' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Canada to pay millions to victims of forced adoption in 'scoop' era

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Canada to pay millions to victims of forced adoption in 'scoop' era

When will the awful news about international adoption stop? "Canada Agrees to Pay Millions in Lawsuit Over Forced Adoptions" read the headline in the New York Times yesterday. Indigenous children ripped from their parents and villages and sent to strange people as far away as New Zealand and Europe.

As we've heard in other adoptions of scale, the nonnative families the children ended up ranged from loving to abusive--but largely failed to educate them about their culture. What was told to the adoptee about their backgrounds--or why they ended up in a strange land--was left up to the families. You can imagine how that went.

Any little kid--many of them appear not to have been taken from their parents at birth, but when they were four or five--is going to wonder: What am I doing here? Where is my real family? My mother? My father? My sister? What are these people saying? Why is the food so strange? What did I do? Why why why? 

Many will learn early on that they are not supposed to question any of the above because the subject is tacitly verboten in their home. Their natural and burning curiosity dying in their throats. How much damage does that alone do?

The individual trauma repeated a thousand times over, and while the millions in reparations ($750M Canadian), some of which will  go directly to the adoptees, nothing can really every make up for the hurt inflicted, the damage done, the comfortable original culture forever gone.

YA novel about a girl returning 
to her native people
Fifty million Canadian will go for an education program for adoptees to teach them about their native language and culture. That might sound like a reasonable idea on paper, but I'm sitting here imagining the reality: Great,  you took me from my family and culture, and now I can go to classes to relearn my language?  Thanks a lot. Can I get my life back? Where is my family? For many of the adoptees ability in  their native tongue will have totally disappeared. To my knowledge, there have yet been the kinds of lawsuits and reparations of both Australia and now Canada over forced adoptions, but the United States can claim no high ground in this area. America has condoned one way or another some pretty grim adoption statistics by taking native children and seeing that they were adopted outside the tribe by non-natives. The Child Welfare League of America was involved; so were churches; both the Catholics and Mormons and other Christian denominations encouraged adoption of native children.*

The settlement offer comes months after a class-action suit in Ontario was decided in the plaintiffs' favor in February in the province's Superior Court of Justice. after stalling in the courts for eight years. If approved, the settlement will resolve not only this one lawsuit, but others brought in different provinces. But not all of them. The government is still negotiating other lawsuits that involved accusations of abuse by foster and adoptive families. Of this I am not surprised.
The movie
The whole mess is disgusting. As I read, my mind kept wandering back to the heart-breaking (and wonderful) film about the same kind of forced adoptions in Australia, Rabbit-Proof Fence. (If you haven't seen it, or read the book, it's really worth your time. The story and images have stayed with me long. Links above.)

The book
In both Australia and Canada, the people who made decisions to uproot children were totally uneducated as to how the indigenous people raised their children. Children were considered the responsibility of the whole village, not just one particular family. What I read into that is that while some individual parents might have seemed negligent to an outsider--who knew little to nothing about the native ways--he or she would determine any number of children should be taken and sent god-knows-where, but to people whose ways were more like the deciders. The other matter is that the government of both countries made a concerted effort to stamp out the native culture and language of the aboriginal peoples who had been living there. In northwest Canada some years ago, my husband and I did speak to some, and they were keenly aware and bitter over the government's attempts to destroy their culture.

As Ian Austin wrote in The Times:
"In the adoption program, the provinces were told they had to consult indigenous leaders about how the services should be administered and delivered. In Ontario, Justice [Edward P.] Belobaba ruled, that never happened. 
"The result was a culture clash. 
"Evidence presented during a 2010 hearing in the Ontario case showed that “in aboriginal communities there is no concept of adoption or wardship because all children are regarded as a communal responsibility.”
The story of Nepal's
lost/kidnapped children
At least a harsh rebuke of the adoptions was evident in Justice Belobaba's written decision. "There is no dispute about the fact that great harm was done," he wrote. "The 'scooped' children lost contact with their families. They lost their aboriginal language, culture and identity. Neither the children now their foster or adoptive parents were given information about the children's aboriginal heritage or about the various educations and other benefits that they were entitled to receive. The removed children vanished 'with scarcely a trace.'"

Some children were sent to schools where they were basically incarcerated for 10 months of the year, and forbidden to speak their native tongue, but at least they were able to return to their villages for vacation.

Astoundingly, the practice of removing children to be adopted did not end until 1984! At the point that law was changed to keep children in the same community whenever possible, if they had to be removed from their parents.

