It was a hot day. A bit warmer than the average Alaskan summer day. I was thankful for the slight breeze as I stood on the dock, counting little heads over and over again. Being a lakefront lifeguard was a bit stressful in itself. Add the fact that the average child here has a bit darker skin color that matches the lake perfectly, and I’m on high alert. A loud, excited shriek from the shore broke my concentration. I looked and saw dust flying everywhere, and when it cleared, I saw the little blond-haired boy with his towel dragging behind him, blazing a trail to the lake.
Nothing would stand in his way of that water, except for me.
The Little Boy
That was my 8th year volunteering for Royal Family KIDS Anchorage. Ever since I found out my biological dad was adopted, I had wanted to adopt or become a foster parent. But here I was, a mom of two sons, in my late 30’s and I had yet to do either. Volunteering for 65 of Alaska’s most vulnerable, marginalized children was the closest I had come so far.
As that sweetly wild boy stopped so he could get a life jacket, he looked up at me with those green eyes, and something in me changed. I felt a pull towards him, one that seemed familiar to my sons. When the camp was over, my heart hurt. Not knowing where he would be or how he was. I began to pray, “Lord, you put this in my heart, if I am to be a part of his life, let it be.”
Two days later, I got a call from a friend asking me to help do respite for a single mom who was fostering two little boys. I said, yes.
Why not? I know how to raise boys, and it’s a great start to doing something for these children outside of camp. Little did I know that the “boy” I would be doing respite for was that wildly sweet boy at the lakefront. Imagine if I had said no!! God truly works all things for His good, just like the scripture says.
“And we know that in ALL things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28
What can I do?
That foster parent would tell me this little boy with green eyes was a demon, and I should keep him.
Her words shocked and horrified me. As I tried to sleep, eat, or even watch a movie in my warm house, on my soft couch with my popcorn, I was in constant torment. What can I do? Where do I start? My life is so easy right now. Wouldn’t taking in a child change everything? Wouldn’t it be hard? I’m close to empty nesting. What am I thinking?!
The words of my friend from camp, Sandra Bauer, came into my head, “God is calling me into REFIREMENT,” not retirement. The next day I called our local Office of Children’s Services and began the process to become a foster parent. Not just a foster parent, but HIS foster parent.
Indian Child Welfare Act
The paperwork tedious, and the phrase “No stone left unturned” would become real. I would wait six months before he came to live with me. August 21, 2017. I was told he was “free,” which is foster care lingo for adoptable, and right there, I understood that I would have three sons. What I wasn’t prepared for was the color of my skin might get in the way of providing this child, who had no home, a home, and a family.
It turns out this pale-skinned, blonde-haired, green-eyed little boy was Alaska Native, and I was not.
According to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978, a native child needs to be with a native family to promote and preserve the security of native tribes, family, and culture. I was told I would not be able to adopt the child I had come to love because I was white. Although it was a bitter road to travel for someone who appreciates culture and colors, I believe love conquers all, but sometimes you have to fight for it. So at that moment, I had a decision to make. I could be angry, or I could fight. Fight for understanding, for wisdom and for love.
“Love conquers all, but you have to fight for it. “
Embracing the Tlingit Culture
I would need to embrace the Tlingit culture if I was to love and embrace this child. So I chose to do just that. I chose to learn and be humble. First, I contacted the Yakutat tribe and requested a meeting. Then, I invited the ICWA coordinator to come to Anchorage to meet so I could learn. I wanted to show them who I was and how happy and safe “D” was in my home.
I want to say I won them over right away, but that’s not the truth. It wasn’t easy. It was uncomfortable. The law was set in place 40 years ago. And my first step was to learn why ICWA was ever needed in the first place and why it is important today. If I wanted to adopt and raise this little boy, I would need to embrace all of him, his culture, his family, his past, his present, and his future.
I would need to seek understanding.
“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.”Proverbs 3:13
During the whole foster and adoption process, I learned that adoption, although so wonderful just like I thought like a child, is also painful. It is painful and joyful for the child. They are gaining a home and a family, but they are also losing the chance to ever go back to their birth family. I learned the importance of keeping him close to his culture to be close to his family members.
Because in the Alaska Native culture, unlike the one I grew up in, it embraces everyone as auntie, uncle, or cousin.
So I would too. I would be an “addition” to his life, and we would attend cultural events, fish camps, and Native Youth Olympics. Did you know that Alaska Natives have a name for their children who are multiracial? Love birds. Isn’t that beautiful?
Not only am I an addition to D’s life, but he and his culture are an addition to mine. An example of this happened in July 2018. D and I were invited to participate in Celebration in Juneau, Alaska. Celebration is a week-long gathering of all Alaska Native peoples to celebrate unity, diversity, and culture as one. At Celebration I was given a copper love bird bracelet to symbolize being part of this family. Along with that, I received the Tribe’s blessing to adopt D, which happened Dec. 31, 2018. In 2019 D’s baby sister came to live with me. When they called this time, I didn’t have to fight for her, because we are FAMILY.