Review: Stolen From Our Embrace

Stolen from Our Embrace is an important book in both adoption /foster care dialogues, and as a strong historical corrective action to histories of First Nation communities in Canada. This book chronicles the extensive history of aboriginal children from the early moments of European expansionism across Canada, the ‘civilizing’ projects of the Indian residential schools in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and the more recent “Sixties Scoop” of First Nation children from all across Canada. The book positions the capture and movement of indigenous children alongside the 1950’s Korean baby importation efforts and the “Operation Baby Lifts” of the 1970’s during the Vietnam war. This positioning is important when we consider how adoption, whiteness, privilege and paternalism are part of larger critiques of international adoption. These parallels are also useful when considering the policies and practices of our own social welfare system here in the States, and drawing a connection between domestic adoption and our own shameful history of Indian residential schools and child removal.

One of the authors of the book, Ernie Crey and reveals in chapter two the story of his own family’s history. He recollects his father’s life as a child on a Sto:lo reservation before priests, police or social workers came and forcibly removed him and placed him in St Mary’s Residential school in Mission, British Colombia. Across Canada and the United States, the legacy of Indian residential schools are a major segment in First Nation community histories. After the Civilization Act of 1857, the residential school was designed to strip, most times violently, aboriginal children of any signs of native culture and language and to ensure the influence of Christianity to create ‘good Christian homes’ and eliminate the ‘contamination of Indian spiritual practices’.

Crey’s story grounds this book in an understanding of the suspicion of governmental agencies that during his childhood in the 1960’s utilized ‘child protection’ as a way to

exercise the jurisdictions given to them by the federal government to go into Indian homes on and off reserve and make judgments about what constituted proper care, according to non- native, middle-class values.. (30)

The authors encourage First Nations adults to tell their individual stories of violence and racialized sexual assault in Indian residential schools, and the subsequent years of pain along with the eventual process of healing. The combination of oral accounts with facts and supporting documents is quite a painful read, yet the larger questions of how institutional policies concerning the discourse around adoption, foster care and who is an ‘acceptable’ parent or guardian are themes that emerge in a very real way. Almost every chapter is filled with an account of a mother or father whose children were either stolen without reason, or were taken simply because of poverty or difficult timing,

Additionally, the conversation about how early colonizing efforts and later institutionalized racism shape and maintain the many times forcible removal of children from reservations dominates Fournier and Crey’s writing in their examination of how religion and religious institutions play a major role in the separation of families and shaming practices of punishment and abuse.

Significantly, and perhaps surprisingly, healing the mind, body and spirit is a major theme in Stolen. In chapter four, Fournier and Crey examine multiple cases where after years of sexual abuse in adoptive homes, residential schools or foster homes, the men and women impacted by these years of violence discover how important utilizing the justice system is to their healing process. In addition to bringing cases against their abusers, engaging in traditional healing practices such as entering the sweat lodge, spiritual cleansing, druming and pipe ceremonies. These practices, combined with therapy and other more contemporary healing practices have begun to create a strong culture of children and adults in First Nation communities that are active in resisting the generational child abuse and allowed for a reconnection to a home culture that had either been beaten or shamed out of their lives.

Stolen From Our Embrace is an exceptional historical and oral account, I recommend its reading to deepen your understanding of how aboriginal communities have been impacted by the polices of social welfare systems and why contemporary discussions of Indian child welfare and transracial adoption and foster care are ultimately shaped by their histories. For me, this book was also another example to help me make parallels between of the ways in which colonization that impacted First Nations communities and the ways in which colonization and slavery impacted the stolen and sold African peoples and the consequent ‘civilizing’ projects that changed African Diasporic communities forever. I’ll be commenting on this in my presentation in Atlanta.