There is no way to take back the past. But if Maine wants to ensure that it never, ever repeats its racist, oppressive treatment of American Indian families and communities, it must know what it did. Under the first truth and reconciliation commission in the United States to be jointly agreed upon by state and tribal leaders, Mainers will have the opportunity to listen to mothers whose children were taken to be assimilated into white culture, and to those children — now adults — who were forced to live with foster families that were sometimes emotionally, physically and sexually abusive.

In order for the members of Maine’s five tribes to achieve some level of healing, it’s important for everyone who had a relevant experience with the child welfare system over the past few decades to participate in the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Sharing what happened is essential if the commission is to comprehensively investigate and make suggestions for improvements. Also important is the willingness of Mainers not connected to the child welfare system to listen and learn.

The formation of the truth and reconciliation commission is the result of years of work on the part of a convening group comprising people from the state, several organizations and each of the Wabanaki communities: Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkmikuk, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik and the Penobscot Indian Nation. The convening group helped draft a mandate, which the chiefs and Gov. Paul LePage signed on June 29, to lay out the three-year-long truth and reconciliation process.

A selection panel is accepting nominations for commissioners until Oct. 1, when it will choose five who “are trusted by both tribal and state governments and their respective citizens,” according to the mandate. The commissioners then will travel several days per month to reservations to listen to people’s experiences, seek to understand why the experiences occurred and determine what needs to change. The commission cannot pursue criminal or civil claims; its role is to create a written account and make recommendations for child welfare reform.

Historically, efforts to assimilate Indian children into non-native culture, in many cases, devastated tribal communities. In the 1800s, church groups, with government support, took Indian children and sent them to boarding schools, far from their culture, religion, language and families. Many of the children were abused; many died.

In 1958, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America partnered to establish the Indian Adoption Project to place Indian children with adoptive white families. Though the children were taken in many cases from reservations suffering from poverty, their removal resulted in a form of cultural genocide. Surveys by the Association of American Indian Affairs in 1969 and 1974 showed that between 25 percent and 35 percent of all Indian children were separated from their homes and living in foster care, adoptive care or institutions at the time. Though the federal Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978 to give Indian children more protection, some problems persisted.

Maine’s truth and reconciliation commission is important because it sets the framework for understanding different perspectives of the state’s history. There is an air of something with national significance being accomplished, too. This commission is set to be the third such undertaking in U.S. history and the first to have this level of joint support from the state and tribes, according to commission Interim Director Carolyn Morrison. The nation will watch.

The aim of the process is not to make people feel guilty or seek reparations but to find a way to heal and build the relationship between the tribes and state. For people who will find it painful to tell their stories, know that those of us listening will be celebrating your strength.

27 replies on “Healing from Indian child ‘takings’ is in the telling”

  1. Please stop using the children of today to pay the price for the horrible mistakes of yesterday. Innocent children and families are being hurt by this law. These are multiracial children being denied permanent, loving homes because of heritage. The law is being abused in our court systems and in desperate need of amendments. The Indian Adoption Project was wrong but two wrongs don’t make a right.

    1. I do not agree. I think that the child welfare system needs to take a look at practices and see what needs to change and what works. I think that is best for all. The child welfare system has made other mistakes historically. As one example, during the Great Depression, children were removed from families not necessarily because they were abused or neglected but simply because they were poor. Siblings who were each other’s supports within the system were split up because the foster homes did not always take sibling groups. Sometimes they were not able to find each other until many years afterward. There was another thing that used to happen to children in foster care, with the best of intentions, but more harmful than helpful. In order to prevent the children in the custody of the states from becoming too attached to foster parents, they were moved frequently when it was not necessary. The end result was that there was an entire generation unable to form healthy bonds. As a former worker in the system, I think it is important to look at the Big Picture as well as individual situations. We can do better and we should do better.

  2. For crying out loud, this was and is not a native american problem because it happened to all children.  Why are native americans getting special treatment?  It has happened time and time again to children of many nationalities.  I think this commission is a crock.  If you are going to form such a commission, make it for all children removed from their homes.  Totally biased.

