An Era of Removal
No American Indian family remains untouched by government policies of forced family separation. Prior to the Adoption Era (1940-1978) the progressive approach to America’s “Indian problem” was to “Kill the Indian and save the man” by shipping Native youth and toddlers to an estimated 500 federally-funded conversion schools and religious institutions (Boarding School Era: 1879-1978). This collective era of removal effectively displaced 25-35% of Native American youth from tribal communities nationwide by the late 1960s.
Battles over blood quantum and ‘best interests’ resurface the untold history of America’s Indian Adoption Era - a time when nearly one-third of children were removed from tribal communities nationwide. As political scrutiny over Indian child welfare intensifies, an adoption survivor helps others find their way home through song and ceremony.
Sandy White Hawk
Sicangu Lakota | Founding Director, First Nations Repatriation Institute
For Sandy White Hawk, the story of America’s Indian Adoption Era is not one of saving children but of destroying families and tribes. At 18 months of age, Sandy was removed from her Sicangu Lakota relatives and placed with white missionaries over 400 miles from the reservation. Growing up as the only brown girl in a small Wisconsin town, Sandy’s cultural identity was rejected, leaving her feeling ugly, alone and unworthy of love.
After a 30-year struggle through abuse and recovery, Sandy set out to restore the missing pieces of her stolen past and reclaim the Lakota identity she was taught to disown. She soon discovered that her adoption was not an isolated case but part of a nationwide assimilative movement that targeted American Indian children.
Through Sandy’s journey of coming home, she learned the powerful role that traditional song and ceremony can play in healing this intergenerational wound. Today, she is an international child welfare advocate and has assisted countless displaced relatives and their families through the process of reunification. Blood Memory explores the impact reunification can have on communal healing, as Sandy helps organize the first annual Welcome Home Ceremony for Adopted and Foster Relatives of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe - the community from which she was removed over 60 years ago.