We need to talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act or In Which I Try To Talk About the Indian Child Welfare Act
Guys, listen, we need to talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act. All day and everywhere. We need to tweet about the #IndianChildWelfareAct. All day and everywhere. We need to pass along articles and write our own. We need to write open letters (even though, you know, everyone knows open letters are so last year) and put up Buzzfeed .gif stories or lists (Top 5 reasons why Indians aren't trying to steal a child from a nice white family but instead are trying to be reunited with a child that IS their family). We need to be the voice for all of the people who can't do press conferences and sit down with CNN or even local news shows. We need to take apart every single piece of rhetoric that is put out there. You know the ones that are like "Save this child!" or "They are seizing a child from a loving family" or "This child is ONLY this much Indian." We need a thousand million billion voices to counteract all those voices that want the story to be about a nice, non-Native (usually white) family who just wants to love this child they love so much. And not about how hard and long the child's Native family has also been fighting to be reunited with this child. We need to have all those voices out there. You know why? Because of this:
Going into her room and seeing her toys without her playing with them is the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Me and my wife, Veronica’s grandparents, her sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, extended family our friends are heartbroke without her. I know we did everything in our power to keep Veronica home with her family. During this four year fight to raise my daughter I had to make many difficult decisions, decisions no father should ever have to make. The most difficult decision of all was to let Veronica go… -Dusten Brown
The "Baby Veronica" case, that's a thing that happened and it sucked. It resulted in a 2013 Supreme Court case where a Native father had his child seized away from him. The scene was heartbreaking and resulted in the legalized kidnapping of a Native child, who according the Supreme Court of the United States did not belong with her Native father, but instead belonged with the white couple who had illegally and immorally adopted her years before.
I wrote about it then. A few times. And one thing I said was this:
Writing this blog entry has been hard because this case hurts. Every time I wake up and read another news alert that something has happened in the Baby Veronica case that something tends to be disheartening, ill-informed, sad, racist, jerk-ist, craziness that makes me start shake my head and wonder, what's the point? Because the true nature of people comes out with stories like this. Suddenly, we are having to defend the right of a father to be with his daughter. Suddenly the adoptive couple is making a website called "SAVE Veronica." And my immediate thought is, save her from what? From her father? From a loving home with her father? From an extended family, grandparents, cousins, aunts and Uncles? From her Cherokee heritage? SAVE her from what?
But this is not a blog to tell you about why we need the Indian Child Welfare Act. Or why it is a law. Or how if the shoe was on the other foot you know all these nice white families would be yelling "OBEY THE LAW" at everyone instead of "SAVE THIS NATIVE CHILD FROM HER NATIVE PEOPLE! SCREW THE LAW!" If you want to read that blog entry you can find it here.
This is not even a blog to tell you about the latest case where a nice Non-Native family really wants to keep a Native child that they are fostering (law be damned) so they are going to fight it out in court for years and years, say that is in the best interest of the child, dismiss how the child's Native family has tried to stay an active part of her life even though they have been rebuffed at every stage, and also not mention how hard the child's father worked to try and get her back in the first place. Or how they did what all these nice Non-Native (usually white) families do. They started a "Save Lexi" page and campaign. They told their story to as many news outlets as they could. They are dominating the media right now. "Save Lexi" people say.
Read the full back story if you'd like from Indian Country Today. It is infuriating. Also this part:
In January 2014, Lori Alvino McGill signed on as counsel for the Pages. Alvino McGill worked onAdoptive Couple v. Baby Girl last year as a spokesperson for Veronica's mother, Christy Maldonado, who had given Veronica up for adoption to Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina before the girl’s birth in 2009. As Maldonado’s pro bono counsel, Alvino McGill argued in the media and on social websites against Veronica’s father Dusten Brown, using foul language and, in one particularly heated late-night exchange on Facebook, referred to Veronica’s biological father as a “sperm donor.”
I bolded that last part because that is what it's always about. Overturning ICWA. And they are not only going to do it legally. They are going to do it by controlling, manipulating and steering the conversation in popular media.
You may notice that while there are plenty of interviews with the nice white family who just want to protect their Native foster child from her Native family... there are not many with any of the Native people connected with the case. This happened in the case of Dusten Brown as well. Dusten followed the gag order, he believed in the law, and he thought cooler heads would prevail in a case that was about a father who loved his child. The media could have cared less, because if he wasn't going to sit in a chair with them and get them good ratings, they were going to go with the whole "isn't this so sad to have a child seized and kept away from a family that wants her?" (Isn't it sad that they are trying to do that to the father and his family as well? No? It should be...)
