Reko RennieOriginal, 2012
Acrylic, spray-paint, black light and reclaimed Australian flag from the 1950s

"As we were driving home one evening, we noticed a young girl hitchhiking. It was late at night, cold, and raining outside. She was young, First Nations, and not dressed for the weather. As we stopped to pick her up, we noticed a white truck stop on the other side of the road, and two guys got out and walked towards her. We cut them off, and told her to hop in. We drove her deeper and deeper into the woods, onto dirt roads with no street lighting. She told us her story — 17 years old, First Nations, tough upbringing…This was just weeks after the gruesome murder of Tyesha Jones, and we dropped her off within kilometres of where the body had been found. We wrote to the local paper, and it made the front page. A few weeks later, that same local newspaper reported the attempted abduction of a 17-year-old girl, on the same road, by men in a white truck…I’ve come to believe that injustices exist because we, as a society, allow them to exist. Until the people [demand] better from our leaders, nothing will change, and Aboriginal girls will continue to go missing in record numbers, numbers that already concern the U.N."
"We go into First Nations communities to talk to youth about gangs. When asked, the kids estimate that about 95% of Aboriginal youth is involved in gangs. The actual number is 3%."

Susan Swan, an Ojibway from the Lake Manitoba First Nation

The impact of stereotyping young people

(via urbannativemag)



Indigenous Style Icon: Lois Peeler (Yorta Yorta)

Lois Peeler is a Yorta Yorta woman from Shepparton, in the Goulburn Valley. She was Australia’s first Aboriginal model, and landed her first major modeling contract in 1961. 

After her modeling career, Lois and her sister Laurel Robinson toured Vietnam as entertainment for the American troops during the Vietnam War. Lois & Laurel, along with their cousins Naomi Mayers and Beverly Briggs, grew up in a rural reserve where access to entertainment like television and radio was limited, so they began singing with each other for entertainment at a young age; after the four of them were discovered performing at a local bar, they were recruited to sing Motown for the troops in Vietnam. Naomi and Beverly declined (Naomi has later said she refused to go because she was protesting the war), but Laurel & Lois took the opportunity and flew to Vietnam. They were widely popular among Black audiences, but often experienced extreme racism from white men in the military—they were even denied accommodations on several bases due to the color of their skin, and were forced to sleep on the stage. 

Her nephew Tony Briggs has written a musical inspired by his mother and Lois’s story, which was recently turned into a feature film, called The Sapphires (named for Lois, Laurel, Naomi, & Beverly’s group). Tony describes his inspiration for writing the play as the following: “”I was thinking about these great black women, who have achieved such great things,” he says. ”I thought about Mum and my aunties and the other women … They’re all unsung heroes.” The film has received critical acclaim, and addresses issues relating to intergenerational trauma, single motherhood, identity issues, cultural disconnect, residential schools & the Stolen Generations, though it weaves these things into what is otherwise a fun narrative on the adventures of the women during their stint as international performers. 

When Peeler returned to Australia, she joined her mother, sisters, and cousins in Aboriginal rights struggles. As she explains in her biography, she takes inspiration from the strong woman leaders in her own family—

I suppose that my values, my experience, my passion, my direction has been shaped by my family experiences. I come from a long line of very strong women. Both my grandmothers were very strong in their own right.

My mother, Geraldine Briggs, was very much involved in the campaigns to bring about improvement in the living conditions of our people – she was politically motivated by harsh conditions on Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve, which caused families to flee the mission in the Cummeragunja Walk Off in 1938. The battle for survival kept her active in Aboriginal affairs. Her sister, Aunty Marg (Aunty Margaret Tucker) had her story recorded in A Lousy Little Sixpence and her book If Everyone Cared, which told the story of the three girls (mum’s sisters) being taken away by the authorities while my Nan was off working, and put into Cootamundra Girls Home. My mother was 95 when she passed, but she never forgot what that did to the family. She worked all her life to improve things for our people.

My mother and sisters, Hyllus and Margaret, were actively involved in the Federal Council of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), which was instrumental in gaining the 1967 Referendum results. The women members of FCAATSI proposed the formation of a women’s group to deal with issues such as health and housing. This saw the formation of the National Council of Aboriginal and Islander Women in 1969. My mother and my sister, Margaret Wirrpanda, and Aunty Merle Jackomos formed the executive. It was the Aboriginal women’s movement, which was instrumental in establishing the Health Service and Aboriginal Legal Service way back then.

