ROADMAP: DNA and ICWA

Trace Hentz with Mary St. Martin

Adoptees are the heart and soul of my work as a journalist, blogger and writer.  Since 2004, my goal has been to reconnect more and more adoptees to their families and sovereign tribal nations.  Many were already enrolled, some not.  Maybe there was land to inherit, maybe not.  Remember the purpose of these adoptions was to erase us, end our rights, take our land and completely erase “the Indian” off the BIA books. Now it is up to us to reconnect with our families and assert our sovereign rights.

You adoptees are the reason there is a blog AMERICAN INDIAN ADOPTEES (AIA) [www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com] and this book series. They are for you as a guide, as your roadmap.

Since late 2013 Research Librarian Karen Vigneault and I’ve worked with over 100 adoptees who are trying to find their families. Over 8,000 people have read the post about Karen’s helping adoptees on the AIA blog.  Karen, who is not an adoptee, reminds me: it’s in the law and you have the right to your adoption records.

One section of the ICWA is of particular interest to adoptees. Section 1951b states “Upon the request of the adopted Indian child over the age of eighteen, the adoptive or foster parents of an Indian child, or an Indian tribe, the Secretary shall disclose such information as may be necessary for the enrollment of an Indian child in the tribe in which the child may be eligible for enrollment or for determining any rights or benefits associated with that membership. Where the documents relating to such child contain an affidavit from the biological parent or parents requesting anonymity, the Secretary shall certify to the Indian child’s tribe, where the information warrants, that the child’s parentage and other circumstances of birth entitle the child to enrollment under the criteria established by such tribe.” (Source: http://www.plumsite.com/shea/petition.html)

Essentially this section directs the State to give adult adoptees of Native American heritage who request it, their birth information, so that they may enroll in their tribes. The section does allow for birthparents to file a veto, but even then the adoptee is entitled to tribal notification so that they may process their tribal rights and privileges. You can read the entire ICWA on the Web (simply goggle it.)

There are a few problem areas with using the ICWA.  Many adoptees are of enough Native American blood to qualify for enrollment in their tribes, but there is nothing documented that verifies that information. Before a judge will open a file under ICWA s/he will often demand some sort of proof that the adoptee is NA at all, proof that most adoptees will simply not have. DNA results are proof, which will help the judge decide.

But in other instances, the agency that handled the adoption, or the court file itself, will contain notations that you, the adoptee, do have NA ancestry. If you have received non-ID from a source that states this, include a copy with your court petition. You will also need to include a copy of the ICWA in order to make the judge’s work easier and predispose him/her to wanting to help you. If you have any information at all that you are even the smallest bit Native American, you should use the ICWA in your petition. Include affidavits from family members (adoptive and birth) who have told you that you have Native American blood, as well as any ‘official’ agency or other documents to support your claims.  Remember that most tribes have small blood quantum requirements, and you should not feel guilty about using the ICWA.  The intent of this law is to ensure that those of us who are entitled to tribal membership by birthright, have the *choice* to join our Native American communities.

Yet sometimes courts are not aware of this law. That is sadly common but you must persist, gather documents and go to court!  (And please contact Karen or me if you have questions.)

Canadian provinces all have post adoption registries. All work basically the same way. When Alberta (for example because it’s the one I am most familiar with) opened their registry, it was advertised that the records were being opened. In the advertising it was stated how an adoptee could access the records (there was a form), it also addressed the issue of a birth parent looking for a child and how one manages a non-release. Although the system is a bit backed up (it takes a while for the information to be sent) it seems to be working quite well.  [Go to: http://www.canadianadopteesregistry.org/search_here1.html]

1. ADOPTEES WHO BELIEVE THEY HAVE INDIAN STATUS

When adoptees reach the age of 18, they may apply to the Department of Indian Affairs who will verify their claim. The Registrar will provide them with a registry number and the name of the Indian band to which they may be registered. An adopted child, registered as an Indian may then be eligible for benefits.

Indian Affairs investigates a claim by an adult adoptee or by the adoptive parents of a minor adoptee by contacting the social service agency where the adoption was completed. For example, the Children’s Aid Society would reveal the birth name to Indian Affairs who then checks their open or published Indian Registry. Once their Indian status is verified in the Open Indian Registry, the adoptee’s name is placed in the closed or unpublished Adoption Register which is part of the Indian Registry but no identifying information is given out.

Adoptees must write to Indian Affairs to request registration on the Indian Registry. There is approximately a 10-month waiting list for the process to begin and then there is an additional wait for the social service agency to respond to Indian Affairs with the necessary information.

Write to: Julien Gagnon
Adoption team
819-994-4091
e-mail-gagnonju@inac.gc.ca

Indian Affairs will not help with searches; they will refer you to the provincial post-adoption agencies.

The “New Normal” is an adoptee pays for a DNA test.  WHY? Some states charge crazy fees to be “confidential intermediaries” or they charge adoptees to be on registries or they create “no contact clauses” for birth parents—it’s feels like they are always sticking it to us, or profiting off us, or only making it harder. (You can see this is evident in all the narratives and stories in three anthologies we’ve done.)

