Friday, December 25, 2015

Blessings

This morning, I woke up in an empty house. The eerie silence is unexpectedly lonely.

My family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, so our holiday jubilation was over by nightfall, last night. Not wanting to travel home, today, when all the businesses will be closed, I chose to drive back last night, after sending the baby off to his dad's & sending the others to bed at the gradnparents'.

So, in between the research & writing that I've been working on, all morning, I hear the emptiness of my home, and am reminded of years past. In 2010, I was a 1L in law school, and having to live away from my children. Having separated from my husband, and unable to afford to support my children on my own, my children were living with my parents, while I was staying in my second mother's spare room.

I remember crying for days, in my room, because I couldn't give my children any gifts. I never said anything to anyone, but she knew. She asked me to bring them over, to celebrate with her, because she knew it would help me feel less depressed.

I'll never forget how happy my kids were as they opened the gifts that she bought them. Honestly, I don't think they even noticed that none of their gifts actually came from me. They just remember spending an enjoyable Christmas with me, and we recount those memories on occasion.

This year, I was feeling some way about only being able to buy each of my kids a new pair of shoes. But, I kept reminding myself, their actual needs matter more than holiday gifts and I've been meeting those, so I shouldn't feel bad...but I have been. Yesterday, though, my family gave them so much & they  were surrounded by so much love, they don't notice that Mom didn't lavish them in superfluous gifts. And, really, that's all that matters.

I've been blessed to have wonderful family, both by birth & in the family that I have found along the way. I am grateful for each of them & what they have contributed to my life, and I only hope that I can be as much of a positive force in the lives of others.

I'm still alive, folks...

Apologies for my absence of late. I've gotten a couple inquiries about the silence, so thought I'd let everyone know I, and my amazing little family, are doing well. I'm currently in litigation over visitation issues, so I try to refrain from posting anything, so that it can't be twisted for nefarious purposes. Once that's settled, I will elaborate further.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Adoption final.

Today Lil Sis's adoption was finalized.

There's lots of bittersweet in adoption. I'm happy she has permanency, now, to help her heal. But I also weep for the pain & loss she has endured in her short life. 

I could probably fill pages with my contemplations about the complexities, but, right now, I'm off to take her to culture camp. Please take a moment to think or pray for her future...& for her mother. I know she has a lot of pain & loss in all this, as well. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Baby sister

There've been quite few twists & turns since the girls' baby sister was born. 

The original placement backed out & never picked her up from the hospital. She was taken to a state foster home, which was not ICWA compliant. The status of placement fluctuated nearly every day, it seemed.

At one point, they said they didn't want to move her until paternity test comes back but, since he hasn't even given his sample, that's at least a couple months away. I implored ICW to push the state to comply with ICWA, to minimize respeated moves, especially as she gets older.

At one point, I was asked to take placement again. I agreed & the overfill request was made. In the meantime, the state was saying they didn't want to move her to me because the distance was inconvenient for visits with the bios. They make the same excuse about sibling visits. 

In the end, ICW & the state staffed the case & decided to place the baby in a kinship placement--a family member of the mother. Naturally, this concerns me because both of her other sisters were placed with maternal family members & it ended badly. Granted, these are not the se individuals, but it feels like a gamble, given the overall history. But, they say it's in her "best interest" because she'll still be with bio relatives, and I have too many kids already. 

I asked about the sibling contact. ICW says they will "encourage" them to do that but they won't make it a condition of placement because the girls have never lived together so there's "no existing relationship". 

This feels very much like a repeat of when Lil Sis was born & they did a 180, sending her home with her mother. I know it is out of my hands, so all I can do is keep taking care of the babies in my home & keep praying for the baby that's out there.