I remember sitting with a roomful of weeping Korean adoptees last year watching a not-quite-finished version of a movie about the history of the wholesale Korean adoptions from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. They too had been uprooted and sent all over the world. I personally know several Chinese adoptees who are in their young teens or early twenties; some seem highly integrated into America; some aren't. I see on Facebook pages Korean adoptees delight in eating kimchi--food their mothers undoubtedly ate when pregnant. The fermented food is good for our bodies, but foreign to western taste. I remember all we have written about Guatemalan adoption where children were kidnapped or mothers killed for their babies, while greedy officials and lawyers made a bundle exporting children. I remember hearing about adoptions in Vietnam, where women were not allowed to leave the hospital with their babies unless they paid a fee they could never afford. You can fill in nearly every poor country's name on the list of places where adoptions are legally questionable. Shut one source of children down, and the traffic moves elsewhere.

Some accuse me of being against adoption, period. That is not true. There will always be adoption, whether under the barbaric practice of closed adoption that still exists today even in America, or with  openness from Day One. Stuff happens; families don't always find someone in the family to take a child who needs a home. Some adoptive parents do remove children from horrific circumstances, and give them love and understanding and are open about the situation of losing one's original mother and family. Yet now we hear stories of the feeling of helplessness against the sense of coercion from adoptive agency workers whose job, after all, is to facilitate adoptions, not help needy and befuddled women see how they might care for their own children.

When I read about these kinds of adoptions as I did yesterday, I cannot help thinking: What were they thinking?--lorraine

* The story has been edited to correct an inference that the U.S. did not engage in the same policy to separate native children from their culture.
Canada to Pay Millions in Indigenous Lawsuit Over Forced Adoptions

Native Americans Expose the Adoption Era and Repair Its Devastation


Adoptive father John Roberts: Not impartial in the Baby Veronica case

Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption

Abuse in International Adoption, Part 2 with new commentary

Where I Belong
by Tara White
This moving novel of self-discovery and awareness takes place during the Oka crisis in the summer of 1990. Adopted as an infant, Carrie has always felt out of place somehow. Recurring dreams haunt her, warning that someone close to her will be badly hurt. When she finds out that her birth father is Mohawk, living in Kahnawake, Quebec, she makes the journey and finally achieves a sense of home and belonging. (Grades 6-10)  
To order any of the books, click on the photo or the links here.
Adoption's Hidden History: From Native American Tribes to Locked Lives
By Mary S. Payne
Adoptions are finalized daily across America. Like the root system of a giant oak, tentacles of its history are submerged in years of human experience. Native Americans adopted children and adults into their tribes before pilgrims settled in the New World. Early-day adoption advocates took detailed notes of tribal organization leading to adoption's acceptance by the general population. Using Oklahoma as an example, this study details how state leaders promoted adoption as a way to cope with an expanding number of orphaned and neglected children, as well as unmarried, pregnant women. Instead of tightening adoption laws to protect children, legislators established amended birth records and sealed the child's original name, date and place of birth. "Adoption's Hidden History: From Native American Tribes to Locked Lives" gives adult adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents and adoption professionals many "aha" moments. It is the back story of every adopted person.
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence
By Doris Pilkington
This extraordinary story of courage and faith is based on the actual experiences of three girls who fled from the repressive life of Moore River Native Settlement, following along the rabbit-proof fence back to their homelands. Assimilationist policy dictated that these girls be taken from their kin and their homes in order to be made white. Settlement life was unbearable with its chains and padlocks, barred windows, hard cold beds, and horrible food. Solitary confinement was doled out as regular punishment. The girls were not even allowed to speak their language. Of all the journeys made since white people set foot on Australian soil, the journey made by these girls born of Aboriginal mothers and white fathers speaks something to everyone.


  1. My mom was telling me about how she thinks those who adopt from overseas should have to live in their child's country for at least six months and that they should have to learn the language well enough to converse in it. My mom also believes in greatly changing many adoption practices.

  2. I met a mother who adopted her child from overseas when her child was 2. She learned the language and 14 years later they can still speak it to each other. She also kept her daughter's original name to respect the culture and heritage. However, a friend of mine adopted this year from China. I told her what will you do to preserve his language and culture? She said, if he's interested later on we'll get him involved

  3. There will always be adoption, whether under the barbaric practice of closed adoption that still exists today even in America,

    I think there will come a time when that barbarity ends.

  4. I beg to differ on the thought that this country has not gone on such "culture killing rampages".

    May I suggest, 'Native Americans Expose the Adoption Era and Repair it's Devastation' @ Indian Country Today.

    and 'Native Americans recall era of forced adoptions' @ BBC news.