Our adoptive parents who raised us may or may not realize that we NEED information and our ancestry and medical background.  Many adoptees tell me they are afraid to search because of their adoptive parents!  That fear has to stop because if you wait, you may never get to meet your mother or father and other relatives who could help you!
Alice, one of the adoptees in this anthology, wrote about finding new cousins who are trying to figure out who her mother is.  This kind of search is the new normal.  It’s not right but because of the adoption industry and archaic laws and no contact clauses, this puts adoptees at the bottom of the totem pole as far as our rights.
I don’t know how many times I have said to an adoptee: do not delay your search.  If you do get a name or phone number, make the call.  Have a friend with you to keep you calm.  Write a set of questions.  Just make contact then offer to send a letter explaining what you know about your first family.  Send them your phone number so they can call you back.  Give people time to adjust to the truth that you are definitely one of their family members. Ask to write a letter of introduction, if that is better than a phone call.
If you do get your DNA results, make contact with cousins who share your DNA!  Give them your birth date and let them help you try and figure out how you are all related. Mary shares her experience here too so keep reading.
We’ll use DNA tests until the laws change. Our roadmap may vary from country to state, but there are tools available, like this book series. Request your adoption file using ICWA, and then do DNA.
And NEVER give up.
Trace Lara Hentz (formerly DeMeyer)  My email: laratrace@outlook.com
Karen Vigneault is assisting adoptees in their search at her website: https://nativegenealogy.wordpress.com and her email: kumeyaayindian@hotmail.com

From CALLED HOME contributor Mary St. Martin Charles:

Being an adoptee, originally I just wanted to know my ethnicity.  To confirm what I felt in my heart, I never had access to the truth.  I was told my birth father was 1/4 Aleutian Indian from Alaska.  At the time, the DNA company also offered medical evaluation to help see if you may possibly carry genes to hereditary diseases. The government stepped in and laid that service to rest.  I literally had no concept of having a relative who shared DNA with me.  I didn’t even hope to find anyone when I submitted my spit.

So, I spit in the cup and sent if off in 21013.  My results were astonishing.  My DNA read 51% European and 49% Native American and Asian.  That was news.
The biggest shocker was a 25% DNA match that the company connected to me, suggesting that I was this man’s aunt.  We had the same exact birth date only a year apart.  He was 99.9% European and an adoptee as well.  I did my little chromosome research and quickly concluded that he was my half brother although every search angel, friend and even my half-bro could not believe our connection.  I went with my instinct, we made quick friends and he helped me out.   At some point, he was given the name of our birth mother and some notes from Catholic Charities about her.
It took a few months and I did locate her which was also confirmed through another 2nd cousin on my DNA listed from her family tree.  But, this is where making connections and contacting your closest cousins on your DNA list comes in handy.  Also, contact cousins who have taken the time to make family trees and have a genuine interest in genealogy.  E-mail as many as you can.  Some will be so happy to help, others you will hear nothing.  When you get names, just send quick emails like, “Hi cousin, do you have so and so on your list?”  Friend them on the social media as well.
In time my birth mother furnished me the name of my birth father and acknowledged she did indeed adopt out my half brother a year later.  When I posted my fathers name on the social media, it flew like a wildfire.  In a matter of hours I had a gazillion Alaskan Native relatives who wept, called me on the phone and sent photos of my father who died in 1992.  They know about us.  They do want us back.
I am now in the process of doing even more DNA tests with my relatives.  The State I was born in still has closed records and are still defiant.  When I sent for my non-ID, they would not provide me with any information on my birth father when I specifically asked for his ethnicity.  Concluding, they are still trying to keep us unaware and I find it so very racist.   Insidiously handing me the white card, they think it’s OK.   My father was full blood Koyukon Athabascan.  My birth mother has since told me that the hospital asked her what my ethnicity was because they were not sure if I was half “black” at the time.   She told the hospital my father was full blood Native and to this very day are still trying to hide it by not providing me with my records.  Records they probably falsified anyway by lowering his blood quantum and changing his tribal lineage.  Man, wish I could sue their asses.
OK, back to DNA… my family in AK and I have submitted DNA to provide lineage.  The tribe understands that the government won’t be of help and will accept our DNA samples for enrollment purposes.  I am waiting results.  Like I said, go for it.  They want us home.
On 23andme I found my half sibling plus other cousins.  Since my mother was white and my father native, I could definitely distinguish by haplogroup which side my cousins came from.
I also did FTDNA which yielded no close cousins and the ethnicity had me Mayan.  I did this one in Dec. 2013 and still no new relatives.
AncestryDNA is where I hooked up with the more genealogy-minded cousins and was able to friend them on Facebook.  That was how I was able to find out who my father was.   Also for adoptees searching, looking at the map locations of cousins helped me to figure out what tribe location I’m from.   All my native cousins are located in native villages up and down the Yukon River.
For those who are apprehensive about searching and being non-loyal to your adoptive folk:  Get your wings on.  Your life is about you.  You cannot be the best person in this life unless you fulfill your inner calling.  Take control of and start the path your feet are ready to walk.  There you will feel fresh wind in your hair and lift your wings to take flight.
Please share this book so the whole world can be made aware of Native American adoptees.  We are taking a stand, reaching out, supporting and learning from one another.  The first thing I did when my DNA results revealed “Native American” was surf the internet for Native American adoptees.  The link I was found was a blog by Trace DeMeyer (Hentz) called American Indian Adoptees [www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com.]  For the first time in my entire life I was made aware of other people like me, and the very real history that laid there waiting for me to find.   With this blog, I found the validation to find my Alaskan Native family.   I believe we are making a permanent mark in history.
Peace and Love to all.
Mary St. Martin

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