“The state does not make a good parent.”
So reads the quote by an anonymous DHHS administrator who works for the state of Maine.
In Maine, a consortium of government and tribal officials formed the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which explored the reasons why Wabanaki children enter Maine’s state foster care program at 5 times the rate of non-Native children during the past 13 years.
They released an 80-page report this week which concluded that Maine must improve Native child welfare in Maine by confronting:
1. Underlying racism still at work in state institutions and the public
2. Ongoing impact of historical trauma, also known as intergenerational trauma, on Wabanaki people
3. Differing interpretations of historical trauma
From the perspective of the Lakota People’s Law Project, the first problem to confront, both in South Dakota and throughout the United States is paramount.
In South Dakota, underlying racism is visible is in how the Department of Social Services rationalizes the seizure of nearly 740 children per year. Of these children, about 95 percent of them are taken due to “neglect”, which is different than abuse.
In other words, rather than children being taken away from families because of proximity to violence or abuse, they are being taken away because the non-Native whites in the state believe the conditions in which the Indian children are living in constitute neglect.
They are confusing poverty with neglect. And in so doing they are committing cultural genocide.
Indeed, Maine’s recent Truth and Reconciliation Report also concluded “disproportionate entry into care can be held within the context of continued clutural genocide as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nationals General Assembly in 1948.”
Taking children from their Native tribes and forcing assimilation into the dominant White society leads to an erosion of culture.
A worker with the Maine DHHS said it was only after particpating in a training on the Indian Child Welfare Act and its historical background did he realize that he was unwittingly an instrument of genocide.
This worker slowly grew aware the child was “part of the tribe and for the welfare of that child to have a healthy well-functioning tribal community, I could see that as the presentation evolved, I started realizing, ‘Oh, my God! What this is saying is that I’ve been an agent of genocide.’ And of course, the word ‘genocide’ to me means killing people, but it means more than that: it means killing a culture, and I don’t think I ever thought of any of our practices as killing a culture.”
This comment provides indispensable insight into the thought processes of most state child welfare workers, who do not realize the extent to which they are participating in a system that is racist and an existential threat to the indigenous population of the United States.
Taking children from circumstances wrongly perceived as neglectful isn’t the solution. Instead, this society needs to harness that energy in addressing the underlying trauma that creates the social problems on the reservation that is leading to the systemic genocide of the Native people.