When I heard that the U.S. government was removing other indigenous children from their families and putting them in cages — as a deterrent, not to solve any practical problem — I was shocked but not surprised.
“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”
— Sitting Bull
America has a long history of removing indigenous children from their families — and often, it came with the “best of intentions.”
After the Indian wars — when active genocide became passé — the first Indian Boarding School was built. Even after the Native societies were struck down and penned-in within reservation borders, something about our people’s continued existence remained a threat.
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Built with the mandate to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” boarding schools removed Native children from their homes, separated families and sent them to become assimilated into mainstream-colonizer culture. Our brown skin and non-European essences made them so uncomfortable, they went after our children. They cut our hair, changed our names and stripped us of our language.
The echoes of this policy filter through federal Indian policy to this day, as Native children are taken from their homes and placed into foster care, or put up for adoption in non-Native homes.
Thousands and thousands of Native children were taken from their homes with the justification of saving their souls by crushing their spirits. Why? Why does our presence so offend the vision of America that even children are not off-limits in attempts to rectify the problem we represent to so many?
When I heard that the U.S. government was removing other indigenous children from their families and putting them in cages — as a deterrent of fear, not to solve any practical problem — I was shocked but not surprised. We defend this decision with words of legality this time — labeling them undocumented — but I hear the same whispers of protecting the purity of America from the “uncivilized,” by any means necessary.
Like many Americans, watching this has been difficult. I can’t stand to see the pictures of the confused and traumatized children and the brokenhearted parents.
And so, I ache.
It is an ancestral ache that I now feel — an inherited hurt of past and ongoing colonization that is infuriated by the current crisis in our nation. I feel the agony and pain, I have shed tears for these families who have been separated. And while the current administration may have decided to stop separating families as they come seeking asylum, we know that the damage has already been done — and that nothing is currently being done to expedite the reconnection of those families currently separated.
For the detained mothers and fathers who are at a loss, there is no option given but to say prayers of protection for their precious babies, taken just as ours were. This is not about addressing the rates of illegal entry; the downward trend has been consistent for more than a decade. In fact, immigration from Mexico to the U.S. is at a net-negative since 2015, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
This is a policy that reveals once again that if you threaten our standards of “American-ness,” we will come after your children. An executive order that stops this is, of course, significant. But perhaps even more significant is how easily, in 2018, we treat brown children as a threat to our national security simply because they exist on American soil. But who is made more secure by this?
As the executive director of the Chief Seattle Club (a nonprofit that serves American Indian and Alaska Native people who are experiencing homelessness), I see the consequences for the marginalized on a daily basis. I see the impact of the removal policies when we have families who would rather sleep in a car and work to solve their homelessness on their own for fear that their children will be taken from them. I see brilliant people who abuse alcohol and other substances because of the trauma and rejection they experienced as a child.
I also see our resilience. I see that we have survived these policies — we have survived genocide. However, these heinous acts will only continue if we do not act together. We are all one family.
We belong to each other — these children are our children, these parents are not strangers but a direct reflection of our own humanity.
Babies, we see you, we are fighting for you.
Parents, we are working, writing, protesting — we will keep trying and fighting.
While we have had a small victory, we won’t give up, we cannot allow this kind of pain and trauma to impact one more child.