My sister, Hyllus, started Worawa College because she had the experience of trying to get an education at a public school where the Aboriginal kids weren’t welcome, weren’t catered for and were ostracised. So I think it became her mission to have a place where the kids could celebrate Aboriginal culture, where the curriculum was relevant and they were educated in a loving and caring environment. And that’s what we have today. At Worawa, we focus on academic achievement, through an integrated education, culture and wellbeing model – but we are not miracle workers. A lot of the kids that come here have often had very negative education experiences, so our task is to nurture each child to live positively, develop self-confidence and pride, and to equip them with social skills for a meaningful, satisfying and productive life.

Being at Worawa is bringing together all those things that are part of my background and experience. My sister, Hyllus, was the writer and co-founder of Women of the Sun; my mother’s involvement in the Aborigines Advancement League, FCAATSI and the National Council of Aboriginal and Islander Women’s movement; and the actions of all of my family members, father, uncles, sisters, aunties, cousins, and others have shaped my life.

Lois Peeler is now Executive Director of Worawa Aboriginal College, a girl’s secondary school which strives to instill pride in self and culture among their students (who are all Aboriginal), and provide a strong education grounded in indigenous perspectives and community knowledges. 

awesome lady! The Sapphires is one of my favorite movies.

Alberta upholding ban of aboriginal groups at oilsands hearing →

"For years we have been saying [violence against aboriginal women] is not a women’s issue, [and it] is not a native problem. This is a Canadian human-rights issue…This is racialized, sexualized violence. This is about hate crimes in this country, aboriginal women being targeted for extreme sexual violence because they are aboriginal women. And we need that changed."
- Jennifer Lord, Native Women’s Association of Canada [source]

Support Native-Created Film, Just Another Dead Indian →


from their Indiegogo page:

This Docudrama explores the circumstances surrounding the mysterious deaths of 10 Aboriginal men in Canada over a span of 25 years. With dramatic re-enactments of the actual events, archival footage and on-camera interviews with immediate family, friends and legal counsel - we look into the heart of this never-ending ‘issue’ and constantly wonder - how and why did their lives end so tragically and senselessly?

The image of Canada as a multi-cultural and racially tolerant society is its national pride, with “equality for all” as its constitutional ethos.  But for Native people, this is not the reality.  Police harassment, confrontations and brutality are the daily norm.  Police brutality simply does not warrant the same level of scrutiny, due, in part, to their socio-economic circumstances and the view that Indians are faceless. This film highlights the men who had a name, a family, and a community who were ultimately impacted by their deaths.  It puts a face to the startling statistics and a voice to lives lost exposing the “Just Another Dead Indian” syndrome.

“Just Another Dead Indian” is important to educate and create awareness on a global scale to end the injustices that Native people here in Canada experience—specifically—in the justice and corrections systems and their encounters with the police.  With dramatic re-enactments and interviews with family members, community leaders and legal experts, this film will provide a Voice for the Voiceless.

iDecolonize: Indigenous language-learning mobile apps →


omg this is so cool! there’s apps listed for the following languages: Inuktitut, Nyoongar, Iwaidja, Cree, Anindilyakwa, Māori, Haida, Tsilhqot’in, Sliammon, Halq’eméylem, Aymara, Quechua, Guaraní, Yugambeh, Ojibwe, Konkow, Navajo, Inuvialuktun, Dakota, Hoocąk, Blackfeet, Lakota, Ponca, Mvskoke, Cherokee, Tlicho Dene, & North Slope Iñupiaq. 


Paris rooftop display shows Indigenous artist Lena Nyadbi’s work to the world

Western Australian contemporary artist Lena Nyadbi was commissioned to design a piece specifically for the roof terrace of the Musée du quai Branly. She came up with a black-and-white painting called Dayiwul Lirlmim, or Barramundi Scales, inspired by her mother’s homeland in Dayiwul Country.

A large-scale reproduction of the work, made with the same kind of rubberised paint used for traffic signs, now fills the museum’s 700-square-metre rooftop terrace. The installation was designed to be visible from several different levels of the nearby Eiffel Tower, which draws in around seven million visitors every year. It will even be visible from space, thanks to satellite mapping technology.

