Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Tyranny of Indian Tribal Government

Monday about 25 people from this area drove 5-6 hours each way through freezing rain, heavy winds, blowing snow, and glare ice in order to try to influence an American Indian court to allow a half-Indian 2 year old to return to his foster parents and their family. It was the only family he knew. He was traumatized when strangers came and took him away. Since that time he has been terrified of a black person, although he had no such reaction before being taken from his loving home.

The judge said he had to follow the law; he had no choice. The Indian Child Welfare Act states that any Indian children, who are taken from their own parents, must be raised by a relative, by another member of their tribe, by someone of another tribe, or as a last resort by a non-Indian family.

My sister and her family had the child since his birth, but it wasn’t until he was nearly a year old that the tribe got involved. They allowed him to stay with my sister’s family for more than a year, since they could not find an Indian home for him. The Indian social worker said my sister and her husband could become legal guardians, but they could not adopt him. She brought petition papers for them to fill out and sign, but didn’t leave a copy for them. It appears the papers never got to a judge.

1-2 months later, she called to tell them the judge had ordered the child was to be removed from their home in 10 days. Talk about having the rug jerked out from under one’s feet! It turns out the judge made the ruling at the social worker's urging.

Although we prayed, fasted, and trusted, they came on November 23rd and took him away. They put him with an Indian woman who already had 2 two-year olds, 1 one year old, an eight year old, and who lived at least 2 hours away from the reservation. Why they thought a woman who was already overwhelmed with toddlers should have another to care for is beyond me. As I suspected, the placement with her is temporary. The child I consider to be my nephew will be shuffled from home to home, never having anyone to call his parents, and never having a place to call home. He begged “home, please,” to his new foster mom. My heart aches for him. I hope he knows how badly he is wanted, that my sister’s family did not choose to send him away.

My brother-in-law appealed, and was granted a court date. Both the judge and the man who was advocating for the tribe, indicated they knew the boy would be better off with my sister’s family, but they had no choice but to keep him with the tribe. It was the law.

What are citizens to do when a law, which was intended to preserve a people and a way of life, ends up harming its own people?

Some folks may dismiss this; after all, the child was only 2 years and 4 months. He’ll forget about it.

Really? When I was 2 years and 4 months my parents left me with neighbors while they went on an out-of-state trip to attend a family wedding. Being left with strangers was so traumatic to me that I remembered it.

Years later I became aware that that traumatic event had colored my whole life. I never quite felt safe after that, and was an angry child, who felt she had no way to stop bad things from happening to her.

I suspect this Indian child will suffer from the same things. The difference, however, is that he will be raised in an environment where a high percentage of his tribe turn to drugs, alcohol and violence in an effort to deal with life’s problems. If he is raised there, he is likely to become a wife beater.

After the hearing, a woman who worked in that area informed me that in a town of 900 people, around half of them had fetal alcohol syndrome, and many were so mentally affected that they could not advance beyond a fifth grade reading level. Few made it all the way through high school.

But the Indian Child Welfare Act requires that this bright, loving child, who does not have fetal alcohol syndrome, be taken from a loving, vice-free, two-parent family, so that he can be raised to maintain his Indian heritage.

In trying to right a wrong that they did to the Indian tribes, the US granted the tribes the right to raise any child who has a small percentage of Indian blood. So the tribes tyrannize any child whose parent isn’t fit to raise him, by yanking him out of a kind and loving non-Indian family and forcing him to grow up in a culture of drugs, alcohol and violence.

It sounds like tyranny to me.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit


  1. It is tyranny, it is stupid, it flies in the face of common sense and love for that simple child.

    I, too, was left with neighbors when my little brother became sick and had to go to Winston-Salem to Baptist hospital. I loved the little girl and her family, but they were no substitute for my own home and parents.

    I still remembemer at age 64 how I jumped in the air when I saw my daddy coming back in that gray Ford automobile. I was so excited and jumped so high I landed flat on my behind before running to my daddy's open arms.

    Law is good, but it should make some kind of sense. Like the Bible, it was written in a specific time to meet a specific need, but when times change it is more important to obey the spirit of the law than to be a word inspector tied to what no longer applies.

    Good luck on the appeal. That small indian child needs love more than culture!

  2. Thanks, Gene.

    I only remember being left there. As far as I can tell, I thought my parents didn't want me anymore. I don't remember when they came to pick me up.

    I am so concerned that the 2 yr old boy will also believe he wasn't wanted, that he was abandoned by them or betrayed. Those are awful things to work through!

  3. Tell you another one when I was about 3:

    We had moved from the parsonage at Tryon, NC, where I was separated from my parents, not knowing anything more than my little brother was sick. Now we were in a really strange environment of an apartment complex because my daddy had been fired at Tryon and was called as an Associate Minister in Spartanburg, SC.

    It was such a strange place to my 3 year old eyes. My little brother and I didn't have many toys, but our favorite was a solid built farm tractor. Each one of us had 1. We left them outside in the sand box overnight and the next morning both had their axles bent and ruined by big boys abusing them. Momma later told me--where she had taught us not to fight each other--she encouraged us to do whatever it took to take care of ourselves and our toys--and work together to beat 'um up! That was all we needed!

    One night I came home at age 3 and found my house totally empty! There was not a stick of furniture, no brother, no parents. I had been abandoned. I sat down on the front porch and began to cry my little heart out. I was all alone with nobody--even my toys were gone from the sand box!

    Then, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A strange boy was asking me what was the matter. Through tears and sobs I told him of my plight.

