Adopted Mohawk Finds Birth Parent

kanowakeron@canada.com
Thu, 14 Jul 1994 05:21:00 PDT

 


INDIAN ROOTS GROW DEEP Jul 14, 1994

Sekoh! And hello from Rochester, New York. I'm a Six Nations Mohawk
who was born and raised in the Rochester area and while it may not
be readily apparent, I consider myself to be a Native Canadian.
More on that at a later time.

I was born in 1954 to a single Mohawk woman who had travelled to
Rochester from the Six Nations reserve in search of a job. She was
from a large family and when she found that she was pregnant, she
didn't wish to be a burden to her mother. As difficult as it was,
she decided to place her first-born child up for adoption with a
sincere desire for a better life for the child. It would be a
decision proven correct many years later.

The second adopted of two boys to a white hard-working middle-class
couple, we lived in the city of Rochester for a few weeks and then
joined the legion of the those seeking the sanctity of the suburbs.
The surroundings were typically suburban; three-bedroom ranch, dog,
station wagon, large yard and a yearly vacation to a cottage on the
Rideau River. It was a very secure family and although discipline
was never withheld when needed, there was a lot of love. Both of
us boys knew we were adopted and I was told that MY birth mother
was a Canadian Indian and that her last name was Hill. That was
the only information my parents were given by the adoption agency.
My life-long affinity with Canada started early; somehow a part of
me was 'from' Canada. Later I would find that I was more
'Canadian' than anybody knew.

Looking back, my suburban childhood was cushy and insular... not
exactly coddled, but definitely naive in the ways of ethnic and
cultural differences. Out of 580 members of my graduating high
school class, there were three African-Americans, a few Asians and
one North American Indian who couldn't (wouldn't?) decide if he was
or wasn't an Indian. How could I? Minorities weren't 'in' then
and how would I 'prove' I was an Indian? Despite feelings of
definitely being different, the embarrassment was kept to myself.

All adoptees think about the circumstances surrounding their
adoption at some time... how could you NOT think about it when the
creepy kid comes out with, "Your REAL mother didn't even want
you". The worst scars are often caused by words. My mother would
explain that I was wanted and loved more than I'd ever know, but
even so... WHY was I given up? This would be a question which
would need an answer someday, somehow and somewhere.

The U.S. in the late Sixties was in social turmoil and it probably
was a tough time to be teaching a 14-year-old that the police are
our friends while he watched live TV showing 'our friends'
pummelling and gassing demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic
Convention. It was the time of 'self-actualization' when we were
repeatedly told, above all else, 'Be Yourself'. Today, I may owe
some gratitude to these people for asking those 'idiotic' questions
like, 'Who am I?'. That was tough in that my dirty little adoption
secret was a source of embarrassment and with my darker skin, it
was a quite a stretch to pretend to be the Scotsman or Dutch-
English that my adoptive parents were. The whole issue would be
deftly sidestepped.

Naturally, repression and denial aren't the healthiest of reactions
for a kid to carry around during his formative years. Neither are
inferiority, insecurity and doubt. My parents tried their best...
really... but as any parent will tell you, 'they don't come with
instructions'.

At thirteen, I found there WAS something I could do better than
almost anyone else... consume alcohol. Finally! An avocation at
which excelling only meant not getting sick or laughing at those
who did. This was to be a source of pointless pride throughout
high school and college and followed its natural progression until
1980. Out of work, out of hope, and rapidly running out of life, I
finally got the help for a problem which had been denied for so
long. Thirteen years later, the sobriety is still intact for this
day only.

After mending the body, I decided it was about time to do something
about finding my identity. What WAS my identity? Needing to find
out more about my Indian heritage with a renewed determination, I
began to deal with a legal system which treated me as if I was
legally swapped chattel. The sealed adoption records were about ME
and MY birth-mother and regardless of what the State law dictated,
I should be entitled to the same knowledge that the rest of the
non-adopted world took for granted. It would only be possible to
find my birth-mother (and my heritage) by this means.

What followed was ten years of legal bantering, red tape, dealing
with two federal governments, a state and a provincial government,
local courts, smug office workers, more 'you can't's' than 'you
can's', and enough 'I-don't-know's' to fill a file cabinet.
Finally, determination at its maximum and throwing caution to the
wind, I spoke with an attorney and quietly stated he WOULD get the
name of my birth-mother from the adoption records to DIAND in
Ottawa for a determination of status. Lawyers seem to be able to
work miracles for the right price and a steady stream of inquiring
phone calls.

