An interview at American Indian Adoptees

[A memorial commemorating those who went to the Alberni Indian Residential School [link to article: “One town, two worlds: Reconciliation in Port Alberni”]. (Wawmeesh Hamilton/Discourse Media)]

This interview was conducted in 2012 for American Indian Adoptees [link to web site] via email exchange with Trace Hentz [link to blog]. I’ve been going back to this web site a lot this past year, now that I’m living and working on unceded territories of the Musqueam, Skxwú7mesh, Tsleil-Waututh, and Kwantlen bands. “Unceded” means that the land was never surrendered, it was usurped. I add to this land acknowledgment my vow to actively work toward restitution and repossession, not reconciliation nor any other deception from within the structures and systems of occupation and oppression that dominate in North America.

This usurpation is personified for me by colleague and friend Susan Harness [link to interview], who recently wrote a book documenting her reunion with family from the Salish band [link to book: Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption], local to the coastal areas of what is known now as British Columbia. We met up during the ASAC Conference recently in Oakland, and our discussion there really brought home for me the destruction and tactical extirpation of adoption. So many people I talk to here, when I tell them I’m adopted, relate a close or distant relative, adopted during the days of the residential schools and baby scoops. This intentional genocide continues to this day, via more formalized means.

There won’t be much that is new here in the interview for readers of this blog. I bring it forward as an example, as a representation of what is, for me, becoming a rather urgent focus on ideas of decolonization [link to paper on decolonization]. Not in the buzzword sense of current rarefied academic discourse, but in the sense of the liberation movements of the Global South that took place during the ’60s and ’70s. Not directed at those who suffered colonization, but at those who continue to engender the colonizing mindset and worldview found in so-called liberal, democratic, enlightened Euro- and Anglo-centric philosophies. Not seeking a defensive posture or performing minstrelsy, but seeking a bridging, a common cause, a union of such movements.

A gracious “thank you” to Lara and Susan for their witnessing, advocacy, and activism. Thanks for reading.

Tell us about you, what you do, where you are, and how did you come to know so much about adoption.
Daniel: I was born in Lebanon in 1963 and almost immediately adopted to the United States. At the age of 40, I decided to return, determined to find family, and if not that at least a sense of culture, language, and perhaps identity in returning to my place of birth. As I met adoptees from other countries, as well as domestic adoptees in the States, I became more active in adoptee rights. I was most struck in Lebanon by those who didn’t get why I was searching, or who were most critical of it; they happened to be of the class I was adopted into. Those on the other hand who did get it, were likewise dispossessed and displaced: migrant workers, refugees, marginalized communities, etc. I took this as a focal point to try and understand economically and politically adoption as a process and as an industry. My first breakthrough was connecting international and domestic adoption, and from there examining similar human traffickings. I adamantly avoid the personal aspect of it because I see this as a diversion to the discussion that must take place. It’s like abolitionists focusing on the narratives of slaves, discussing whether they could be “happy” on the plantation—it avoids the bigger economic and political picture that adoption, like slavery, perfectly fits into, unfortunately.

I was impressed you have been covering the issues surrounding the Christian group in Montana who is advocating for changing the Indian Child Welfare Act and lobbying legislators in the US. How did you come to learn about American Indian adoptees and the ICWA?
Daniel: When I arrived in Beirut I was working in academia, and I took advantage of this position to further research aspects of resistance to the above economic and political realities that govern our lives. Much of this research focused on groups who culturally expressed their resistance, for example, the artists of the Mexican Revolution or the Black Panther Party (I was teaching graphic design and illustration). In expanding on notions of dispossession and the like, the Indigenous Nations of the Americas came into focus, especially concerning the political changes in South America, but also in terms of attempts to reclaim culture, language, and community. It was an obvious addition to such research. More personally, my parents had retired to a town in the southwest next to a large Navajo reservation, and an old school to “deculture” Indian children existed near their house.

