Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: Two Worlds, Called Home contributor Johnathan Brooks

Beacon Hill Training rated it 5 of 5 stars Good Reads
Johnathan Brooks (Cheyenne/Cree) Contributor to Called Home and Two Worlds
In the final countdown to BAAF National Adoption Week, I stumbled across a story on Twitter reported in the Kent and Sussex Courier about a Native American man adopted into a Western family in the mid 1960s. The article caught my attention, not only because of my interest in adoption but also because of the fascinating cultural implications of such a tale. Johnathan Brooks has contributed a chapter to the edited volume Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Adoption Projects, which I have now been able to read. Johnathan's is just one of several stories detailing the cultural assimilation of Native Americans into a wider American / Europe world, something about which I was previously unaware.

Johnathan was relinquished as a baby by his Native American mother and adopted by Countess Barbara von Bismarck-Schonhausen and her husband Hollywood publicist Steve Brooks. From a life of almost certain poverty in a Native American reservation, Johnathan was raised in London and received a progressive Steiner education in rural Sussex. As was 'the norm', Johnathan's history was effectively erased and he was issued with a new birth certificate. He was aware that he was adopted and was told almost by accident when his mother found him play-shooting the Indians who were 'baddies' in the Western movie he was watching.

Sadly, Johnathan's privileged upbringing was marred by his adoptive mother's mental health and addiction problems following the tragic deaths of her parents and sister. Johnathan felt that his relationship with her was always strained, perhaps due to the fact that he was not her biological son and she felt his place in her life was not necessarily permanent. This emotional distance was somewhat exacerbated by their lack of physical proximity; Johnathan lived with another family during term-time to prevent him from boarding at school.

Despite his adoption being almost taboo within the family (the main exceptions being when his birth mother was being disparaged), Johnathan's adoptive mother bought him a ticket to America when he was 21. He tells the story of his desire to trace his biological parents, juxtaposed with the ongoing routine of his life in England. I won't 'spoil' your enjoyment of this book by telling you much more, but it certainly is an engaging story and had me captivated.

As a human interest story, this one certainly is entrancing. But it serves more than that. Of course, given that the average age at adoption has significantly increased, there is less possibility to 'hush up' adoptions today. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that adoptive parents wouldn't do so if they felt able to, despite current thinking that honesty really is the best policy. The realities of adoption for both the adoptive parents and the children must be more thoroughly explored by the applicants and their social workers before the matching takes place. I'd suggest you try our previous blog post Opening the Eyes of Prospective Adopters for a real eye-opener about the realities of modern adoption.

Perhaps the more alarming aspect of Johnathan's story is the cultural assimilation (eradication?) of the Native American people in this period. The book as a whole contains many stories of 'transracial' adoptions where Indian children were raised by non-Indian families and their histories sealed by the government to prevent later re-entry into their tribes. The sad reality is that the children of this 'stolen generation' were removed, sometimes forcibly, in a methodical attempt at ethnic cleansing. The recent Nigerian baby exchange scandal shows just how easy child trafficking can be, preying on vulnerable people who simply wish to have a child. The popularity of international adoptions in the celebrity world has raised their profile and are often considered by people wishing to adopt a newborn. While ethnic compatibility is no longer considered the be-all-and-end-all of matching criteria (and certainly a stable and loving home should override this), I would certainly recommend that social workers and adoptive parents read this book to as a stark reminder of the damaging effects of closed adoptions and sealed birth records.

[Johnathan wrote an update in the new anthology CALLED HOME (book 2) Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lost Birds on Al Jazeera Fault Lines

Cassandra, a producer at Fault Lines contacted Trace and others for this incredible sharing... LINK

Diane Tells His Name, Suzie Fedorko*, Julie Missing and Trace DeMeyer* are featured along with the first Lost Bird. The baby who survived the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 became known as Zintkala Nuni, or, in Lakota, "Lost Bird."

For more than one hundred years, U.S. policies and practices separated Native American children from their families. Prior to 1978, when the Indian Child Welfare Act went into effect, Native American children were regularly plucked from their homes and sent to live with non-Natives. Some children grew up surrounded by love; others suffered enormous hardships. Many had a powerful desire to reconnect with the culture that they had lost.
In "Lost Birds," we profile four adopted women who sought out their Native American roots. Read the stories of how each woman came to discover and connect with her true heritage. - from the Al Jazeera website

* Trace and Suzie are contributors and writers in the new anthology CALLED HOME: Book 2: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects. Diane Tells His Name is a contributor in the anthology TWO WORLDS (Book 1)