By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The adoption, fostering, and placement of Cherokee children has been a top topic of discussion in the community from the water cooler to the Council chambers in recent months. Finding a home for displaced Cherokee kids is a complex issue, each case having very complex and emotional elements. No one, including me, would try to make a “catch-all” judgment on the system or community about these very delicate situations.
There is, however, an interesting portion of the discussion that is going affects the lives of children and the future of the Tribe. It must do with a mindset that seems to be dominant with some members of our Tribe. Many of us feel that the best place for Cherokee children is in Cherokee homes.
Some would say that, in a perfect world, abandoned or orphaned Cherokee children would be placed in Cherokee homes. I would argue that in a truly perfect world, there would be little need for placement because there would be no derelict mothers and fathers.
How can the argument be made that the best place for a Cherokee child is a Cherokee home when the primary reason that the child needs a home is that its Cherokee parents either didn’t want it, abused it, or neglected it? I am not talking about the legitimately orphaned children whose parents physically cannot take care of their children.
In the May 17 Health Board meeting, Sunshine Parker, from EBCI Family Safety, reported that there were currently 61 children currently in custody and that number was slowly trending upward. March 2017 data indicated that there were 106 reports, including nine suspected cases of physical abuse, 27 of neglect, 15 of substance abuse, eight domestic violence, two drug exposed infants, and 20 that Parker characterized as “other” (lack of resources, medical, truancy, hygiene or lice). These incidents or cases are Boundary-wide with eight reports from Big Cove, 21 in Birdtown, two in Snowbird, two in Cherokee County, nine in Painttown, 18 in Wolfetown, and five from Yellowhill during March.
Parker also said there are currently 21 licensed homes to take in children and more trying to get licensed. Unfortunately, March was also a record month for reports to Family Safety. She stated that they received 106 reports in total, “the most they had ever received (in a single month)”.
The United States Constitution, via the Indian Child Welfare Act, says in section 25, subsection 1915, “In any adoptive placement of an Indian child under State law, a preference shall be given, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, to a placement with (1) a member of the child’s extended family; (2) other members of the Indian child’s tribe; or other Indian families”.
Whether the legislature of the federal government was concerned more about the welfare of Indian children or the negative political repercussions of removing native kids from the culture, the U.S. government saw the value of continuing cultural relationship for the next generations.
The part of that subsection that sticks out like a sore thumb for me though, is the caveat, “in the absence of good cause to the contrary”. Many of our people seem to feel that, above all, children need to be in Cherokee homes. Some are so adamant that Cherokee children stay in Cherokee homes that they would rather the children stay in Department of Social Services care than be placed in a non-Indian home. The Cherokee Code, Section 7B, Subsection 3910 states, “no child shall be taken or sent out of the Tribe for placing the child in a foster home or in a child-caring institution without first obtaining the written consent of the Department of Social Services”.
Just looking at the numbers, some, if not many, children are facing extended stays in orphanages or other institutions if they are to wait to be placed with Cherokee families. Add to the discussion the fact that, while there are families that have ethical reasons for wanting to adopt or foster children, there are also families who are not.
I read a very interesting post by a gentleman who had lived in an orphanage for 10 years of his childhood. He stated that he felt that he had a better experience at the facility than if he had been placed in foster care.
He said, “Now, some foster parents are motivated by altruism or religion to foster children and do a great job at fostering. But, it is a well-known and little-discussed “secret” that there are many foster parents who foster children for money rather than altruism and religious belief. Newspapers do report from time to time of children in those homes dying, requiring hospitalization for physical abuse or neglect, or simply disappearing. People tell themselves that such incidents are rare, that there are bureaucratic safeguards in place to prevent this, or that such events are inevitable.”
He went on to say that in orphanages the opportunities for neglect or mistreatment were far less than in foster care situation.
I hope that we will continue to put the emphasis on the health, both physical and mental, of the children. While it is desirable and appropriate for Cherokee children to be brought up with a knowledge and respect for the heritage and culture that is theirs based on their blood and ancestry in a Cherokee home, it is more important that the children are free from abuse and neglect, and they are loved. And, if the right persons, the person or people who love and care for the children, whether they are a Cherokee family, a non-Cherokee family, or institutional caregivers, the children will learn their heritage. Because if you love and care about a child, you give them the wisdom of their ancestry. You don’t take it away or hide it from them.
If you were gone and your children had to be raised by someone else, what would be the most important thing to you about who raised them? I asked a couple of Cherokee mothers this question. Both, almost in unison, said that their priority would always be that their children be loved and their needs met, regardless of the who raised them. I say, listen to the mothers.