Read more.

things i learned today



Australian indigenous people make up 3% of the total population, but almost 30% of the prison population.

This is the highest indigenous imprisonment rate in the world.

They are being imprisoned faster than South Africans during Apartheid were.

In response to our recent discussion about racism in Australia, baristar sent me this post and my jaw literally just hit the floor.

Wow. Absolutely heart-wrenching.

“Better than those other racist white countries” my ass. 


By Dwayne Bird

Idle No More


A rising movement is set to bring its message of First Nations solidarity, and defense of First Nations rights, to the doorstep of Canada’s Conservative government. Please share. #idlenomore #firstnations #inuit #metis #humanrights #fuckstephenharper

#IdleNoMore AFN: The following statement was adopted unanimously by Chiefs in Assembly


We, the original peoples of Turtle Island hereby assert our sovereignty as Nations, entrusted to us by the Creator,

As First Nations peoples, we are guided by principles of peace, harmony and respect; we are also bestowed with the responsibility by the Creator to defend our territories, including traditional and Treatylands,

We have maintained these principles despite the imposition of illegal government legislation and policies against our citizens,

In solidarity, we categorically reject the assimilation and termination policies used by the government of Canada against our nations and our citizens and,

We support the participation of all First Nations peoples in decision-making processes that impact our inherent and treaty rights,

We unconditionally reject any Canadian or provincial legislation, policies, or processes that impact our lands, air, waters and resources which have not obtained our free, prior, and informed consent,

In order to ensure economic stability and protection of our environment, development projects or anyother initiatives that may impact our Nations requires our full and inclusive participation and our free, prior and informed consent,

To protect the integrity of our treaty and inherent rights, we hereby put the Government of Canada on notice that any further imposition of legislation and/or policies will be met with appropriate measures,

We formally call upon our citizens – our men, youth, women, elders, warriors and all other allies – to unify and support one another during this time of attacks on our governments and nations,

The First Nation Chiefs in Assembly, from this day forward, declare unity and resolve to forcefully defend our lands, territories, peoples and jurisdiction.



Do ya’ll even know what happened yesterday in Canada?

Shit is getting real.

March on parliament hill yesterday

This is parts of what was said while they were there…sorry no time to write the whole dialogue out but you get the idea of the greatness of yesterday. This happened in the hall way.

“What is being deemed by the federal government as consultation with afn or any other political organizations is not what we stand for, we are here for our people…we are here to pose objection of any bill that is continuing to violate our inherent right as a people of Turtle Island…no longer will government tell our people what to do, this has got to stop, and this is what we’re here for. Two, three people across the land is not consolation, I represent almost 6000 people in treaty six territory  nobody has come and asked me and my people for our opinion of what is being proposed today. We are here to serve notice to government enough is enough we will not tolerate  we will not put up with it any more.”

~shitty response by government official~ “my colleague John Duncan blah blah blah”

“We are people we are human beings too cotrary to what legislation initially [the indian act]…it is an inherent right to land…why is government policy and legislation always wanting us to surrender land?~gets interrupted by government person~ WE WOULDN’T BE HERE IF YOU WERE FOLLOWING THE CONTITUTION…your legislation don’t mean a dam thing to us.”

the government officiall walks away

the police stop them from entering a meeting they were invited to


AMERICAN INDIAN ADOPTEES: Split Feathers Study by Carol Locus (Cherokee)

Split Feathers… Adult American Indians who were placed in Non-Indian Families as Children

By Carol Locust, Cherokee Nation [Reprinted with the permission of the National Indian Child Welfare Association Inc., published in Pathways, September / October 1998, Volume 13, Number 4.]

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was designed specifically to stop the wholesale removal of Indian children from their families, which had contributed to the destruction of the traditional extended family structures and Indian community life for over a century. A follow-up study in 1980 by the Colorado Indian Law Review revealed that the Act only slowed the removal of children but did not stop it as the Act was intended to do. Tribal leaders called upon the Supreme Court to assure enforcement of the ICWA until amendments could be made to the Act to tighten loopholes through which many Indian children are still being snatched. At this writing (1998), the amendments have not been made.