      1. I know the facts.  It happened to white children during the depression.  It has happened in other countries.  This happens to all nationalities.  You keep holding onto the white man held you down.  Well, that is war and the white man won.  That is what war is, someone loses and someone wins.  Now my ancestors were actually friends with the Native Americans in Nova Scotia and some even married Native Americans.  They were purged from Grand Pre Nova Scotia because we would not support killing the “savages”.  So they were trapped in their church until the British ships arrived to send them back to France.  Some escaped and many returned after they were back in France.  There you have Acadians and Cajuns.  We have never pissed and moaned like your people do; we picked up and started over.  You live on your reservation with high alcoholism and drug use and do little to help yourselves.  Look at it….get out of your own way and make difference.

      2. Just for reference I know a Caucasian family it happened to in 1967.

        BTW I hold no ill will to anyone that brings attention to this no matter the race.

    1. The difference here is this was “genocide” …. get it? And, it happened in their own homeland … right here. No …. one …. else can say this. It’s just like no other person can claim to have their property or land stolen or converted except for the legal owners. Right?

        1. It was genocide and still is attempted genocide. Read the U.N. Conventions for yourself. You’re in denial. Later, you’ll get angry. Then, depressed. And, finally, you’ll accept this truth. But, yes, you are suffering from a serious case of “denial”, sir. 

          You’re the one that needs to “get a grip”…. on reality. If you would like to talk about this in private, perhaps, let me know. I’m willing to talk more with you to explain my perspective, if nothing else.

          1. These are big questions that are not intended for individuals, per se. The genocide policies and actions of previous governments, if these are still manifested in modern times (i.e. forced / coerced segregation onto small patches of land, blanket infested germ warfare or medical neglect, denial of a group’s spiritual beliefs and economic practices, forced removal and re-education of the youth), is still genocide and modern day governments (state or federal) must be held accountable. Now, if you identify yourself with these political bodies and these policies, then, yes, you are included.

            You ever spent a night, never mind 20 years, overnight on a Rez? Know what its like to be and feel penned up … your whole life? Know what its like to watch the Governor and his brother divide up the casino booty in your face and on the front page of the newspapers while your families, who have far more experience and history administering gaming operations, are excluded by the referendum schemes of the Baldacci’s and their white NO voters … just so they could end up with no casino competition to their own?

            Remember, the casino initiative was a tribal idea … it is an attempt to formally re-establish  our traditional gaming culture and make our own money … for a change.

            And, the Baldacci’s knew that this tribal casino initiative was lucrative and they stole it for themselves through their machinations and the majority of white people joined them. 

            The tribes should not have allowed any question to be put to the dominant white society in the first place. Under international law, aboriginal people have a right to economic self-determination and self-sufficiency. That is the law. There was no question to be put to a referendum vote in the first place. How that ever came about is a mystery.

            The referendum was akin to asking a group of “big, bad wolves” if they would support the building of  a big, brick house for the three little pigs. No different.

            Some questions (tribal casinos) are already answered (international right to economic self-determination in their own homeland) and do not go to a dominant society to “determine”. Under the law, therefore, the referendums, (both of them) were “void ab initio” (no good from the beginning). 

            The same with the relabeled genocide policies of the present state and federal governments, the policy of scheming tribal rights to land and access to resources for state, federal and private (white) profits, it is void ab initio … and it surely continues to the present day.

            As long as even one tribesman is resisted or denied access and use of tribal territory, anywhere, that policy and any related genocidal law continues to exist. … and white people, per se, continue to benefit from ill gotten booty … wrongfully schemed from the tribes. … plain and simple.

            Go ahead … deny it.

      1. Then go get those who did it and let us punish them!  Why attempt to blame those who were not even there or involved at that time.  Right?

  3. This commission is significant because it addresses not just removal from the Native American families but removal from their tribes and the systematic attempt to wipe out the Native American culture. It is no different that what happened in Australia with the Aborigines. It needs to be discussed, acknowledged, and dealt with as something wrong that happened.

