Battles over blood quantum and “best interests” reveal the untold history of America’s Indian Adoption Era. A survivor of this stolen generation returns to heal her community. A child welfare attorney redresses the law he once fought to protect. The future of Indian Country hangs in the balance.
For Sandy White Hawk, the story of America’s Indian Adoption Era is not one of saving orphans but of creating them. At the age of 18 months, Sandy was removed from her Sicangu Lakota relatives and taken to live with a Christian mission couple on a Wisconsin farmstead over 600 miles away, where her skin color and cultural heritage were rejected. She grew up void of kinship and familial support, feeling ugly, alone and unworthy of love. Her adoption, which she later found to be part of a nationwide assimilative movement that targeted American Indian communities, defined her and took much of her adult life to overcome. After a 30 year struggle with the pains of a biased and abusive upbringing, her reconnection with Lakota spirituality led her to work nationally on behalf of others impacted by the Adoption Era.
As Sandy’s narrative reveals genocidal federal Indian policies and the current state of Indian child welfare, a buzz begins to form around the name of Mark Fiddler, a private adoption attorney and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Since the beginning of his career, Mark has been publicly engaged in the inner workings of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) – a law passed by Congress in 1978 to preserve and fortify tribal communities and halt the disproportionate removals of the Adoption Era. In 1993, Mark founded the ICWA Law Center to provide free legal services in protection of the rights of Indian families. But within five years, he encountered a series of cases in which he felt the act implicated unjust consequences. Mark began to ask, “Is what’s best for the preservation of Indian tribes truly in the best interest of Indian Children?”
Sandy and Mark’s personal narratives collide with the development of the United States Supreme Court case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, also known as “Baby Veronica,” the most controversial Indian child welfare case to date. Mark’s involvement as lead attorney for the white adoptive couple and the court’s decision to place a Cherokee child in a non-Native home outraged Sandy and fellow ICWA advocates. The outcome of this case resurfaced generations of trauma for families throughout Indian Country.
Today, Sandy works to address this trauma in her own community through the organization of the first Coming Home Ceremony for Adoptees on the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota – the community from which she was removed over 60 years ago, while Mark continues to put his own Indian heritage on trial, even if it means dismantling the federal law he once swore to uphold. As this unconventional political thriller unfolds, Blood Memory asks, “What will it take to protect American Indian children and the traditions from which they are so often removed?”
Concept Video: https://vimeo.com/148683405