    He took me by the hand and we began to walk. Suddenly we rounded the corner and-----THERE WAS MY HOME FULL OF FURNITURE / TOYS / BROTHER / MOTHER HOLDING OUT HER ARMS TO ME. I wasn't abandoned after all!!!

    I had just gotten disorientated in that complex where everything looked the same to a 3-year-old. God and another kind boy took care of me until I got to my real home!!!

    For a 3-year-old, it was a life saving miracle which I hope somehow comes to that little boy taken from those who really love him.

  4. Gene,
    What a wonderful story! You obviously know that feeling of abandonment--even though it was short-lived.

    This morning in my Bible time God clearly directed me to a passage and I kept wondering what He was trying to say. It was Mark 11, about getting the colt for Jesus's ride into Jerusalem, and about cursing the fig tree. When I turned the page, there were those verses about removing a mountain into the sea if we have faith and do not doubt.

    What is so interesting to me is that I prayed in faith and still believe God is going to bring that little boy back. There is a deep certainty in my heart that this is so. When I start analysing it, and wondering if it is just denial, a certainty rises up. It is a gift from God. After all, God has said He will do it, and I am standing on faith that He will. I hope it is very soon before too much damage is done.

    This is especially weird since the appeal has already been denied. My sister and her husband were told they didn't have a legal leg to stand on. They were also told the social worker is like God, and that the most likely way of getting him back is to get the social worker on their side. They tried appealing to her, and she stated he is to stay where he is. And then she rudely told them she had already spent more time talking with them than she wanted to. The truth is she doesn't answer the phone when they call. The only reason she talked to them that time was because they were there in person and said they weren't leaving until she talked to them.

    I am confident God is dealing with her, even though she acts like a mother dog in the most negative sense. I suspect she purposely deceived them into thinking they could be his legal guardians so that the pain of losing him would be more intense.

    BTW: my ancestors were attacked by Indians in PA in 1757. The mother and 2 children, a son and daughter, were killed, and the father and 2 sons were taken captive. The father escaped after about 3 years, and the sons were later returned as part of a peace treaty. There were around 300 captives, and 300 killed if I recall. I gather the boys were 10 and 12 when captured and 16 and 18 or 19 when returned. They say the Indians treated them so well many of the captives did not want to return.

    At least the Indian foster mom seems to be treating him well. The first week or so, she encouraged him to talk to my sister and family. He cried every time he heard their voices. It was so painful, he began pushing the phone away. That was painful on our end.

  5. I still believe in miracles despite anything so called scientific minds do to dispell them. Anyone not believing in miracles should just go to a cutting edge medical facility and see what 2000 years after Christ's birth can do to give sight to the blind, life to the premies, and conquest of dread diseases which 10 years ago were always fatal!

    I pray for such a miracle of love for this small child. Just like my grandsons, even though Daddy is demon-possessed and has no concept of love--their mother (our daughter), my wife, and I are giving them a vision of love these days they had missed through the abuse of a hateful father.

    In just 4 weeks of moving toward Separation our grandsons fight far less, use far fewer bad words, and went through Christmas Day without someone getting another bruise or bloody nose.

    Yes, Waneta, there is more than a Santa Clause--there is Jesus, Christ, the product of love lying there in a manger for the world to discover from the words of those who were there 2000+ years ago!!! Also, those of us who know who he really is today.

  6. Gene,
    I, too, am believing in miracles and that God can bring that child back to my sister's family. I am praying and trusting to that end.

    The miracles you are seeing in your grandsons reminds me of the positive changes that happened with my daughter after I left my husband. The first one was that she learned to like vegetables. Once her dad was not around to tell her to brush me (and vegetables) off, she started to appreciate and like them. I introduced her to peas, eaten fresh out of the pod, in the garden. Yum! She wanted more.

    Some of the other things took longer for her to learn, and some of them she is still recovering from, even though she has been living with me for 7 years now. I hope the damage he did does not stay with her all her life.

    That is part of why I wrote a book and am writing this blog. I stayed with him too long, due to the pressure of the collective church and because of the condemnation I knew I'd get from my family and the folks I grew up with if I left my husband. I got such severe anxiety due to his constant non-physical attacks and nastiness, I could barely care for myself, let alone care for her. If I had better support from the faith community, I could have left before I got so ill, and been able to take our daughter with me.

    Your daughter is so blessed to have such good support! With that kind of support, she is more likely to get primary physical care of the children, and they all are more likely to heal fairly quickly.

    I am still praying for them, and I think I will pray about the demons of your son-in-law as well. God bless!

  7. Waneta--

    Children are far more resilient than we usually credit them. God built into children the open eyes and personality which only needs love to survive.

    In some cases, counseling helps, but the main ingredient is consistent love and guidance from an adult who cares!

    Here is my blog description of Christmas:

    On the way home I was thinking about you and your suffering friends. Would there be any merit in putting together a joint discussion web site where any who want could come together to discuss things "DIVORCE?"

    Since my business is so slack, I would need a reasonable fee for participation.

    If enough funding showed up, we might find a way to use webcams so we could see one another as we discussed issues using voice transmission as well. I think we would all break fingers trying to tell important things quickly so that all could profit!

    I know very little about the technology involved or its cost, but I am open to helping more from my recent experience--and a lifetime of pastoral experience with abused women (and a few men).

  8. Is anyone interested in Gene's suggestion? I haven't the slightest idea how to set it up. But perhaps someone else has a clue?