“You don’t understand Native American Ways”


September24 , 2009

…My husband and I have a Native American baby (almost 17 mos old) living with us, full time since 12/21/08, and we have been a part of her life since she was about four months old. We are her Mama and Daddy. I’m sure our story isn’t much different than all the others, but [Baby Girl] was left with an “adopted” (enrolled) grandmother, pretty much right after birth, and the mother told the grandmother to love and take care of her or find someone who would. The adopted grandmother…was already raising at least a couple of other grandchildren, had a mentally handicapped daughter and her two children living with her, etc., and asked her daughter-in-law … if she knew of anyone that would be interested in taking and raising this baby and give her a good home. She asked me at church one Sunday morning and my husband and I went to her house after church, met the grandmother, and met [Baby Girl].

From that time on, we pretty much had [Baby Girl] every weekend and as I mentioned before, have had her full time since 12/21/08. The grandmother actually lives down the block from us, and one of her granddaughter’s (who has been more of a mother-figure to [Baby Girl] than her own birth mother but is still in high school) will come and visit [Baby Girl] frequently and even will take [Baby Girl] to their home for overnight visits on occasion.

My husband and I are not Native but Caucasian. During the course of time that we have had [Baby Girl] the mother has only come to our home one time and asked to take [Baby Girl] to visit when we said no. I had put [Baby Girl] down for a nap and she was asleep and I offered to call the mom when she woke up and she told me to forget it and left. In July the mother came to our home and told us that she was there to take [Baby Girl]. When I asked why she first told me that her mother wanted her to come get her. When I questioned her on that reasoning, she then said her father wanted her to come get her. I questioned her again, and she finally told me that she wanted [Baby Girl] and she just hadn’t come to get her before because she didn’t want to hurt us. To make a long story short, [Baby Girl] was rescued by a daughter of the “adopted” grandmother after [Baby Girl] had been staying with her half sister’s mother and her family for about 2 weeks, Social Services have become involved, and for now [Baby Girl] is with us again. (From what I can figure out, [Baby Girl] wasn’t with her mother for more than a few days at best, with her blood grandmother I’m not sure, and as far as I know the grandfather didn’t see her at all.)

The Social Services caseworker has told us many things about how they are going to try to reunite the mother with [Baby Girl] (mother is living in a motel 45 miles from [here] with friends). They already offered to put mother and daughter in a home together but when the mother found out all the rules she refused and wanted to take [Baby Girl] to live with her at the hotel. The mother’s family members have apparently already stated that they do not want [Baby Girl] living with us, presumably from all I can find out, because we are not Native American. I asked the caseworker (who is also Native American) why they hadn’t been interested in [Baby Girl] until now. It’s not like the family didn’t know when the mother was pregnant with her. They have known the mother didn’t have the child. They knew that [Baby Girl] was living with us. But not until now, now that Social Services is involved, do they want to step in.

I voiced this to the caseworker who told me that I didn’t understand the Native American way, which, according to her explanation, is that [they] watch and observe. They don’t step in until they perceive a problem and that is why they are stepping in now. My husband and I love this little girl. For all intents and purposes she is our daughter.

I can understand that the Native Americans want “their” children to be raised by other Native Americans up to a point. I think by our behaviors, it is obvious that we are not trying to stop [Baby Girl] from being exposed to her culture or her Native American family members. I am more than happy to teach her about the Native American culture. I just can’t seem to understand how that has become more important than the wellbeing of the child. [Baby Girl] knows us, loves us, has a stable home, and our friends and family (many of who are Native American) also love her. It seems like the bottom line is that the problem is because we are white. How do we fight this prejudice?

I have been told by the Social Worker that the first court date is 10/5. I don’t know if we will even be allowed to speak during this meeting. My husband and I aren’t rich or anywhere near it and can’t afford lots of legal counsel or costs. What do we do? Thank you for listening and for any advice you can give.

Disclaimer: We are not attorneys and can not give Legal Advice:

Response: My name is Andy Reum and I work with CAICW.  I am an adoptive Parent and former foster parent.  I also serve on the board of Anaconda PCA Family Resource Center, however, I’m no expert on this and this isn’t any kind of legal advice.

I am praying for little [Baby Girl]…that God will open up the path that helps her.


First, I suggest making as good a relationship with the Caseworker.  If she’s [an enrolled] Caseworker, she will likely work very hard to place the child on the Reservation.  If she’s an employee of the state she is probably still inclined to place [Baby Girl] on the Reservation or at least feel “required” by ICWA to place [Baby Girl] (long term) in [an enrolled] home.  That isn’t to say this can’t work out.  We nearly lost both of our adoptive children before they were legally adopted and lots of tears and prayers later, we found they were going to be able to stay with us. As a Foster Care Review Committee member I have seen these ICWA battles and have seen a few work in the favor on non Native care givers.


Second: Documentation is important in these cases.  For [Baby Girl]’s sake, write down all of the details you recall while attempting not be overly condemning.  Keep track of the things taking place now as well. 


Third: In order to show your interest in [Baby Girl]’s future and in being in line with state laws, consider getting into the next possible Foster Licensing class in your area.  It is likely to be in Billings and lasts approximately eight weeks, one night a week. The training is not hard but it is discouraging …sorry…that’s just the truth.


Fourth: It might be useful to refer to your care as consistency and the bond that [Baby Girl] has with you instead of referring to your home as what’s in her best interest. It may be true but the caseworker may think you are experiencing tunnel vision.


My last small piece of advice is to ask for contact with [Baby Girl]’s (Guardian) G.A.L. ( this is a Court Appointed Special Advocate [CASA]).  As soon as you find out who this might be, ask them to come to your home.  This person is not working for the court or the state and is assigned to kids as that person that is positioned to observe, interview and attempt to offer the court officers (judge) an independent opinion about the child’s options for care. 


There is no guarantee that there is a GAL (but there should be) and the first court date seems so close but I would still ask for this information.  This person needs to see [Baby Girl]’s environment and relationships with you and other interested persons.


This isn’t much to offer you, I’m sorry for that.  I know this is a very hard place to be, especially when you love [Baby Girl]. 


God bless your efforts on her behalf.

UPDATE   September 25, 2009

Thank you so much for your quick response. I appreciate your advice and prayers. We have known from the beginning that having [Baby Girl] taken away from us was and is a very real possibility. Our goal (besides giving her a stable home life) is to take this gift that God has given us in [Baby Girl], and to love her as much as we can for as long as we can. Thank you mostly for your prayers. Although we (my husband and I) believe we are the best home for [Baby Girl], we do ultimately believe that God knows what is best for her and that is what we ask for; not that we are allowed to keep [Baby Girl], but prayers that God work out what is best for [Baby Girl] regardless of whether it is with us or not. I believe that God is more powerful than any court and if it is His will that [Baby Girl] stay with us, it will happen. If it doesn’t happen (even though my heart will be broken), I rest in the knowledge that God is still in control of the situation and will always take care of her. Thank you again.

  2 Responses to ““You don’t understand Native American Ways””

  1. How did this issue turn out? We are facing something similar.

    • Thanks for writing. This case was in 2009, so I will have to check back in our records. It is important to get very good legal counsel when it comes to ICWA. There is a good ICWA attorney who is willing to consult with your local attorney. He has had great success as he is a tribal member who used to do ICWA cases for the tribe – until he saw too much tragedy and decided to work for the best interest of the children instead.

      I have to leave for a meeting – but would be happy to talk with you more.

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