The Family Court judge agreed to release the name of my birth
mother to DIAND for C-31 purposes on the provision that I was not
informed of her name. DIAND agreed and within weeks, I called and
was told, 'You ARE banded as an Upper Mohawk of the Six Nations
Reserve'. My amazed disbelief was beyond description... I had BEEN
to the Six Nations reserve with my ex-wife on several occasions on
our bi-monthly exploration of the province of Ontario which lasted
five years (yes, I'm FAIRLY familiar with the southern part of the
province).

I made a beeline to Ohsweken within two days and spoke with ANYBODY
in the Administration Building who could suggest how my birth-
mother could be found. Was she still alive? Did she live on the
reserve? How should this be handled? Would I be a disruptive
secret from the past? Would this be an embarrassment? What if she
married and her husband didn't know about me? How do I go about
finding an Indian woman with MAYBE a last name of Hill and 56 to 58
years old? The odds were not encouraging, but after ten years of
what I'd just been through, it was WAY too close to be giving up.

After meeting with a social worker from the reserve, it was
suggested that a personals classified be submitted in the reserve
paper, The Tekawennake. This was done reluctantly because even
above MY desires, I wanted to make sure anonymity of my birth-
mother was respected and protected. The social worker pointed out
that if she didn't want to respond, she wouldn't; at least give her
the opportunity to meet me if indeed she was alive AND living on
Six Nations. The classified had a brief, non-identifying
description of my birthday, place of birth, adoption agency, my
surname at birth (as far as I knew) and stated that I wanted to
express thanks and appreciation for what must have been a difficult
decision for a 20 year-old. Then I waited.

At the end of the first week, there had been no response sent back
to the Teka and I started to believe this REALLY may be the end of
the line. The ad ran another week with the understanding that if
there were no responses, I'd have to be content knowing I'd at
least found my reserve and was a Status Mohawk. That by itself was
no small accomplishment considering the odds to get to THAT point.
Ten days after the ad first appeared, a call came from the social
worker telling me there had been a response. Her voice was shrill
from excitement and she said she knew the family and the woman who
was purportedly my birth-mother. Excited? Yes, but my
expectations had been raised and dashed so many times by then that
I thought, "Well, maybe it IS and maybe it ISN'T. This may be a
person who's clutching at straws and I just happen to be a close
enough description." I was somewhat dubious and who wouldn't be
after 37 years? I was told I had three brothers and four sisters;
one of my brothers had died. I hadn't even met the family and
already a sense of loss. Coming from a very small family and being
the youngest, to being the oldest of seven siblings was more than a
shock... it was something I hadn't even thought about. Nothing she
said to me on the phone for three of four sentences was heard.

I was to call this particular number at 6:30pm that night. I
waited. 6:25, 6:26, 6:27. Finally, after grabbing the phone and
dialling, a voice answered and I asked to speak with her. Then a
'Hello?' and a, 'Hi, I think I may be your son.' 'I think you're
my son, too.'

We spoke for a short while and thought it would be a good idea if
we could meet. Driving to Six Nations by that point was almost a
weekly thing (some 230 miles), so I said it'd be no problem for me
to meet her at her house. We agreed upon the following weekend.

I can't remember a lot of the following week. What went through my
mind was a variety of doubt, anxiety, relief, fear, contentment,
anticipation and awe. You need to remember I'd never had any
contact with Indians before and here I am going to a house on a
reserve in Canada to meet my birth-mother for the first time in 37
years. Nervous? Well, maybe just a LITTLE.

Driving to Six Nations that Saturday I was strangely NOT nervous.
Finding the house, I drove in the driveway and immediately saw a
guy with a pony-tail to his butt. 'Ah, that must be one of my
brothers', and sure enough it was. 'G'won in the house, they're
waiting for you'. I went in and saw a lady in her 30's with eyes
wet with tears who said, 'Hi, I'm your sister.' I looked up and saw
a woman in her 50's (also with tears) come toward me. When my eyes
met her's, my search officially came to an end. There was no
doubt; this WAS my mother.