    This nation is just as guilty of cultural genocide as any other. No lily white hands here.

  5. Correction noted and made. Thank you Cindy for the sources.

    1. You're welcome. Have watched several documentaries as well with interviews of some of the adults who were removed. With their stories and experiences shared, it boggles my mind that anyone with a heart or an ounce of compassion could possible continue to condone similar practices today. I just do not understand it.

      The books you mention, 'Where I Belong' and 'Adoption's Hidden History' are on my must read list.

  6. Yes, plenty of atrocities against Native American children and families in the USA, and much forced adoption and sending children away from their culture to boarding schools where they were beaten, physically and sexually abused, and forbidden to use their native language. At least Canada and Australia have made some attempts at reparation and apology, unlike the US government. Hope we are all celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day today like Los Angeles and other places, not paying tribute to Columbus who was responsible for the death of many Native people in his "New World." No disrespect meant to Italian Americans, they were just as hated as the rest of us immigrants when they arrived in large numbers. Certainly there should be a day to celebrate Italian American culture, but they should pick a better hero, like Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, a great man and worthy example of the best of Italian immigrants. Columbus did not "discover" anything, he and subsequent European conquerors invaded the land of people who had been here for thousands of years.

    Yesterday I attended a wonderful documentary film about adoption abuse and mothers in Costa Rica. It is called "Imaginary Mothers" directed by Costa Rican reunited adoptee Jaqueline Arias, and featured at the Golden Door Film Festival in Jersey City. It tells the sad story of 4 Costa Rican mothers who were lied to and coerced to give up their children, who were adopted in other countries. These heartbroken moms have not been able to get any information about their lost children who are now adults. The film also wove in some of the stories of adoptees going back and seeking information from the government bureaucracy.

    While adoptees could get some information, mothers were turned away with the same harsh phrases many of us heard when seeking our children,"what if they do not know they are adopted, what if you disturb their new life etc etc ad nauseum.

    The film was artfully done and full of honesty and information about what international adoption has done in exploiting poor and helpless mothers to get the "product" out to wealthier countries. Mirah Riben, author of "The Stork Market" and " The Dark Side of Adoption, long-time birthmother activist, has a cameo as an expert witness on adoption abuse.

    One of the things we talked about at dinner after the film was how to help mothers in poor countries have access to DNA testing, which may be their only hope of finding their kids if the adoptees are signed up with a DNA service. I think this would be a worthy cause for adoption reformers to pursue.

    Jane and Lorraine, hope you had a good time at the CUB retreat. I wish I could have been there but have other family-related travel coming up soon.

    1. Maryanne--Thanks for the review of the film, which reminded me of Casa de Los Babys, Jahn Sayles' movie about six American women who planned on travelling to South America to adopt babies are forced, by law, to live there.

      And...I did not make it to the CUB conference. The location on the other side of the coast not immediately near a major airport when I also live not near a major airport adding hours on both ends to an exhausting trip led me to cancel. I hope to go next year to the conference when it is in Florida. However, Jane was there and on a panel.

  7. When the fuck is the cheap money grubbing United States going to reimburse me for my horrid adoption experiance? White kids are abused as well.

  8. The United States is just as guilty of genocide through child abduction and adoption. The Indian Child Welfare Act was created to put a stop to this. Unfortunately, there are a lot of vested interests (Justic John Roberts being one of them) who are making every effort to overturn the ICWA.

  9. Rabbit Proof Fence is a great film. I watched it several times when I was in college. It packs a powerful punch on the impact of forcing children from their culture. And it is based on a true story. These children trekked through the Australian outback over 1,000 miles to get back to their natural families. An amazing story.

  10. Many years ago when I was a student at the U. of Oregon, I met a graduate student from Australia. She told me that her parents had adopted an aborigine boy and that it was common, almost expected, for middle class white families to adopt these children. "Aborigines don't care about their children," she explained. "They just leave them by the side of road". I'm sure she believed this and I believed it too. Years later I learned about the wholesale kidnapping of native children in Australia Canada, and the U.S.

  11. In the 70s the Mormons had a program of adopting native children into white Mormon homes where they were supposed to turn "white and delightsome". As per the Book of Mormon Native Americans were thought to be Hebrews who came to America called Lamanites. When we lived in Utah for a year my husband had a co-worker who had adopted a "Lamanite" child. The Indian Child Welfare Act largely put a stop to this. But as noted before, there have been numerous attempts to repeal or get around this law.



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