One Small Sacrifice

Hardly anyone knows this story, unless you’re an American Indian adoptee or an American Indian family who lost a child to adoption during the Indian Adoption Projects.

In journalist-adoptee Trace A. DeMeyer’s new book, ONE SMALL SACRIFICE: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects, she recounts her search for her birth parents and her identity as a Native American.

Why did you write the book?

I’d never told my story of opening my adoption. A few friends knew details but not all of it. I got the idea for a book when I wrote an article in 2005 about Stolen Generations of North American Indian children placed for adoption with non-Indian parents. It took me down a path I never expected.

What do you mean?

I was not aware of the various medical terms for adoptee issues such as severe narcissist injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. There is a new science called birth psychology so I read studies about adoptees in treatment for identity issues, reactive attachment disorder (RAD), depression and suicidal thoughts. I soon realized the adoption industry doesn’t disclose any of this to the media or to adoptive parents or to adoptees like me. So I wrote my memoir as an adoptee and wrote about the history and business of adoption as a journalist. I found more adoptees after my article was published, which really added to my understanding of the devastating impact of the Indian Adoption Projects.

How did you handle being an adoptee in a closed adoption?

I grieved my birthmother but didn’t know I was grieving until much later. Being adopted affected my self-esteem. Trauma and grief issues were like tentacles, affecting me even as an adult. I was hurt my birthmother abandoned me as a baby, so I didn’t bounce back emotionally until I had counseling and after I found my birthfather. My emotional state recovered but it took many years.

How did you recover?

First, I opened my sealed adoption file at age 22. That healed me more than anything: to know my name. Even though I never met my birthmother, I did meet my birthfather when I was 40. Finding out why you are abandoned and put up for adoption works like a miracle. I call it my cure. I did co-counseling in Seattle where you tell your whole life story – all of it – with complete honesty, no holding back. I started to see how being adopted had locked me up in illusions about who my birthparents were, so when I learned the truth about them, my heart did begin to heal. I was no longer a mystery. Even my health improved.

What about the Indian Adoption Projects?

The idea in America and Canada was to assimilate Indians. If they took us and placed us with non-Indian parents, they assumed we’d forget we were Indians. The Association of Indian Affairs conducted a study in the 1970’s that found that during the 60’s and 70’s, between 25%  and 35% of all Indian children had been separated from their families. In 16 states in 1969, 85% of Indian children were placed in non-Indian homes. There is congressional testimony and documented proof of various adoption programs in different states which lead to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Adoptees who are American Indian are called Lost Birds, Split Feathers, Lost Children, and Lost Ones. Of course most of us adapt and bond with our birthparents but as we grow up, our identity and name might still be locked up in a sealed file.  Adoptees told me we won’t heal until we open our adoption and go full circle, which means we meet our tribal relatives. The adoption projects are acknowledged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America, and I include one apology in the book. My book is basically a memoir but it does include history.

Who should read your book?

Adoptees, definitely, and the families who adopted us. One birthmom in California told me she plans to read it with her son she placed in an open adoption. Those who have read my book do react strongly to the idea the American government condoned and conducted closed adoptions to erase our identity as Indian people. My hope is tribal leaders will read it so they understand Lost Birds are anxious to return to the circle, meet relatives, relearn language and attend ceremonies. In Canada they call their adoptee population “The Baby Scoop Generation” and their reunions are called “repatriation to first nations.” There are no programs in America for adoptees to be repatriated or returned to their tribal nations as adults. With sealed adoption records in the majority of states, adoptees struggle to get answers. My book offers suggestions and places to write for help. I offer my help, too.

What’s next?

Some adoptees are in reunion, some are not. Their stories need to be told. I’m compiling stories from other Lost Birds/adoptees for my next book: Split Feathers: Two Worlds. Adoptees can get in touch with me on Facebook or read my blog: www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com. My email is tracedemeyer@gmail.com. It’s my goal to shine a light on adoption secrecy and end the atrocity of closed adoptions affecting so many American Indians who are now adults. We do need to heal this and go full circle.