I sincerely hope this placement turns out differently than the ones the other girls endured. I would never want another child to go through what her sisters did. And I sincerely hope that this family member's sudden interest in getting to know my girls & having sibling contact is real, and not just empty words to get placement. Only time will tell. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

ICWA

It is tragic that ICWA is even necessary. However, the reality is that it is not only necessary, but needs to be strengthened. The new guidelines need to be codified & enforced. There should be consequences for deliberately disregarding the provisions of ICWA.

During my time as a foster parent & as a tribal attorney, I have heard numerous district court judges and state child welfare officials express their disdain for ICWA and their clear intention of disregarding it. 

In fact, in my oldest daughter's case, we had to take the unconventional step of asking her biological mother to place her with us in a guardianship. This became necessary because, despite no progress on her ISP, even though the child had been in care for three years, OK DHS planned to place the child back into the home. This was over the objection of ICW, which the huge dismissed, with the wave of a hand, calling it merely advisory, since his was not a tribal court. So, in order to keep her out of harms way, her mother consented to a guardianship because even she knew that her home was not a safe place for our daughter.

Fortunately, my Nation's ICW department remained involved and helped us to later complete an adoption so that she could have all the legal protections that entails.

When my daughter's younger sister was born, the county planned to pick the child up at birth, since her sister was already fostered in my home (prior to the guardianship). ICW concurred. The judge refused. 

As multiple child welfare referrals came in, ICW continues to request the child be taken into care. Instead she was placed in a "safety plan" with her grandmother, who had been deemed unsafe by the tribe and at least three counties, and who had already served prison time for multiple counts of child endangerment. 

Soon after, the grandmother disappeared, moving to the other side of the state. So, there was no supervision and she suffered abuse and neglect for years until, when she was 5, her grandmother was arrested for domestic violence.

Upon taking her into foster care, OK DHS did not notify the Choctaw Nation, as required by ICWA, despite the fact that her case file stated she was Native and would have detailed all of the previous ICW involvement.

I would later be told, by the parents in her initial foster home, that they were told that the plan was to wait to inform the tribe until she had been placed in their home long enough for de facto status, so that they could challenge any proposed placement change. They stated that they were promised an adoption, from the beginning, due to the case history.

As it turned out, I learned of the arrest and contacted ICW to see if she had been taken into care. When ICW located her, we began sibling visits, as the girls had not seen each other in approximately 4 years.

Once the foster family learned that ICW, rightfully, would not guarantee them an adoption due to the early stages of the case, they abruptly asked the she be removed from their home. 

So, I was given a spur of the moment choice by OK DHS: take placement or allow her to go to a shelter. 

She has been in my home for just over two years, now. If all goes as planned, the adoption should be completed by the end of the year.

The girls now have a younger sister, born a week ago. She is not placed in my home, but I am working with ICW to create relationships with her foster family so that the siblings can have each other in their lives.

If it was not for ICWA my girls would not have each other. The siblings would have been forever separated. If not for ICWA, my daughters would not know their Nation or their culture, as they had both been previously placed with non Native homes who had no desire to learn about, or create relationships with the tribal community. 

Without ICWA, Indian Country would have lost the wonderful gift of my daughters and all the potential they hold. 

Most importantly, if not for ICWA, my daughters' basic human right to their culture and their tribal family would have been violated. That, in itself, is an act of violence.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Call

This afternoon I got a call that I knew would come at some point, but I still wasn't entirely ready for it.

My girls have a sister, born a few days ago. A state child welfare worker had called to ask me if I could go pick her up from the NICU tomorrow & accept placement. "Ummm...I'm gonna have to call you back. That's not a question that can be reasonably answered in a 5 minute phone call." 

I did ask if ICW had any other potential placements, since they almost always have people ready to take a newborn who's case is relatively low legal risk. She told me definitely they did not & we're counting on me to take placement.

Fortunately, my tribe has a wonderful ICW department. Before I was able to find the number for the worker assigned to that county, she had already called me. 

She told me she felt like the state was trying to pressure me into taking the placement & wanted to talk to me to make sure that, if I accepted, it was because I wanted to, rather than because I was being told she had nowhere else to go.