  4. You mean racist like forcing Maine Children forced to take a Native American Class. Why not Irish American, and learn those things, or others. Their is a lot of history we need to learn.

    1. I think it would be great if multicultural truly meant that multiple cultures are studied in classes. I remember a book that I saw years ago in WaldenBooks called The Ethnic Almanac.  It highlighted the achievements of many different ethnic groups and pointed out how each had contributed to America. But so many students struggle with basics so I don’t know how that would happen. Unless Social Studies was actually social studies.

    2. I agree … it’s therefore  just as unconscionable for the dominant society to force Native American children to study English, French or Spanish language, government or history? Whenever that happened, it’s called “genocide”. The question to ask is, “is this still happening?”. If, yes, then it’s still “genocide”. Thats right…. “genocide” …. racism in action. … and its still rampant in the State of Maine. Of course, so is elder, women and child abuse, and the abuse by the rich and powerful over the poorer and less powerful.

      And, yes, our brothers, the Irish and, even, the Chinese, can also attest to this genocide and racism at the hands of the English and other European immigrants to our Native lands… you got that right. 

      1. If it is still rampant in Maine then go after them, not the entire population because of what happened decades ago.

    3. It is not racist to have children study the cultures of civilizations that lived in the region before us. 

      When I went to school we were taught Early European history, you know the early Greeks and the Roman Empire and nothing of civilizations of different colors. like the Inka, Mayans Aztecas, The Indus Valley peoples, the Chinese or any African civilizations. 

      Why is that not racist?

  5. Maine’s CPS rips apart white families too, but Governor LePage doesn’t want to do a thing about that.  

    Go figure.  

  6. Yes, children of all cultures have been removed from their homes;
    however the difference with Native American (N.A.) children is that the U.S. Government
    used the removal of children as a war tactic. The removal of N.A. children was
    to “assimilate” the kids into the dominate culture. This assimilation process
    involved forcibly removing the children from their parents to place them in
    over 160 residential schools all over the U.S. not including Missionary
    schools.  The process involved sexual
    torture, killing of kids, and many beatings to keep them from practicing and
    speaking their language.  Though, N.A.
    children are forced out of their homes and into residential and missionary schools.  They are however still removed from their
    homes and place in white homes, (some abusive) even when there are capable
    Native American homes that can take them in. 
    You, might think this fine; but this process rips their identity from
    them.  If you think yeah, but at least
    they are learning good christen values from their new “parents”.  That thought process is called ethnocentrisms;
    which believes that your culture is better than anyone else’s culture.  That thought process creates stereotypes, stereotypes
    are precursor thoughts to racism. No cultural practices are better than another’s
    they all are just different; we can learn from each other’s culture and take
    what we like and leave the rest.  It’s
    important to learn each other’s cultural values because it creates and
    understanding of where one is coming from; this learning bridges gaps between
    cultures and is an effective tool to dispel stereotypes and or racist beliefs of
    another.  The fact that the State of
    Maine in this case is acknowledging this practice of taking N.A. kids from
    their homes and placing them in White people’s homes is wrong; and Maine’s people
    should be proud of their State for doing this. I hope before you judge; please
    give your comments some thoughts about why is this happening? Dig a little in
    our history; it’s both of our histories.  

    1. I agree, it happened, go find those who did it and punish them.  Why are you attempting to punish those who were not even born at that time.

  7. The Race Card in Maine:  Play it and get more and more concessions. 
    “if Maine wants to ensure that it never, ever repeats its racist, oppressive treatment of American Indian families and communities, it must know what it did.”  Who is this Maine person the article names as being racist?  Obviously I am being facetious, but why do we keep hearing about people in history (probably all passed by now) who were racists?  Why does the media name people currently being racist?  Many decades ago there were abuses toward the native americans, name them.  Racism is evident today by people, name them.  Do some people not think that continuing to go back decades in history with this race card bring about more and more concessions, those racist attacks by those in the past being paid for by those tax payers too busy to be concerned about living and letting those live?

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