The Dance of My Soul: Adopted into a white family

Janelle Black Owl

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The Dance of My Soul, a personal story by Janelle Black Owl, an enrolled member of The Three Affiliated Tribes of ND (Hidatsa and Mandan) and a member of the Kul Wicasa Oyate-Lower Brule Tribe.

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I was wandering aimlessly around Target, trying to clear my mind of all the things that were running through it, that had no answers or solutions, but just were. As I turned down the aisle, I saw three white women talking and laughing. as I got closer to them, I saw two little girls in jean jumpers, bright pink t-shirts, and white Keds. They were dark skinned with long black hair. They were holding hands and smiled at me as I walked by them. The woman closest to the oldest girl put her hand on the girls arm as she saw me walk by them. The little one has huge chocolate eyes that smiled. As I turned down the next aisle, I looked back and gave them a wave. Both were staring at me expressionless. I could not help but wonder what those girls were doing with that family. It seemed strange at first, and I said a silent prayer that they were being taken care and loved and not abused or neglected. I could not get them off my mind as the familiarity came back to me as I remembered when I was that little girl, holding my sisters hand.

I remember so many times seeing people whom my childhood mind thought looked like me and wondering if they were a part of me. I remember having a hand on my arm whenever a Native American woman would walk by us in a store, as I stared at her and wondered. I wanted SO much to look like someone, to be a part of something. I wanted the emptiness I felt to be filled if ONLY to look like someone. I did not want people to look at me and wonder why I was with this family.

I am often mistaken for anything but what I am. My sister was black and native but never mistaken for anything, because she looked black. We were adopted into the same non-native family. They thought they were protecting us by not letting us associate with anything that was representative of our culture. They tried to make us be like them and taught us the things they could accept. They took us to church and taught us their “Christian” ways; they took us to their parents houses and tried to instill their Norwegian traditions in us. They had their prejudices and any problems that my sister and I encountered, according to them, was because we were native AND we were adopted.

The more they tried to make us be like them; the more we rebelled against it, as we realized that our souls already carried the pain of our ancestors, that were taken from their homes, religious and cultural traditions stripped of them because they were not “christian” or “civil” enough; taken form the people they loved, and the land they called home. We struggled to fit into a culture we did not fit into. We were in a home that was supposed to provide us with our culture, but did the exact opposite. My black sister and my white brother became my strength, as I searched for myself.

When I first met my biological family they never asked about my adoptive family and I never told them. The emptiness returned as I realized that I did not belong in this family either. Just like my adoptive family; they had their prejudices. Based on what they knew, which was nothing, but everything they assumed, my life had been perfect because I was raised in a white family. My biological families became more a part of me as I learned about my ancestors, as I heard stories from my relatives about their boarding school experiences. The more I learned, the more the reality of the government policies that literally gave me life, yet, stripped me of it, began to burn a hole in my heart.

My biological family gave me the sense of identity that has always been a part of me. My adoptive family taught me the kind of person I did not want to be. My adoptive family could not accept me being Indian in their white family; my biological family could not accept me being Indian in their Indian family because I was raised white. Neither could accept me for who I was. I was caught in the middle of two cultures I did not fit into, with two families, but neither could accept everything that was a part of me.

by Janelle Black Owl

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Inside of you is a story...that the world needs to hear. We value your voice and would love to give it a platform to be heard. We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share Your Story

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I Love Ancestry is a global issue advocacy campaign that explores identity, diversity, heritage and culture, highlighting the experiences of marginalized people and Indigenous communities around the world.

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