We hugged and said, 'It's been a long time' and then proceeded to
cry almost as if it were a movie script. I could have been in Oz,
the whole thing didn't seem real. Meeting my other brother and my
four sisters and their families (TEN nieces and nephews), we sat
around the kitchen table with people looking at me to see who I
looked like from the family. I was introduced to my Indian Dad (my
Mom's husband) who said, 'My home is your home. You don't ever
need an invitation to come home.' More tears.
What followed must have been orchestrated prior to my arrival. I
noticed people on the phone and within 30 minutes, the driveway was
packed with cars and the house was crammed with, 'I'm your aunt,
I'm your cousin, he's your uncle, you look like one of your uncles,
you look like one of your cousins, I'm your sister; what's my
name?' Stunned and overwhelmed.

There were many, many trips back 'home' in the following weeks. It
was a rebirth of sorts but fate was to intervene again.

My adoptive parents had been supportive of my search and encouraged
me even when the legal systems had been stacked against me. My
'mother-over-here' was in failing health due to the debilitating
effects of diabetes. Six weeks after finding my family, my adopted
mother died. I'll always remember the contented smile she had when
seeing pictures of my Indian family the day I met all of them. My
father asked that my birth-mother and my Indian dad be invited to
the memorial service, which they attended along with my Indian
aunt. My two families met for the first time at the service. I
had found a mother and I had lost a mother.

My pony-tailed brother was in a great deal of pain from accidents
which had severely damaged his leg and he was permanently disabled.
He had a gentleness which belied his gruff exterior (my little
brother is the same) and I was anxious to get to know both of my
'little' brothers. Actually, both of them could toss their big
brother around like a snowflake, but I knew they wouldn't. Three
weeks after my mother had died, I got a call from the rez; my
oldest little brother was haemorrhaging and in a coma.

I went to the hospital and saw him connected to the machines. My
family was there and I was told it was just a matter of time. As
he faded, we gathered around the bed... touching and holding his
hands as if to help him get ready for the trip he was about to
take. Finally, he left and a mother and father said good-bye to a
second son. My mother had found a son and had lost a son.

My only little brother left is special to me; not because he's had
to endure the loss of two of his brothers, or because he's my only
Indian brother remaining. He's special because he and I grew up in
different worlds, and I need him to teach me the things HIS older
brothers taught him. In return, we'll find the things that I can
share with him from what I've learned from my world.

My four sisters are amazing. They've captured the strength and
determination that Indian women are known for, from my mother.
It's been a great experience witnessing a matriarchal culture in
action and as in many other things, there's a lot the non-Indian
world can learn from our families. Tough yet gentle.

My Indian Dad is a survivor. A survivor of raising seven children
while moving from one coast of the United States to the other in
search of work. He insisted that his family be with him; not an
easy undertaking. He survived the 'Mush House' (Indian residential
school); he survived the U.S. Army and he's a survivor in cancer.
He has a youth to his spirit which always brings a smile to me. We
both love to laugh because there's already enough to be down about
without dwelling on it. Take care of business, but above all,
enjoy life and living.

There was another little brother who died in 1977 in a car
accident. He'll never be forgotten because I 'feel' he and I were
somewhat alike. There's a sense of being cheated from not knowing
him, but in a way, his spirit remains alive through the rest of my
family.

I feel like the eldest brother who left for a number of years and
then returned home. My relationship with my Indian family is one
of great joy and love. I know I'm one of the most fortunate of our
Creator's children in that I was accepted and welcomed to a
beautiful family. There are other similar situations where the
'return' of the long lost child has NOT been a glad time.

Today at 39 I'm an Indian child, having never been exposed to
Indian culture. Until last year, I'd never even been to a pow wow.
I'm a Database Administrator at a large company in Rochester which
employs some 38,000 people. There's a Native American Council (an
employee network) with some 15 Indians; you might say there's a
VERY small minority of Native Americans working here. Every time I
go back to the rez, I learn something more about the Indian ways
from my nieces, nephews and my family. I study my heritage and
attend socials, meetings and pow wows. I'm learning and will
probably never stop learning.

There is much I could teach about computers and the ways of the
corporate world, but all that can be learned in a university.
Learning how to live as an Indian cannot be gleaned from a book.
The mysterious feelings and unique view of the world makes sense to
me now after all these years. There appear to be certain
behavioural traits in me which make me wonder if it's the Indian in
me (even though I was never raised among Indians). Is it possible
there's REALLY a special spiritual core in all our people? I'm
finding out there IS.

The first half of my life was as a white man by chance; the second
half will be an Indian by choice.

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2850 words

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