ASU holds panel and preview screening for Native American heritage month

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Audience members stand and bow their heads as Jerry Dearly, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and a singer of songs of the Lakota tribe, says a prayer before the preview screening of “Blood Memory” on Nov. 20, 2016 in the Beus Center for Law and Society on ASU’s downtown Phoenix campus. (Jonmaesha Beltran/DD)

In commemoration of Native American heritage month, ASU’s American Indian Social Work Student Association hosted a panel discussion and preview screening of the film “Blood Memory.” 

The film, an independent documentary and outreach project directed by Drew Nicholas, revisits the history of forced separation and the Indian Child Welfare Act during the American Indian Adoption Era.  

Jerry Dearly, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and a singer of songs for the Lakota tribe, began the evening with a prayer.

Afterwards, attendees were shown a preview of the never-before-seen movie, which followed the story of Sandy White Hawk, the founding director of the First Nations Repatriation Institute. Removed from her Sicangu Lakota relatives at 18 months old, she was adopted by a Christian mission couple.

The film also highlighted Mark Fiddler, a private-practice attorney, former founding director of the Indian Child Welfare Law Center and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Fiddler argued on behalf of a white adoptive couple in the United States Supreme Court case: Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl in 2013, in which the court bypassed the Indian Child Welfare Act and placed a Cherokee child in a non-Native home.

After the screening, a panel moderated by Malia Seronio, a master’s student and secretary of the American Indian Social Work Student Association, discussed the process of creating the film. 

After Dearly created a song for adoptees, he and White Hawk began hosting events to welcome relatives separated through adoption or foster care back home.

An adoptee living in Pittsburgh heard about the work White Hawk and Dearly were doing and later happened to be at the same coffee shop as producer Nicholas. He told him about the duo’s work. 

Shortly after Nicholas connected with White Hawk, he was asked to film a Powwow in 2010. The documentary took off soon after.

During filming, the Supreme Court case: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, also known as The Baby Veronica case, helped Nicholas refine his own perspective on how the Indian Child Welfare Act affects Native American children.

During the late 19th and 20th centuries, many Native American children were forced by the Federal Government to leave their homes and families. They were placed into boarding schools, orphanages or adopted by non-Native Americans in order to assimilate into mainstream culture, according to The Indian Child Welfare Act Law Center.

In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law protecting the best interest of Indian children. The act promoted stability and security for Indian tribes and families by establishing minimum federal standards for removal of Indian children and placement in homes which reflect the unique values of Indian culture, according to National Indian Child Welfare Association.

“It’s real and those are real stories and you just realize that these things happen, said Sedale Sanden, a junior studying supply chain management at ASU. “I never really knew about it either until I watched this film. Just seeing how impactful that was, kind of hurt.”

From left, Drew Nicholas, producer of “Blood Memory,” speaks along the side of Oglala Lakota tribe member Jerry Dearly, Sandy White Hawk, founding director of First Nations Repatriation Institute, and fellow “Blood Memory” producer Megan Whitmer, during a panel on the preview screening in the Beus Center for Law and Society on Nov. 20, 2018. (Jonmaesha Beltran/DD)

White Hawk founded First Nations Repatriation Institute, formerly known as First Nations Orphan Association, an organization providing assistance in the process of healing and returning home for First Nations people impacted by foster care and adoption, according to First Nations Repatriation Institute.

Audience members thanked the panelists for sharing the story with a younger generation and non-natives. 

“I think all the stories were really emotional for me. Obviously, it’s really hard to tell some of those memories,” said Graham Disbrow, an American Indian Studies major at ASU.

Blood Memory will be released in 2019, followed by an educational distribution campaign throughout North America. 

Contact the reporter at j[email protected]

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