The pilot study conducted by this investigator indicated that every Indian child placed in a non-Indian home for either foster care or adoption is placed at great risk of long-term psychological damage as an adult. There is, however, a lack of sufficient research dedicated specifically to the investigation of this issue. Data supporting the statement of at risk adult American Indian adoptees come from the Congressional Hearings pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978). Essentially, the issue of the adult Indian who was placed in a non-Indian home as a child has not been addressed. The literature that does exist on adult Indians who have experienced out-of-culture placements as children, including the preliminary study conducted by this investigator on which this article is based, indicates that nineteen (19) out of twenty (20) Indian adoptees have psychological problems related to their placement in non-Indian homes.

The study determined that there are unique factors of Indian children being placed in non-Indian homes, that create damaging effects in the later lives of the children.

This study has revealed that:

• placing American Indian children in foster/ adoptive non-Indian homes puts them at great risk for experiencing psychological trauma that leads to the development of long-term emotional and psychological problems in later life

• the cluster of long-term psychological liabilities exhibited by American Indian adults who experienced non-Indian placement as children may be recognized as a syndrome (Syndrome: a set of symptoms, which occur together. From Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, 24th edition, 1965.)

The Split Feather Syndrome appears to be related to a reciprocal-possessive form of belongingness unique to survivors of cultures that have faced annihilation.

The Split Feathers themselves have identified the following factors as major contributors to the development of the syndrome, in order of their importance:

1. the loss of Indian identity

2. the loss of family, culture, heritage, language, spiritual beliefs, tribal affiliation and tribal ceremonial experiences

3. the experience of growing up being different

4. the experience of discrimination from the dominant culture

5. a cognitive difference in the way Indian children receive, process, integrate and apply new information—in short, a difference in learning style

Other contributing factors included physical, sexual and mental abuse from adoptive family members; loss of birth brothers and sisters; uncaring or abusive foster/adoptive families; not being told anything or being lied to about their adoption; not being given advanced notice of moves; too many moves; nobody to talk to; loss of personal property.

The following sections will explore the five major factors listed above that contribute to the development of the Split Feather Syndrome.

The Loss of Indian Identity

The loss of American Indian identity appears to be one of the most important factors in the development of the Split Feather Syndrome. The data indicate that the loss of the Indian identity is not the same as the loss of personal identity, although it included the personal aspect. Additionally, however, is the loss of belonging to one’s real culture.

Almost all of the respondents indicated a defiant, almost fierce pride in being an American Indian. When questioned about what the Indian identity was, the responses repeated most frequently were “I belong to that tribe;” “That is my tribe.” The individual belonged to the tribe, and the tribe likewise belonged to him or her, a reciprocal possessiveness of cultural identity which may be found in members of other cultures who have undergone great grieving, such as the survivors of the Holocaust.

The belongingness of tribal identity also seemed to embody the reason for one’s being “different,” the roots of ancestral pride, the foundations of mystical beliefs and tenets and, as one respondent wrote, “the drums that thunder in my blood.” The Indian identity, in those terms, meant much more than personal or family identity. It became the totality of the person’s existence without which he or she was nothing.

The Loss of Family, Culture, Heritage, Language, Spiritual Beliefs, Tribal Affiliation And Tribal Ceremonial Experiences

The reciprocal possessiveness of the factors listed above (loss of family, culture, heritage, etc.) indicated that Split Feathers not only felt a loss of these “possessions” because they were his or hers by birthright, but also that the individual was the “possession” of the things identified here. For example, not only did the individuals mourn the loss of their families, but they also mourned their families’ loss of them as well. The loss of their biological family, extended family, clan and tribe was an unending grief for the respondents, a grief that spawned deep-seated resentment and hatred for the adoption system.

Their biological relatives belonged to them, and they belonged to their relatives, a belongingness that connected the adoptees with relatives, clan members and tribal members. They could see in other Indians a reflection of themselves, a fact that satisfied the human need to be like those around them.

The loss of culture, heritage and language seemed to encompass the total lifestyle that the respondents had missed. One said, “I was supposed to have a naming ceremony when I was two years old, and I didn’t get it. I don’t have a name. How can I go back to my tribe if I don’t have a name?” Another wrote, “Somebody said that we could learn all we needed to learn about our culture and heritage from books and videos from our school. What a laugh! What we got was a watered down, Indian-style-Sesame-Street version of what some white person thought all Indians were like.”