I am obsessed by the benign destruction that such “innocent” places represent, and the economic and political position such “adoptions” hold in the imperial forays of the US. In one of my classes I used the case of Leonard Peltier and the movie “Incident at Oglala” [web site for movie] to portray much of this, making parallels with the local occupation of Palestine. I’ve also had many debates with those tribal members who reflect locally here in Lebanon what Frantz Fanon calls “native intellectuals”: those who advocate for their own oppression and domination, and who take on the colonizing narrative as their own. It is absolutely imperative that we understand historically speaking the derivations of adoption, and its use as a tool by imperial nations against their former/current colonies, and how this relates to the destruction of Indigenous peoples in the Americas, Australia, as well as in French overseas territories for just a few examples. This reflects more the true basis of what adoption was designed to do.

Are you a journalist by trade? Tell us about your activism.
Daniel: I’m not a journalist by trade, but have published a fair bit of writing. My activism is currently tending to mix the visual, written, and philosophical realms. In 2009 I started a collective of artists that we called Jamaa Al-Yad; roughly translated it means “Clenched Fist”, which we take as a sign of resistance [link to Jamaa Al-Yad web site]. Much of our initial work required of us bylaws and charter that would pass evaluation by the Lebanese government. We were given a template to use that in many ways reflected French and American influence on the country, taking for granted such things as parliamentary procedure, fifty-percent plus one voting, hierarchies of officers/members, etc. We took almost two years to write from scratch bylaws and charter that avoided all of this. We based them in research gleaned from Iroquois sources and the methodology of Quaker meetings to very local ways of communal associations; the best of many worlds. We received our approval three years ago, and many other non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have adapted our charter and bylaws for their own use, which is very satisfying. My sense of activism is that it must be lived, not just theorized or super-mediated. Anything else is just preaching or hypocritical advocacy.

Have you been able to find your natural family and reconnect? What was that like for you?
Daniel: I haven’t [Note: this was 2012; I am in reunion as of 2016]. I have instead been introduced to a bottomless abyss of trafficking, displacement, dispossession, and marginalization the knowledge of which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I have managed to integrate myself into my neighborhood as well as various communities that I never expected would welcome me back, and this along with the support of my adoptive family allows me to persevere here.

For adoptees out there who are transracial (adopted outside of their culture), many who read this blog are Split Feathers who have questions about this, have you any suggestions on how we can change the views on international adoption and adoption in general?
Daniel: I’m actually writing a book [Note: still planning that book…] on this subject that shifts the burden here. Why try and change an inherently broken and corrupt system? In my research it quickly becomes apparent the uses of adoption originally were never for family creation, but for everything having to do with political and economic domination, including indentured servitude, emptying of poorhouses, populating of colonies, destruction of tribes and Indigenous peoples, etc. So for us to go along with the “lie” that adoption is about family creation is to be accomplices in our own dehumanization. Much more important is our own grounding not in terms of our adopting class but in that of our originating communities. Even if we are transracially “American” or acculturated “American”, what does this mean when many groups who have managed to assimilate were formerly considered Other within American society?

These groups were forced to give up their language, culture, and identity that, when studied, are amazing sources of resistance, strength, and self-awareness. This is hard work because none of this is part of the dominant cultural mode, and we have to go out of our way to find such material. But it’s out there, and it is much more grounding than pretending to be “American”, whatever that even means these days. I’m not advocating claiming this or that identity; actually I’m saying the opposite: Find the cultural roots of resistance that existed in communities before they were assimilated into dominant societies, themselves historically full of mixes, overlaps, and interconnections. This gives us much more in the way of common cause, and will do more to bring us back to a sense of community than walking around manifesting affected cultural references that the dominant mode deigns allows us.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in Adoption activism, Adoption resistance and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to An interview at American Indian Adoptees

  1. heatherrainbow says:

    Thank you Daniel, for continuing to write and express your perspective. I very much appreciate your political view of adoption (trafficking). I look forward to your book coming out. I’m starting on the path of realizing that adoption (trafficking) is another avenue to force society into a state of compliance / loyalty / inaction so that those in power can continue to be in power and not have the people revolt. I am wondering if you would agree.

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