We had a good talk and it turned out we agree on what constitutes an ideal place my for the baby: sibling relationships, a tribal home willing to become permanent should she become legally free, and a family with enough room to grow when future siblings are born. I can give her the first 2, but in a crowded setting that would result in sacrifice for all children in the home. 

Plus there's no chance of future siblings coming here. I'm already at capacity &, at a certain point, when there's not enough time or energy to make sure all the children get the therapy (which every foster child over age 3 should get) or to spend time teachings them age appropriate boundaries, it isn't in their best interest to take more regardless of relation. 

I think we're at a state now where we could handle one, but that's all. There's only one of me & I have enough sense to know that just wanting to help isn't good enough. I have to be able to teach them & not allow them to be wild destructo  children. So, I would consider placement with me second best to a home that can meet all the criteria.

She was able to find a home who can give all those things. They are a tribal home who wants to work with me to keep the siblings in contact. This was non negotiable for me. I would not have approved the placement otherwise & would have taken her into my home, instead.

But, this couple seems very excited & will be going to pick her up tomorrow. They told me to expect to hear from them soon after so that the girls can meet their baby sister.

I hope that they are, indeed, willing to help me keep the sibling relationship together. I am very thankful for my ally in ICW who intends to facilitate to make sure this happens.

In the years I've worked with them (wow, 10 years?!?) Choctaw Nation ICW has been amazing. They care so much for the kids & try to focus on their best interest. I wish every other child welfare department did the same. And I also wish our Nation would fund them better so that they can serve more of our children. They are our future. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Spring!

I have a lot to say, but not the time or inclination to put it all into words lately. Instead, I'll let you see my joy, today.







Tuesday, January 27, 2015

CW visit

After a few months, the CW finally managed to make a "monthly" visit.

He missed November & December because he waited until the holidays & called to make same day visits. Naturally, this doesn't work well, since we travel 3 hours away to be with family for every major holiday, as he is well aware.

Today he called for a same day visit, as the concept of planning ahead apparently doesn't suit him. Since I was available, I obliged.

Nothing earth shattering happened, but he does estimate the adoption process will take approximately 6-8 months. 

That is insane. When her sister was in care, the process was to change to concurrent planning, have the adoption staffed, and have the child profile & homestudy complete by the time TPR trial happened so that the adoption petition could be filed as soon as the appeal period expired for tpr. Her mother consented to guardienship when we went to pretrial for TPR, so we didn't file until much later, but that entire process had alreay been completed. 

Apparently, despite claims that the objective is to achieve permanency for children faster, the department has actually extended the process such that it takes sugnificantly longer. Now I'm not asking to make the time for parents to work their plan obscenely short or anything like that, but the process after their rights have been terminated should not take that long, particularly for kids who have an identified adoptive placement that they are already integrated into. The whole point is supposed to be the best interest of the child, after all.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The adoption process begins...

Just received a call from the adoption worker. The case has been staffed & the process of getting a completed social & medical history is starting today. They have up to 60 days to complete this & pretty much nothing else can happen until it's done. So, it's not a quick process, for sure. 

Hopefully we'll be able to finish this all up by mid summer. I'd like to move when my lease is up & I want to be able to do it without having to go through another home study and all that. Plus, it would be nice to be able to make decisions for her based on her needs & not the department's policy. Most importantly, though, she won't truly feel safe as long as there is a possibility that they could move her--and that is always a possibility while they are still foster.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The fight against progress...

Last night, I attended a forum about the Oklahoma City School Board's decision to eliminate Capital Hill High School's racist mascot. This morning, due to sparse media coverage of the event, I was asked to write down my observations from the evening. Here it is, as published on NativeNewsOnline.net

ETA: I am honored to learn that my article will be used in the academic setting: 



OKLAHOMA CITY—The Educational Forum on Native American Mascots, sponsored by Oklahoma City Public Schools Native American Parent Committee, was an attempt to reach out to help community members understand why the Capital Hill mascot was being changed. An honorable intent, based on the optimistic premise that, if those who oppose the change just understood that damage caused by racist mascots, surely their perspective would change.