All of the Split Feathers said they read books, watched TV shows and saw movies about Indians when they were children. No matter what the plot of the story, they championed the Indians, even when John Wayne was on the winning side, even, the majority said, when the Indians were portrayed as brutal savages, drunks or dirty thieves. Their feeling toward real life Indians was not any different.

“They told me my parents were alcoholics and that I was lucky to be out of the home,” one respondent said. “But I don’t feel that way. Poor Mom, poor Dad, maybe I could have helped some way. I’ll never know. I never had the chance to find out. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to stay or not, they just drove up one day and took me. My mother had this horrible, disbelieving look on her face. I never saw her again.”

Despite the negative portrayal of Indian people in the media and in most non-Indian people’s minds, the respondents were proud to be Indian.

Many of them had been told horror stories about their birth families, which always ended with “aren’t you glad you came to live with us?” The fact was that most of the stories expounded on the negative aspects – rather than the positive aspects – of the biological families and were twisted versions of the truth or were outright lies. None of the respondents said they were “glad” about their adoptive placement.

Tribal spirituality seemed to transcend the adoptive experience. All of the respondents regarded themselves as being spiritual, either in an organized church, a personal religious way or in their tribal belief system. Of the twenty respondents, Fourteen reported having extrasensory experiences from childhood, ranging from knowing about things before they happened, having dreams that came true, knowing what someone else was thinking and being able to communicate with animals. Seventeen of the respondents said they had actively sought more information about their tribal traditional beliefs, hoping to find explanations for the mystical experiences in their lives or learn more about their own tribal beliefs.

Most of the respondents viewed tribal ceremonial experiences as an integral part of spirituality. While eleven of the twenty had been able to experience at least one tribal ceremony, nine had not had the opportunity. Thirteen of the twenty had attended at least one Indian pow-wow or celebration, while seven had been denied the privilege but expressed optimism about attending one in the future. Four of them had taken part in sweats. One of the twenty said he was allowed to attend Indian celebrations as a child.

Re-entry into the culture took place after the Split Feathers had reclaimed their Indian identity. Sixteen of the 20 respondents said they were ignorant or knew very little about traditional ceremonies that they’d missed over the years, although four of them knew about several of their tribal customs and traditions associated with ceremonies. All of them felt they had been robbed of the ceremonies that other tribal children were given but that they had never experienced. All 20 of them said they had several pieces of Indian art, such as jewelry, pottery, basketry or such that held a ceremonial meaning for them.

One individual had been given a ceremonial eagle feather. Tribal affiliation – being enrolled in a tribe – was a serious subject for all 20 of the Split Feathers. Sixteen of them had had their enrollment cancelled when they were adopted into non-Indian homes. The names of four had remained on tribal rolls. At the time of this study, six of them had two sets of birth records, one of Indian ancestry bearing their birth names and family names, and another set bearing their adoptive names. The one respondent who had not yet found his Indian identity had been searching archival records for years trying to locate some clue to his tribal affiliation.

“Those pieces of paper – the adoption papers – took away my Indian rights,” another respondent wrote.

“Those papers took away my entitlement to my land settlement money, my right to live on tribal land, to vote in tribal elections, to apply for tribal scholarships, my right to be an Indian. My birthright was stolen from me. But they could not take away the fact that I was an Indian. I burned those papers. I hated them.”

Growing Up Being Different
In describing what they meant by being “different,” the Split Feathers used such words as dark skin, black hair, dark eyes and “the Indian look.” Besides physical differences they also included having different philosophical concepts, even though most of them had been adopted too young to have learned any tribal philosophy. The fourteen respondents who said that they had extrasensory experiences felt that this ability made them even more different. The differences made them feel alienated from other people. All of the Split Feathers said that they were extremely self-conscious. Some were painfully shy and withdrawn as children; others became belligerent and aggressive. Being different also included the concepts that non-Indians had of them, e.g., Indians had certain traits (stoic, brave), behaved certain ways (never showed emotion, spoke very little), had certain knowledge inherent in their blood (when it was going to rain, herbal remedies). These imposed expectations were burdensome to most of the Split Feathers, who felt guilty because they could not fulfill them. One respondent said it made her feel like a “fake” Indian because she could not fit the stereotype of “Indian”. Nine of the twenty respondents said that they felt frustrated and angry because of the unfair expectations placed on them, while the opportunities to be all that was expected of them as “Indians” had been taken away.