I actually wrote about this media insanity for an article that will be published soon. Because what I noticed about the media in these Indian Child Welfare Cases is this:
The representation forwarded by popular media of Native people in this case was specifically designed to diminish tribal sovereignty in public discourse. In most instances the national news media did not invite Native intellectuals to participate in this public dialogue. Public opinion was swayed because of the portrayal of Native nations as racist and discriminatory against nice white couples who wanted to adopt Indian children. On October 18, 2012, Dr. Phil dedicated an entire show to the case. Anderson Cooper also joined in the discussion of the case on CNN, which he argued was about the seizure of a Native child away from a white adoptive family. Wolf Blitzer (also on CNN) questioned why the Cherokee Nation felt like they deserved jurisdiction in the case. --Cutcha Risling Baldy
That's right news media. Maybe you can't talk to the exact Native family involved, but you can AT LEAST ask Native people to comment on what the case means and why it is important. You know how when you do a story on Donald Trump (like a milllion and a half of them) but you can't actually get Donald Trump to come on your show (cause he busy tweeting) so you call up one of your political analysts to make comments.
WE CAN DO THAT TOO!
But we were never asked. And what I noticed about the Baby Veronica case was the palpable lack of representation of any Native voices in the discussion. I also wrote about this too:
Native intellectuals were not invited to participate in meaningful public discussion, nor were they featured on popular media sites as guest writers or editors about this issue. Instead there was a tentative silence about the case, and a whispered hope that the Indian Child Welfare Act would be enough to protect this Native father. It was not. And though the Cherokee Nation had promised to uphold their sovereignty by refusing to give in to the demands to hand over the child to the Copabiancos, in the end Veronica Brown was taken from her father and driven away in front of national news cameras and a gathering of protestors holding signs saying “Cherokee children are not for sale.” -Cutcha Risling Baldy
What's the point? We cannot afford to be silent. Things have changed since the Baby Veronica case. Native twitter is a thing that exists. #HashtagActivism has told people we are #NotYourMascot #NotYourTonto and that #JKRowling needs to take a Native American Studies Class.
There are whole articles written now that are just a series of tweets. Here's what this person said on Twitter. Hey here's another thing someone said on Twitter. And because of this, there is NO DENYING that Native public intellectuals exist. I call it the #NewNativeIntellectualism
The new Native intellectualism is about interrogating popular discourse on Native peoples and offering a pointed and engaged critique. It's being passionate about online activism and presence because we know there are interconnections to how this informs public discourse about self-determination and the future of Native Nations.
It's every blog entry. Every re-tweet. Every voice that says "You may think there is nobody that can come on your show and explain sovereignty to you Wolf Blitzer, but there are many of us."
So if you do anything today, right now, head on over to your Twitter or your Facebook page and say "It's time to talk about the #IndianChildWelfareAct."
And refuse to be silenced.
What's some stuff I can do now?
Check out the Twitter feeds of some of these Native people, retweet, repeat.
Founder @ A Tribe Called Geek. Managing Partner @ Native Max Magazine. Producer/Host @ SuccessNativeStyle. Board Member of Not Your Mascots. (Opinions are mine)
Tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo. Publisher of American Indians in Children's Literature; PhD and M.Ed in Education, MLIS. See CV at website for list of pubs.
I'm an educated, professional Native woman. My very existence is a political statement. *No DMs*
And let me end with this. When Dusten Brown was finally able to speak publicly about his daughter, and the case that was all over the news media and took him all the way to the Supreme Court, what quickly became obvious was that he was not the callous, neglectful, brash or even arrogant person that the Capobiancos and their media team had made him out to be. He was a loving, caring father. And I end here with his message to his daughter because he is right, one day she will read about this time in her life, and I hope instead of Dr. Phil and CNN nonsense she is able to find this video and hear his voice to remind her how loved she will always be. And to remind us why our voices matter now, and can matter many years in the future as these stolen children find their way home.
And to Veronica, one day you will read about this time in your life. Never ever for one second, never ever for one second doubt how much I love you, how hard I fought for you, or how much you mean to me. My home will always be your home and you’re always welcome in it. I miss you more than words can express. You’ll always be my little girl, my princess, and I will always love you until the day I die. I love you and hope to see you soon. -Dusten Brown
This week in #SettlerNonsense: Fantastical Natives and where to find them or WHY JK ROWLING WHY?! WHYYYYYYYY!
