Evelyn Red Lodge (Lakota)
I awake every morning with thoughts that define me. I lie in wait for a better day. As I rise I take a step into the new day, but it is always the same day. It is the day my nightmare began.
Every motivation I have is based on this day.
My ultimate awakening began the day I turned 50. I realized the wasted time I spent trying to make my adoptive family love me. I awake to the fact that I live each day just to get through it. If I came out alive, then I did and nothing more. Survival is my destination, and I will be glad for that for this day.
I was born in 1961. It was the time of the American Indian Adoption Projects and the last vestiges of the horrendous Indian boarding schools. It was one frying pan or the other for me and countless other Indian children as I would find out much later in life.
In 1961 there still were Whites-only drinking fountains and signs on restaurants and bars in my home of South Dakota that read “No Dogs or Indians allowed.” (Chapter three Racism In Indian Country by Dean Chavers, 2009.)
It was a time that what those Caucasians did to me I will never recover from. I have sometimes severe depression, debilitating anxiety, and fibromyalgia. The damage caused by them can most likely be seen in a study of my brain. I will live out my life never knowing the tools for living and nurture. I will die with all the damage done to me as my legacy.
As adopted by Caucasians, I was dispossessed of my language, culture, traditions and had imposed on me the history and religion that was not mine.
At 51 years old, I still glean for what happened to me. I am at a loss as to why a whole family would make me as a beautiful child feel so much less than them. They are Caucasian and maybe felt the supremacy the United States Government portrayed at the time. Everyone was taught that freedom of religion is a constitutional right. But, I found this to be true, iffen you are White and Christian. The right to practice our traditions was only given to us (the Lakota) in the 1970s. It is a right from God since the beginning of time, but we were heathens and government was based on Christianity as it is today.
So, how does this God of the chosen come up with the Doctrine of Discovery or Manifest Destiny. You see, it was not God who did this, as I realize today. It was man, and I mean man.
I learned in school that Indians massacred and in church my people were heathens. How was I supposed to love myself even in the institutions that were to be most kind? How did God who is love, keep me locked in a nightmare? Did God only love White people?
I tried to believe there was a God. I thought he did miracles and maybe he could do one for me.
So, I remember being so desperate to believe when I was six-years-old that I went inside a corn crib on my adoptive grandmother’s farm and prayed hard to God to make me appear on the outside of the crib. Of course that did not happen, and it became clear that God would do nothing for me.
At about the same time, my adoptive mother in one of her rages slammed my head against a piece of wood over and over. My faith was further shaken as my teacher asked me the next day why I had knots all over my head. I told her what happened and thought sure I could go home to my mother Virginia. As with God nothing happened.
God took my adoptive parents when I was fifteen-years-old. Except, he took the most beautiful baby in my life with them in a car accident. She was six-years-old and her mother young. My seven-year-old adoptive sister had to crawl over her and her young mother to escape the car. The baby was on the floor clutching her doll with an eternal heavenward stare.
I remember the baby in her little casket wondering why she had to go with such evilness as her company. Her mother, who I told a long time ago that her husband raped me, failed to report this to anyone.
What was that baby taken for? I would soon find out as my favorite cousin, who had witnessed the alcoholic rape of me said, “I don’t think (the baby) could have endured what we went through. I think she would have died.” So, there it was that the baby was saved from the rapes that would follow.
She was saved, but my little adoptive sister was put in the same position prior to the baby’s death. She was about six-years-old when she told me that the alcoholic uncle did things to her and licked the baby. I told her never to go over there again. I felt it was all I could do as I was about fourteen-years-old at the time. We felt we could never say anything about abuse.
I think the quote from this woman says much about my experience as a result of adoption. She said,
“I think the cruelest trick that the white man has ever done to Indian children is to take them into adoption court, erase all of their records and send them off to some nebulous family … residing in a white community. And he goes back to the reservation and he has absolutely no idea who his relatives are, and they effectively make him a non-person and I think … they destroy him.”
—Louis La Rose, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, testifying before Congress on behalf of the proposed Indian Child Welfare Act (enacted 1978)
I used to stand looking in the mirror at myself and wondering why I was so ugly. I wanted to rub the dark pigments from my knees and my face. I used to wonder why people hurt me and why they raped and beat me so bad.
I know now they are most likely sorry in the eyes of their God yet rely on the culture they were raised in order to live with themselves. A culture of men, and a culture of supremacy without a true God.
As the supreme took everything from us, he did lock us in concentration camps known as Indian reservations. His name is wasicu (Taker of the fat which was best part of the meat).
Now the supreme wonder why our culture is so stricken with sadness, and I think Aaron Huey described it best when he said, “The last chapter in any successful genocide is the one in which the oppressor can remove their hands and say, ‘My God, what are these people doing to themselves? They’re killing each other. They’re killing themselves while we watch them die.’ This is how we came to own these United States. This is the legacy of manifest destiny.” (http://www.ted.com/speakers/aaron_huey.html)
Was there a god? Why would god let this happen to me? Why did he forget me?
God forgot me for 40 years of my life. The son of God I learned to pray to never once saved me from anything.
It took me 40 years to come back home and find the true God for me. His name is Wakan Tanka. I learned I did not have to fear him and was robbed of his love those four decades. Miracles do happen as I have been shown through him that I am not ugly, nor less than any one person.
It is finally my time to just be. To be as one who can look in the mirror and not feel disgust. I am a person who had children and tried to make better their life for them as compared to mine. Yet, I failed so tremendously, and I am so eternally sorry for that. I am a person without the tools for living.
I am a poor person, and I have to live with that. My children paid for what was not mine. They paid in that I had to learn to nurture from others, but I love them and made their lives a hundred times better than mine.
I do not know how to express this to them, and I am still defined as a victim as my brain was damaged. I am damaged, and I will never recover.
I created a family that is damaged by historical trauma, and I beg Wakan Tanka to forgive me and not let me define their actions. I am so damaged. I try as I sit here and think of the damage I caused unintentionally with lack of knowledge. I am a nut-job and my children are paying, because you freaking nut-job racists and you child-savers ruined my life and that of my descendants. Did you child-savers once check on me?
I see no difference from my experience with the experience of American Indian children today. They are taken for cash, and it is true.
I sit here and think of how I fit into life. Of course I am defined as a victim, yet I advocate for those who suffer the consequences of the child-savers. I rise and scream, “Go moms!!! Go grandmas!!! Get the children back!!!!
Evelyn Red Lodge is a member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate in South Dakota and currently resides in Rapid City. She is a journalist and author who specializes in Indian Child Wefare Act issues and advocates for ICWA families.
This story contains excerpts from her own book slated for publication.