One respondent wrote, “Being different was horrible, like being a freak. At the same time I was proud. Feeling horrible and proud about the same thing splits your brain apart. You hate what it does to you.”

Although being different created major psychological problems for the Split Feathers, it was also a source of intense pride.

Experiencing Discrimination from the Dominant Culture

All twenty of the respondents in the random sample experienced some degree of discrimination. Words used to describe the cause of discrimination were “being dark,” “being Indian,” and “not being white,” discrimination came from adults as well as children and occurred within the adoptive families; from relatives and neighbors; and at schools, churches and social functions. The average age when “knowing I was different” began at three years of age; the average age when discrimination began to be a serious problem for the respondents was 11 years. Puberty was a traumatic time for all the respondents when they learned that their limited acceptance in the non-Indian world did not include dating white youth. Thirteen of the 20 reported some amount of alienation from their adoptive families during this period, from hostility to acting out rage and running away. The estrangement increased as the adoptees reached young adulthood. “I asked a girl to dance with me at a junior high party. Her brother dragged me outside and beat me up, told me no dirty Indian was going to get close to his sister,” one respondent wrote. Another respondent wrote that as a young girl she never got asked out on dates. Her adopted mother told her to “go find yourself an Indian.” That was the first time she realized that she was not being asked out because of her race.

Discrimination was also felt in the work force as well as in the social realm when “Split Feathers reached adulthood. Jobs often went to less qualified non-Indians. Promotions were slow in coming, infrequent or denied. One respondent stated that he felt employers never really trusted him because he looked so “Indian” and that his appearance was against him in obtaining employment. Another wrote, “I had just gone through the alcohol rehab program. I was pleased that I had been sober for three months. In the program I had the opportunity to do a sweat, and I really hung on to that experience, to that little bit of the Indian world. Then I went to the state VR office to get help in finding a job. They told me to cut my hair. My long hair was the only part of me that I could claim as my heritage. I said I wouldn’t cut it. They said forget about working, no one would hire me looking like a wild Indian, only if I looked tame.”

Cognitive Differences in the Way Indian Children Receive, Process, Integrate and Apply New Information (A Difference in Learning Style)

Based on the Split Feather testimonies, it would appear that American Indians have a cognitive process different from non-Indians. While all 20 of them said that they felt that they were average or above in intelligence, half of them had spent time in remedial education programs in school. Five respondents had been labeled as Learning Disabled.

Two were classified as “slow learners.” All of them had failed at least one grade in school. The reasons for academic problems were given in episodes. “I just couldn’t learn like all the other kids. The teacher talked too much, too many words. I learned better through my eyes.”

“When I was in the fifth grade I got punished in front of the whole class for not remembering the capital city of Wyoming. That’s when I decided to learn my own way, not theirs. I worked out my own strategy all by myself. My adopted family didn’t know what I was doing so they couldn’t help me…I kept thinking either there’s something wrong with my brain or theirs, because our brains don’t work the same way when it comes to learning. And since I was the only Indian in the class, I figured out that there was something wrong with my brain. It was frustrating; I hated school. I could learn okay, and fast outside school, but in my school lessons I had to do it their way, not mine. And I failed.”

Reading was the most difficult subject for the Split Feathers. Surprisingly, math was not that difficult.

“Numbers are logical,” said one respondent. The overall picture of the educational success of the Split Feather group was rather dismal, however. The inability to absorb information in the same manner as the other children engendered failure for them, and failure begat more failure, poor self-esteem and often either withdrawal or aggression. Frustrations in elementary school led to difficult junior high school years and early drop-out rates in high school. Of the 20 respondents, only five completed a high school degree. Of the other 15, one went into the military, three were in correctional facilities, four got married and the other seven entered the job market with little or varying degrees of success.
Later in their lives, six of them had either taken college courses or attended advanced training for job placement. None of them described themselves as a success. Although one respondent said he was “doing all right.”

