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.
The story of the Indian Adoption Era is not one of saving orphans, but of creating them. Beginning in the 1940s, missionaries and early social workers used adoption as a means to “save” children from destitute living conditions on the reservation. By the late 1960s, good intentions had facilitated the removal of nearly one-third of Native children from reservations nationwide. Most were placed into white Christian homes across the heartland of America, where they grew up estranged from their biological families, culture and true identities.
To halt this era of removal, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed in 1978. Almost 40 years later, Indian children are the most disproportionately represented group in America’s child welfare system. While pro-ICWA advocates blame a corrupt and biased “Adoption Industry,” anti-ICWA groups argue that the law legally entraps children in cycles of abuse. As America’s courtrooms fill with arguments concerning the “best interest” of Indian children, the future of Indian Country hangs in the balance.
Blood Memory explores this political battle through the personal stories of three individuals as they encounter and reflect upon the Indian Child Welfare Act in their everyday lives. The first narrative follows an adult adoptee as she organizes the first Coming Home Ceremony for Adoptees on the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota – the reservation from which she was removed over 60 years ago. The second features a 12-year-old Native girl who’s coming to terms with the unique nature of her transracial adoption. The third spotlights a prominent child welfare attorney who once defended ICWA but now questions whether or not this law is truly in the “best interest” of Indian children.