Sitting in the audience, it was clear that most did not come open to learning, but rather to simply register their protests, at times hatefully and disrespectfully. When panelist and OKCPS alumus Rance Weryackwe introduced himself in the Comanche language, an elderly man whispered loudly that he didn’t wish to “listen to him talk like that.” There was a fair amount of eye rolling and head shaking from change opponents when the moderator, Sarah Adams-Cornell, made a presentation about the documented harms caused by race based mascots, including the hostile learning environment created by enshrining them in educational institutions, explaining “by not changing, we are in violation of students’ civil rights.”

Only a half hour into the forum, the man who had previously mocked a panelist for speaking his language announced, loudly enough for at least my side of the room to hear, that he didn’t care what “the Indians think,” before storming out of the room in a huff. A woman in the audience laughed condescendingly when panelist Johnnie Jae Morris spoke about stereotypes and how they are foundational to many problems faced in Indian Country. Overall, most of the whispering and hateful comments were the basic “get over it” and “that’s in the past” type sentiments.

When it came time for the question and answer session, Moderator Sarah Adams-Cornell announced that no questions had been submitted on the topic of the forum, asking for questions on the issue of education and Native American mascots. A female snarled “it’s because we don’t need to be educated,” in response, and the majority of the crowd who opposed the mascot change stood up and walked out together. None asked any clarifying questions or expressed the intent to understand.

Some paused in the entryway to speak to media. Pam Townley, who graduated from Capital Hill in 1973, lamented the school board’s vote, stating “no one knew about it!” In reality, people all over the world knew about the impending vote, thanks to social media. Townley’s solution is simple: segregation. “If they don’t like what is going on at Capital Hill, then go to a Native American school, where you don’t have to worry about it.” Ironic, considering panelist Jacob Tsotigh spoke about the not too distant past, where businesses posted signs stating “no dogs or Indians allowed.” Her comments illustrate the point made by Brady Henderson that “the past cannot be divested from the present . . . It defines us.” Racism and segregation are indeed alive and well but, as Brady also said, “the past is in the present [and] change is part of the process.” Progress is possible.

Some individuals aren’t willing to allow that change, without fighting it every step of the way, however. Capital Hill alumus, 84-year-old Roy Meler, interrupted the meeting, demanding to be heard. “Instead of talking about this foolishness, we ought to be talking about education. You’re the ones stirring this up.”

When Adams Cornell spoke about bullying and ridicule faced by her children, who are part of the school district, Meler shouted “I don’t believe it!” Later, I overheard him stating to others that bullying of Native students have no connection to the mockery inherent with mascots and that the solution is simply corporal punishment against those who bully.

Meler wasn’t the only one who vented his anger so emphatically. Carrel Wilson carried on quite dramatically, ranting in the hallway for several minutes, calling the research and ideas presented by the panel “propaganda.” Carrel stated that the panel discussion was “an unbelievable performance by a group of people who are making money off this themselves,” yet gave no indication as to why or how he believes that panelists are profiting. He did, however, try to link the use of racist mascots with the state name of Oklahoma, erroneously translating it as “home of the red man”. Wilson went on to state that panelist Dr. Matthew DeSpain was incorrect as to the history of violence against Native peoples, saying that “redskins were admired. It was a term of admiration,” but failing to address the fact that the term was used in connection with bounties placed on the heads of Native Americans.

In the end, the message from the Parent Committee was summed up concisely by Johnnie Jae Morris, who said, “We’re not trying to take anything away. We’re trying to get something we can all be proud of.”

Summer Wesley is from the Choctaw Tribe of Oklahoma.  She is an OU Law School Graduate and Former Tribal Attorney & Social Worker.