Battles over blood quantum and “best interests” resurface the untold history of America’s Indian Adoption Era. A survivor of this stolen generation returns to heal her Sicangu Lakota community. A child welfare attorney redresses the law he once fought to protect. The future of Indian Country hangs in the balance.
For Sandy White Hawk, the story of America’s Indian Adoption Era is not one of saving orphans but of creating them. At 18 months, she was removed from her Sicangu Lakota relatives and taken to live with a white Christian mission couple, where her skin color and cultural heritage were rejected. She grew up void of kinship and familial support, feeling ugly, alone and unworthy of love. Her adoption, which she later found to be part of a nationwide assimilative movement that targeted American Indian communities, defined her and took much of her adult life to overcome. As an elder who survived the pains of a biased and abusive upbringing to reconnect with a way of life she was meant to leave behind, Sandy now works nationally on behalf of others impacted by this “bureaucratic genocide.” Her story culminates as she organizes the first Coming Home Ceremony for Adoptees on the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota – the community from which she was removed by missionaries over 60 years ago.
As Sandy’s journey reveals the dark history of federal Indian policies and the current state of Indian child welfare, a buzz begins to form around the name of Mark Fiddler, a private adoption attorney and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Since the beginning of his career, Mark has been publicly engaged in the inner workings of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) – a law passed by Congress in 1978 to preserve and fortify tribal communities and halt the disproportionate removals of the Adoption Era. After five years as founder and executive director of the ICWA Law Center, Mark began to ask, “Is what’s best for the preservation of Indian tribes truly in the best interest of Indian Children?”
Mark put his heritage on trial in 2013 when he argued on behalf of a white adoptive couple in the United States Supreme Court case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. The Court’s decision to bypass ICWA and place a Cherokee child in a non-Native home outraged Sandy and fellow advocates and resurfaced generations of trauma for families throughout Indian Country. With Mark seemingly at the helm, a fleet of copycat suits have taken aim at the Act, forcing Tribal leaders to contemplate how to best protect the birthrights of their children, while also preserving the very traditions from which they are still so often removed.
Concept Video: https://vimeo.com/148683405