I promise you this whole thing is not going to be about #MagicInNorthAmericaGate but a lot of it will be. This week in #SettlerNonsense JK Rowling forces me to revisit my love of Harry Potter through a critical scholarly lens (HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME JK ROWLING) and other people prove that in the public imagination fantastical creatures exist all around us, and they are usually Native Americans who are so "other" to us y'all.
What is #SettlerNonsense you ask
Settler Nonsense is dehumanization and dismissal of Native knowledges so prevalent in discussions about Native people. It is the ever present "vanishing Indian" story where we all just up and disappeared one day and NOBODY KNOWS WHY (it was genocide. Yep. Genocide.) Natives are always vanishing, dying or losing something, our languages, our futures, our health, and our cultures. In this story, if we haven’t lost these things, we are on our way to losing them, one step away from an extinction that often feels inevitable and in many ways, improbably, accidental.
#1: JK Rowling published some short (short) stories about the history of #MagicInNorthAmerica and there were Natives mentioned in it and it was not good. It was mostly 1. Natives are magical 2. But they don't use wands cause all the good wand makers are British (touche) 3. They do know a lot about plants though 4. Skinwalkers aren't bad. The people who said they were bad are just jelly. 5. When the wizards immigrated here they were like "where's the apothecary?" And Natives were like "walk 1/2 a mile up that way and get the stuff yourself. We are busy." 6. So the poor British wizards were like "It's a mad wilderness here. There are few amenities." And the Natives sat back in their cities and villages and went "sure, no amenities. You are right. Stay far away from our amenities-less villages."
I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time going through the stories because once they came out several really fantastic writers and bloggers put on their capes and used their non-wand filled hands to do what needed to be done. Here's an excerpt.
Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations.
This whole wandless magic thing is bugging me. So Rowling has said multiple times that it takes a lot more skill to perform magic without a wand (Dumbledore does it at several points in the books), but points out that wands are what basically refines magic. Wands are a European invention, so basically she’s demonstrating Eurocentric superiority here–the introduction of European “technology” helps bring the Native wizards to a new level. AKA colonial narrative 101.
Dr. Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
What J.K. Rowling did yesterday (March 8, 2016) in the first story of her "History of Magic in North America" is the most recent example of white people misrepresenting Native people. Her misrepresentations are harmful. And yet, countless people are cheering what Rowling did, and dismissing our objections. That, too, is not ok.
Simon Moya-Smith at Indian Country Today
“I’m saying American society hasn’t evolved. Its conception of us and our spiritualities remains seriously antiquated. People all across this fading country still believe Native Americans cast curses, heal with magic potions … I’m saying there’s very little difference between what a 3rdGrade teacher will fleece to students in November about Native American spirituality, and what J.K. Rowling scribbled about Native Americans and magic.”
Over on Righting Red
For me the representation issue boils down to this: The mass media narrative around Natives is intensely problematic; if we’re mentioned at all, it’s within a stereotypical or fantastical sense, and very rarely goes beyond 1 or 2-D. Many consumers of this media have no idea we still exist as contemporary, multi-dimensional individuals, which makes these fantastical/fictional perpetrations very much a part of the problem in that NO ONE knows or cares to know any of the very real issues our communities face. Who cares about the epidemic levels of Native youth suicide when OMG JK ROWLING IS WRITING ABOUT MAGICAL INDIAN SKINWALKERS!!!
I also really liked what author N(ora). K. Jemisin wrote
It would’ve taken some work for her to research Navajo stories and pick (or request) some elements from that tradition that weren’t stereotypical or sacred — and then for her to do it again with the Paiutes and again with the Iroquois and so on. But that is work she should’ve done — for the sake of her readers who live those traditions, if not for her own edification as a writer. And how much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?
You're welcome Internet. Now that we have covered all the bases I'm sure we can all agree that what JK Rowling wrote was problematic, dismissive and hurtful to Native peoples. Also, ill-informed and contributes to continuing issues that face Native peoples who are just trying to get some good literature written about them so that kids/ students will stop writing book reports about how nice it was that Columbus brought some Natives back to Europe with him when he left so they too could visit the apothecary (I am guessing here. I know for a fact that some students write that Columbus was nice enough to run a quick cruise line back to Europe because nowhere do any children's books call it a SLAVE TRADE).
Except we can't all agree. The backlash was swift. There was a lot of "it's only fiction!" or "Stop being so PC!" or "You should just be grateful someone like Rowling even mentioned you!" or "Stop being such a cry baby!"
jSo here's my two cents.
