Adoption Speech

The following speech was given by Eric Schweig on February 19, 1999 at the Vancouver Inner City Foster Care Conference. Invited to the conference to share his own experiences and perspectives, Eric was pleased to have the opportunity to speak on a topic close to his heart. The ramifications and issues surrounding interracial/cultural adoption are, for him, much more than a topic. They are the legacy he has been given; they are what has made him who he is … and who he is not. It is very much the spirit behind his art; certainly the tragic inspiration for his Adoption Masks. To fully appreciate the Inuit Masks, the Adoption Masks, and all else that Eric carves, one must first appreciate the heart & motivation that creates them.

His participation in the conference was a chance to encourage more involvement on the part of the native community, be they extended family or neighbors, in the plight and care of children who desperately need someone to intervene and protect. It was also meant as a plea to replace governmental paternalism with community assistance. These words are, according to Eric Schweig, his “mission statement.”

eslistening2“Adoption of aboriginal children by Caucasian couples is to me, for lack of a better term ‘State Sanctioned Kidnapping.’ Too often Euro-American couples are preoccupied with the romantic notion of having a “real live Indian baby” or a “real live Inuit baby” which instantly transforms the child into an object rather than a person. For decades our communities’ babies have been unceremoniously wrenched from the hands of their biological parents and subjected to a plethora of abuses. Physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse and a host of others.

 I have first-hand knowledge of this because I was one of those children. For years my adoptive parents beat me bloody on a regular basis. I’ve been trapped in rooms naked and beaten with belt buckles, hockey sticks, extension cords, and once with a horsewhip.

 I’m not saying this to shock you or to gain pity; I’m just stating fact. I eventually grew tired of living in a prison without walls and ran away when I was 16. What transpired between then and now has been a roller coaster of alcohol, drugs, violence, failed relationships, despair and confusion. Who am I? Where do I come from? Where is my family? Where do I belong? When life’s mystery has been shattered by strangers watching over you, a lot of these questions are lost.

 There has been some good times as well, regardless, but for reasons that I’ve just started to understand, there has always been an impending sense of doom that controlled my actions and behavior, but now that I’ve been clean and sober for 8 months and actually started working on myself I’m beginning to step out of my father’s shadow and into the light of day where life isn’t so murky or such a struggle.

 There are many of us who have been raised in this manner and not just aboriginal people. A myriad of different ethnic groups have suffered the pain and humiliation of being brought up by certain morally bankrupt individuals who seem to get their kicks out of abusing children.

 I shouldn’t neglect to say that there are some, not many, but some Euro-American parents who have raised their adopted aboriginal children in a stable and loving environment. But for the majority of us, living as a young aboriginal person growing up in an environment with that much hostility and disregard is an all too early lesson in pain and loneliness.

 I haven’t even begun to speak about the cultural devastation that occurs when an adopted teenage aboriginal person wakes up one day and realizes just how different they are from the world around them. How differently they are regarded at school, in the mall, on the street, and at home. The racial slurs in public, the condescending looks from strangers that sometimes turns into outright violence, depending on the situation.

 And what about the aboriginal mothers and fathers who will probably never forget the new baby smell that babies always seem to have, and who will never be able to see them again? Can you imagine the profound longing in their hearts that they feel every day their child is gone?

 A lot of us are discarded, lost, and wander into self imposed exile only to be devoured by the system because we have no idea where it is that we belong. We end up being “nowhere people” with absolutely nothing to hang on to; nothing to keep us grounded and safe. We can never go home because the concept of home is lost on us.

 So my hat goes off to those of us who have survived the ordeal with our souls intact and still above ground, and my prayers go out to those who haven’t.

 Many of us are dead. Many of our biological mothers and fathers are dead because the absence of their children forced them to give up, and lose themselves in alcohol or drugs and eventually die from broken hearts.

 I have an urgent appeal to the Canadian government, or any government that advocates the adoption of aboriginal children to Euro-American parents. If you insist upon taking our children away from us, or if they have to be removed for their safety or well being, let aboriginal people handle it. Your paternalism is insulting, and to coin a phrase, “it’s getting old.” Let “us” find a safe environment for them, that is either within or in reasonable proximity of their respective communities, and assist us in doing so.

 We are not all 100% healed, but healing takes time, and we’ve waited 500 years already, I don’t see how a month or two of decision and law making by you will matter much.

 In the meantime, I hope other adopted adult or teenage aboriginal children of these so called parents are listening and remember that no matter how lost you feel, how lonely it is, or how scared you feel, reach out by any means within your power, because somewhere there might be a man and a woman who look just like you and who are bound to you by blood, who never forgot about you, and are still waiting to meet you and invite you back to a place that is your RIGHT to belong in. Your community, your family, and your home.

 Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about an issue that is scarcely recognized. It means the world to me.”

Eric Schweig

Source: Mohican Press

  1. è bello sapere che al mondo esistono uomini come Eric,bellissimi nel corpo ma soprattutto nella anima. Uomini veri,che in un mondo sopraffatto da egoismo e indifferenza sanno uscire dalla propria sofferenza e trasformare il loro vissuto in occasione di aiuto per coloro che ne hanno bisogno.