The Effects of Reclaimed Indian Identity on the Split Feathers

For nineteen of the 20 individuals in this preliminary study (one had not yet found his tribe nor his tribal identity), repatriation or reclamation of their tribal identity was described as a rebirth experience. Although fear of not being accepted was a major personal problem, and threats of being disowned came from adoptive parents, all of them said they were glad they had pursued their quests to find out who they were.

Descriptors used for the experience were: “I felt whole for the first time in my life.”

“Thank God I finally know who I am!” “I finally found what I am, what is part of me, what I am part of.” “I found the missing part of me and put it back in place. Now I can really be alive.”

“I found where I really belonged, my place, my home, my true identity.”

When asked how they felt about rejoining a cultural group that was frequently described in degrading terms (drunk Indians, lazy, dirty, stupid) and against which there were many racist, bigoted and prejudiced people, not one of the Split Feathers said they would change their minds. From their responses, it appeared that social, economic and cultural labels had no impact whatever on their repatriation decisions. Most of them said they began helping their birth families and relatives as soon as they found out who they were.

They received tribal teachings in return, a reciprocal process that satisfied the needs of the whole family.

Eighteen of the nineteen respondents who had reclaimed their Indian identity said their personal lives had changed dramatically for the better after the reclamation. A good description of the change, written by one respondent, reads, “The weight of hurting, loneliness, anger and sorrow I carried all those years was dropped, and my soul could soar.”

Another said, “It’s like I was blind, stumbling through life looking for myself, and now – now I can see.”

The respondents used the following statements to indicate the profound change in their psychological health, in order of how often the were repeated

• decrease in depressive feelings
• decrease in alcohol and drug abuse
• decrease in aggressive behaviours
• increase in self-esteem
• feelings of love, joy, generosity, sympathy, understanding
• feelings of finding a purpose in life
• increase in spiritual activities
 increase in days worked (working more regularly, finding a job, and getting a better job)

Other changes mentioned were
• spending more time with my own family
• spending leisure time constructively
• making a commitment to carry through with my responsibilities
• paying more attention to the needs of other people
• learning more about my tribe and my spiritual beliefs
• going back to school to get my GED
• taking care of myself
• looking at the sky instead of the dirt (dreaming dreams again)
• smiling a lot more often

About the author: Carol Locust is Training Director for the Native American Research and Training Center at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Her work involves counseling and employment issues with people with disabilities. She also works with traditional medicine and ceremonies as a part of current healing practices. Carol is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation.

In their own words… What Split Feathers say

“They gave me everything a child could ever ask for, except my Native American identity. All my years growing up in school I was cut down and made fun of because I was Indian. I was darker, had dark hair, and I was ‘different.’ I grew up resenting who I was, what I was; of course I kept all the shame to myself, therefore building resentment. I am waiting now for enrollment in my tribe and waiting to establish contact with my biological family. I wish I had grown up being proud – like I am proud today.”

“My foster mother was very abusive. She always said we were dirty because we were dark. She beat us often, made our noses bleed. But the worst thing she did was denying us our Indian heritage. Courts should never let anything like this happen. Indian children need to be with Indian families, not white families that are so different from Indian.”

“Adoption causes such intense inner pain that you do anything just to get away from it. No one understands you, you are different, and there’s no one to talk to. You withdraw into yourself, keep it all inside. That’s how I got into trouble with alcohol: it was pain medicine.”

“I was adopted at age four, started school just before five, grew up in a middle class family that was okay. But I started having dreams about age five about being taken away (from the adoptive home), taken back to my family, by Indians. My family didn’t pay much attention to the Indian spirit within me, or to me, either. I communicated more with animals than I did people. In the sixth grade I started having problems with the other kids. Whites, Mexicans and others didn’t like me because of being Indian. I got into lots of fights and became a loner.”

“I am 72 years old. I was adopted into a white family at age one-and-a-half when my mother died. I realized I was different before I ever went to school. When I asked, my foster parents told me I was Indian, and from that day I identified with Indians, because that was what I was. I didn’t know who I was, and that heartache and anguish has been with me for nearly 70 years. I hope your study can help me find out who I am before I die. I don’t want to die not knowing my true identity. They (the government) sealed my birth certificate so I could never find my identity and never see my blood relatives. The pain of this is never ending.”