$.01: Here are some times where things that JK Rowling wrote in Harry Potter really super mattered and also were more than just fiction.
$.02: JK Rowling has a lot of money. This does not mean I think she owes me anything but I think she owes herself to really take some of that money and enroll in a Native American Studies class. Heck, at least a Native American literature class. It is there that she will start to see how the language of "fantasy" and "magical realism" and "magic" is part and parcel to language of vanishing, pretend Indians. Like if we can make Natives kind of foggy in our imaginations it just feels a little bit like millions of people being killed or displaced isn't all that gut wrenching (it happened a long time ago in a land far far away you know?) We have to be real as well as fantastical. Because you know what, I'm not going to argue that we aren't fantastical. But we are fantastical and magical not just as wizards but because of the sheer strength and power that comes from our cultures, stories, songs and ceremonies.
Also we can be wizards and have an awesome wizard school and teach all about why magic with no wand is so much better but our schools would not and should not be divorced from our histories in the "no-maj" world as well. You know why? Because our wizards would not turn their backs on their no-maj family. And we would want even the newest wizard immigrant to know that.
P.S. Listen. If you're gonna do a whole boarding school thing with the magical school in the U.S. that has a background in Indigenous magic (which you said before) you really need to read up on the history of boarding schools in the Americas and be very conscious of that as you move forward. Please. Please stop what you are doing and do this right now. Please.
#2: Some girl on Instagram put up a photo of her "hot boxing a hobbit house" which just so happened to be her hitting a bong in a traditional Northwest California home in a State Park.
I'm not going to put up the photo of this girl that she posted publicly to Instagram and then let people make a bunch of comments and like it a lot before finally deleting it because many Native youth were all "excuse me?"
Her defense was that 1. She's native? And 2. It just looked like a Hobbit house because of the hole or something and she didn't mean to be disrespectful. Okay.
The reason why I was struck by this particular instance is the mention of Hobbits. It was the second time in a number of weeks that I had seen someone say these were "hobbit houses" or refer to Native people from the Northwest of California as possible hobbits. I don't really feel the need to correct that we are in fact, not hobbits because hobbits aren't real and if anything hobbits probably stole their ideas from us when we were exchanging ideas with Maori's from New Zealand long before Columbus got lost and thought he found India. Because hobbits are from New Zealand right? They were in the movie.
Somebody's going to write me a letter now explaining it's fiction and hobbit's are from MIDDLE EARTH to which I say, yes, exactly.
Why does it matter that some people refer to our houses as hobbit houses? It's just more nonsense really. I often explain that these houses were very well designed homes and in fact draw on principles that are now being used as part of sustainable building design. They were made from redwood planks, they were sturdy, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They were energy efficient. Also, they were permanent structures (so all those things you hear about Natives being nomadic wanderers... nope). And they survived. In some places in Northwest California Natives were living in homes like this through the 1920s. They were holding steadfastly to their village sites despite pressure to move and to destroy or build over those sites.
The particular site that the young woman was at is a recreational site in a state park meant to educate people about the Natives of the area called the Yurok. After she posted the photo a young woman posted a response to her trying to explain why the photo is so infuriating. That posted letter got the young woman who wrote the letter temporary blocked from Facebook for not meeting Facebook's standards? AND THAT ladies and gentlemen is why Facebook wins the #SettlerNonsense badge of the week.
Here is the letter for everyone to read.
*Update* The young woman who had her account banned from Facebook for a while posted a statement on her own website which you can read here. https://sineadtalley.wordpress.com/
So that's it for this week folks. Enjoy your #SettlerNonsense
I'm going to go and see where all my Fantastical Natives are at. #WhereMyFantasticalNativesAt
Palate Cleanser: The opposite of #SettlerNonsense is
My friend Morning Star Gali got awarded a Leading Edge Fund fellowship so that she can work on restoring justice for Native Peoples.
Gali will document the crisis of mass incarceration among Native Americans in the state. Using her extensive network, organizing and community-based and engaged research background, she will mobilize Native nations, incarcerated Native Americans and their families, allies and policy leaders to address and shift the tide of over-incarceration and human rights violations within corrections institutions. She also aims to build solidarity and power among Indigenous Peoples throughout California, enabling them to restore sovereign rights and to heal, care for and resolve differences among their people on their own terms and by their own tribal governments.
Here she is in a video. #AwesomeNativeWomen
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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