respect cultures. They look for the good in every culture. But with Native culture, I think they were influenced by society somehow. My parents always wanted to adopt a child from a different cultural background. I don’t know why they chose a Native child. I remember my parents had a book titled, “My First Book About Indians.” I felt a kind of secrecy reading the book. I didn’t want my parents to find out. I found the book pretty interesting. It took me a longtime, I mean not until my 20s, until I really went after my culture. I think my parents wanted me to be assimilated before I went after my culture. It’s a strange way to do things.
Q: How was your experience in grade school?
A: It offended me that I was learning Hebrew and I wasn’t learning
my own language.
Q: What school did you go to?
A: Jewish People Parot School. I learned Hebrew and Yiddish. That’s when I started rebelling against school. I wouldn’t do my Hebrew homework. I’d sit and cry. I didn’t want to tell my parents that I wasn’t doing my homework. My teachers knew, but somehow I got away with it. I chose what I wanted to learn. I don’t think I wanted to fit in. It was a natural instinct to be introverted.
Q: How was high school?
A: I told my mother that I didn’t want to go to a Jewish high school. She sent me to Fine Arts Core Education. Over there I felt freedom. I met people from all different backgrounds. The students didn’t look at me as different. I met a Mohawk girl from Kahnawake, and it helped to meet her. I felt some kind of connection.
Q: Do you have any problems with your self-image?
A: Oh yeah! (laughs) I have problems identifying who I am. As a Native person, I want to know who I am, but I don’t. I’m trying to learn about my people. It’s ironic. My parents always told me: Do what you want to make yourself happy. But what I actually learned was the opposite. It was, like, I wanted to make my parents happy.
Q: Did you ever meet your birth parents?
A: Yes, this past spring. I went to Manitoba. My father was really happy to see me. He never wanted to give me up. He was happy to know that I was interested in getting my Indian status and that I was interested in my culture and that I was educated. My father is married to a woman, who has two children from a previous marriage. Together, they have two children. It’s a happy family. My siblings are my age and attending university. I was impressed and relieved because it reassured me that I had strength, like my father, who had a rough upbringing. My grandfather was a Chief. On my mother’s side, she’s from The Pas. She’s still fighting with alcohol. I met her briefly. I didn’t meet any of my siblings on my mother’s side. I spoke to them on the phone. Altogether, I have 12 siblings.
Q: How do your birth parents fit into your life now?
A: Well, my father is supportive. I feel closest ties with my father. It’s like a new beginning. With my mother, I feel like I have to hold her up, but I don’t really put to much of a strain on myself to do that.
Q: How will you bring up your children?
A: If I have children, I would like to have Native children. First I need a husband! (laughs) That way it wouldn’t be a mystery.
Q: Do you believe you’re assimilated?
A: Yes, unfortunately. I speak English and French. I can say with pride that I’m Native, referring to the question, I mean obviously I’ve gone through the process.