  2. I grew up without a sense of the Motherland. For many years I was ashamed, but then I understood. You cannot find a Motherland, just having been born on some land. You only can inherit your Motherland from other people who loved this land and loved you.

  3. I am considered to be part Indian and part white…but my heart and my feet are Pure Cherokee…from my mother’s family before her. I can’t blame her for not teaching me the ways of our people…she did not know them herself. I was educated in the American school system that does not recognize the ethnicity of the children who attend. I grew up lonely and sad for something that I knew was missing and I got into trouble for my opinions concerning what had befallen the oboriginal peoples.
    I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Schweig…oboriginal children belong with their own people.
    To take that away leaves one wondering forever searching..never being able to put the pieces together, never knowing who or what you are and what your place is in this world. I was extremely lucky to have great parents, but there is a very sad empty hole in my heart that will never heal and I abused myself because I felt unworthy. Please listen to this wise man when he tells you how it really is. > Linda Megdanis <

  4. I have discover by chance this…..thank you for this testimony.
    But I have now plenty of doubts…..are there many american people in your situation?….are there some of them happy with their adoption? Can we genneralize your experience to inter racial adoptions? Or is it more related with adoptive parents abuse?…..I have plenty os doubts because I am related with the toic and I am having some contradictions to make an opinion. Thank you very much for sharing your experience.

  5. I was very shocked to learn (via Eric) about the Canadian forced assimilation program of native children. I had no idea anything like that happened. (And certainly not in the 20th century.) I think it very brave of him to share his story and speak out on behalf of others who do not have such a voice. The more people know about this awful policy the better. I was entirely ignorant and I have been educated. So thank you, Eric and the best of luck to you.

  6. Elza Ursulina da Silva

    Estou chocada,mais admiro a sua superação poucos consegue seguir em frente,ou ate mesmo se expressar.Te desejo toda sorte e que Deus te abençoe.

    • was here too in Australia.. .God knows why they thought that is was a good thing today..I still think it was a disgusting practice.. .

  7. This speech is absolutely heart breaking. A child is the most precious gift that a parent can create and give unconditional love to. Nobody should have the right to take a child from a parent, unless, as you stated, it’s for the child’s safety or wellbeing, and then let the aboriginal community look out for the child’s welfare.

    I’m so sorry for what happened to you and to other aboriginal children. I’m Caucasian/American and I was raised by my biological parents, both of whom abused me in almost every possible way that you can abuse a child. This went on non-stop for 17 years, at which time I left “home”, never to return again. Some people should not be parents.

    It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply. The curse is that the psychic pain will never completely go away, but the blessing is that it makes you so much more of a compassionate person towards others in general, but especially towards others who have gone through what you’ve gone through.

  8. I have no words to express what Eric spoke about, but am glad he opened my eyes. im grateful he is there to share his experience and making a difference. It matters.funny how no matter the scars,a soul will remain pure and strong. I wish to say also that i am also hurt, his words hurt me in a way, because i feel his anger, like it was directed at me because I am white, though from many backgrounds. We are all connected in love and pain. Grief and Divinity.

  9. This speech is heartbreaking. No human being especially a child should never go through anything like this. I hope there’s a special place in hell for all people involved in those assimilation programs.

    I wish Eric all the best and good luck.

    Hugs from Calgary,

  10. Patricia Whitebear

    Dear Eric, heart-wrenching testament, grabs at those of us who have been in the system, those who are still searching and the families of those whom have siblings still out there. Some reunifications are positive, while others are not, leaving one to be retraumatized again. I did a workshop one year in BC titled “Apples have Roots too” and could not believe how many people have been affected by the loss of their children or siblings and how deep-rooted that loss actually is. Thank you for being their voice and mine too. I now assist those whom advocate for Parents and Grandparents who have no resources when their child(ren) get apprehended. Prayers for your healing journey.

  11. Eric thank you for letting us enjoy your many many talents. I am so sorry for what your the road your life journey has taken you. This has made you into the strong person you are with a LOUD voice for your people. I have always wanted to say this to someone that am so sorry what my people have done to the American Indian. Love your movies. Thought Arbor Live was hilarious. We did not get Blackstone here in Ohio but I found on utube. Where ever your path goes next may God be with you. I would love to one day chat with you for agsin you are an amazing person. Take care, Cindy.

  12. Good for you’re right also about non aboriginal people going through hell..

  13. I was one of those who had a disability and and both parents drank.. my so called father wanted his booze more than his family.. my mother drank herself to death too..we also had the violence to go with it.. See its not just aboriginals that get that.. I’m so glad for us that decided that wasn’t going to be our lives..Well done for getting sober and being such a role model for not just aboriginal kids but all of us.. thankyou ..Love the masks to.. 🙂

  14. Blessing’s to all to awaken to truth and be empowered to THRIVE ON SPIRIT STRONG!

  15. Kimberly Henderson

    Absolutely profound statement. As an adopted child abused by my adoptive parents I can relate to the pain hurt confusion and isolation that carries on and into adulthood,career,relationships,virtually every aspect of ones life. For those of us who survived we are commissioned to bring 9ur change and to reach back to the children still suffering from this government sanctioned abuse.

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