At first I thought it would be a breeze to write a piece on being adopted, then I sat myself down to try to write about it and realized it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I mean, the easy thing was that I was adopted and I had a whole slew of experiences from which to draw, however I didn’t know exactly what to write about. I have decided to focus on what it is that people are interested in, recalling the questions that I am most frequently asked when people find out I’m adopted and that I was adopted by a non-Native family. I am of Ojibwa-Cree ancestry from Sagkeeng, Manitoba. I was adopted at the age of eight months by a family of British, Scottish and Irish descent and grew up for the most part in the white Anglo-Saxon suburbs of Montreal. I was not one of the “sixties scoop” babies, who were in a sense stolen from their biological parents by the Indian agents and adopted by non-Native families. I was freely put up for adoption by my biological family and due to extenuating circumstances, extended family adoption was never a consideration. The feelings I express may be shared by other adoptees but I certainly do not claim to be representative of all Native adoptees. I have met many Native adoptees who do not share my views, so please do not think that this is how all Native adoptees feel about their adoption.
I have a complicated enough family to begin with before including my biological family in the mix. My parents adopted my oldest brother, then had two sons, then they adopted me. They were foster parents as well, so there were other kids in the house that we would always refer to as brothers or sisters for however long they were there. When my parents divorced, my father remarried a woman who had two kids of her own and they proceeded to have a child together. My mother remarried a man who had five grown children, then they received full custody of a child and fostered who knows how many other children, two of which they have recently decided to adopt in order to keep them together. All three are also of Native ancestry. From my biological mother, there are six children, three of whom were not adopted, and one was adopted by extended family. So I have a number of brothers, sisters, stepbrothers, stepsisters and half brothers and half sisters across the country, all of whom I call my brothers and sisters.
The main thing I have to deal with in being adopted are the confused looks when I say that my mom is a redhead, or that I’m part Irish, or when a sibling and I say that we are siblings, it’s almost as if worlds are colliding in their minds. I obviously look nothing like my parents or my blue-eyed, blond haired brothers and sisters. When they find out I am adopted and that my sister is technically my stepsister, I am faced with a look that tells me they just don’t get how I can so easily and unequivocally refer to them as my family.
One of the questions that I am often asked is “Do you know your real mother?” I proceed to say that my mom is as real as anyone else’s. She’s the only mother I have ever known, she’s the one who has unconditionally loved me, nurtured me and natured me as a mother does and she’s the one I cry for when I’m sad or hurt. The only thing she did not do was give birth to me and I know her only as mom, not my “adoptive” mother. What people are asking is whether or not I know my “biological”
mother, the one with whom I share genes and from whose loins I sprung. This is the woman I refer to as “Marge,” only because it gets too tedious to always refer to her as my “biological mother.”
I do not know her, we have spoken on the phone once but I have never met her in person. I have no resentment or hard feelings towards Marge, I am thankful she gave birth to me, but to refer to her as my mother I feel would be a sort of insult to the person I know as my real mother.
Another question that people ask is whether I have ever met any of my biological family and what that was like. I have been fortunate enough to meet a large part of my biological family due to a rather unfortunate situation. The first time I went back to my community in Manitoba, a cousin had committed suicide two days prior to my arrival, so I attended the remainder of the wake and all the ceremonies that accompanied it, where I met pretty much every member of the extended family. It was overwhelming on many levels as I met aunts and uncles who remembered me as a baby and I felt their sadness at having had to let me go. Although I had never met this cousin, I felt the loss of his family, which was my family. On top of that, I met elders for the first time, I entered my first teepee, took part in sacred ceremonies, offered tobacco for the first time and received a sort of official ceremonial “welcome back.” The parents of the cousin said it was a happy time because even though one family member was gone, another had returned, so it all balanced out. Everyone who came up to me explained how we were related and said welcome back. It was all very confusing and wonderful and beautiful and sad at the same time. The most interesting thing I learned was that I was a descendent of the ‘Two-hearted’ on my grandmother’s side. Overall, on one hand it was as if everything made sense for the first time and on the other it was if nothing made sense at all.
Another question people ask is what is it like being adopted. I don’t know what it’s like to not be adopted but I can only summon that it’s different from being adopted. One of the toughest things I have dealt with is trying to make sense of the fact that I am both of the Native and non-Native worlds, and trying not to see either side as better than the other. On one level, it is easy to make sense of because I define myself first and foremost as a human being and everything else is secondary. On another level it’s not so easy because I am part and parcel of two very different cultures that conflict with each other in many ways.
I know a lot about one and not so much about the other, which I often feel as though I should know more than I do. For years I knew what it was like to be Native living in a non-Native world where I walked freely, and when I became a Native in the Native world and learned that I could also walk freely in that world I felt lucky and extremely ignorant. I felt like I could bridge the gap, that I had so much to offer and realized that there was so much to learn.
One of the other questions people ask me is if I’m glad I was adopted. I would have to say yes. Even though it has been emotionally draining and often times very lonely and confusing in trying to come to terms with, I know that everyone has their own emotional baggage to deal with no matter what their situation, there are no ideals. If I had grown up in my community I would have had other issues to deal with. Fact is that I am grateful Marge and the rest of the family had the courage to put me up for adoption so that I could have the life I did. I am the person I am because of it. I love my family and I’m thankful my parents taught me the truly important things in life, about love, respect and responsibility. They have always encouraged me to learn about my native heritage and have tried to facilitate that for me. They allowed me to be a freethinking individual and allowed me to learn from my own mistakes. I know in their hearts and minds that even though I am not blood of their blood or bone of their bone, I am as much their own as are their other children who were not adopted.
It has taken me a long time to realize that despite not knowing what it was that defined someone as Native, besides genes, I have always been Native. It has been in my blood and my very being without even being aware of it. I have always felt akin with the ground I walk on, I have always spoken with the animals and looked to nature for the answers to my questions, the beat of the drum reverberates through my body like life itself, I am thankful for all that is on a daily basis, and I know that I am but a passenger on this boat. The finer details and points about my Indian culture I do not know for I have not yet been taught, but I am learning and will continue to learn. I know that it is not for nothing that I am Two-hearted or that I have been given the life I have had. What will be will continue to show itself and I am grateful for the opportunity.