A Child of the Indian Race: A Story of Return

A Child of the Indian Race: A Story of Return

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An adoptee reconnects with the Lakota family and culture she was born into—and nurtures a new tradition that helps others to do the same.

In the 1950s, when Sandy White Hawk was a toddler, she was taken from her Lakota family on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her adoption papers identify her as “a child of the Indian race,” and her adoptive mother never let her forget it, telling her she was unwanted and shaming her for being “Indian.” White Hawk medicated her traumas with drugs and alcohol. At age twenty-eight, she gained sobriety and reconnected with her birth relatives. As she learned what it means to be Lakota, she also learned that thousands of Native adoptees shared her experience—left to navigate racial and cultural complexities as children, with no way to understand what was happening to them.

Mentored by a respected elder, White Hawk began to work with relatives who also had been separated by adoption and foster care, taken away from their families and communities. Fighting through her feelings of inadequacy, she accepted that she could use her voice to advocate. Ultimately, White Hawk founded the First Nations Repatriation Institute, an organization that addresses the post-adoption issues of Native American individuals, families, and communities.

White Hawk lectures and presents widely on the issues around adoption. She exposes the myth that adoption is a path to protecting "unwanted children" from "unfit mothers," offering a child a "better chance at life." Rather, adoption, particularly transracial adoption, is layered in complexities. “A Child of the Indian Race” is Sandy White Hawk's story, and it is the story of her life work: helping other adoptees and tribal communities to reconcile the enormous harms caused by widespread removals.


"Of all human rights assaults on Native peoples in the United States, the stealing of Native children is perhaps the most heartbreaking. Adopted by a white couple, Sandy White Hawk grew up without cultural defenses against the onslaught of racism and erasure she experienced. Her eloquent, riveting book takes the reader on her journey back home and toward her life’s work: helping Native families to reconnect and, together, face down generations of trauma."
Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee), writer, curator, policy advocate, and recipient of a 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom

"In this profoundly moving memoir, Sandy White Hawk, Sicangu Lakota, speaks eloquently of her life as a young child adopted by a white family. It is an intensely personal story of resilience and perseverance in spite of trauma, racism, and painful truths. At the core of her healing is her tribe’s Welcome Home song and ceremony for adoptees. To all Native adoptees, this book is a must read. Welcome home."
Denise Lajimodiere (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa), author of Stringing Rosaries: The History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors

"Worthy of a novel—but true. A young child is transported to a strange place where she is challenged to overcome events no child should have to face. She lives in a world that doesn’t recognize or accept her, all the while being told that this is in her own best interest. This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit that finds love, acceptance, and purpose in restoring hope to others who were also lost.
William A. Thorne, Jr. (Pomo and Coast Miwok), retired tribal and state court judge

"Since the 1870s, first through boarding schools and then through forced adoptions, federal bureaucrats have permanently removed Native children from their families. Their goal was the erasure of Native people; the result was trauma and severely damaged families. Sandy White Hawk, who lived this adoption experience, has become a strong advocate for Native people and Native families. In this compelling and immensely readable story, her compassion and dignity shine through."
Anita Fineday (White Earth Tribal Nation), managing director, Indian Child Welfare Program, Casey Family Programs

“Sandy White Hawk is 'a child of the Indian race.' This is her powerful memoir of coming home to the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota as an 'Indian adoptee.' It is a story of much suffering and great courage, and it highlights the indelible importance of song, ceremony, culture, and landscape in the arduous journey towards truth, reconciliation, and healing. It is also a journey greatly facilitated by the vision and hard work of many Native mentors, families, and communities. Read this book. It will change you."
Frank Pommersheim, professor of law and associate justice, Rosebud Sioux Tribe Supreme Court

About the Author

Sandy White Hawk is a Sicangu Lakota adoptee from the Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota. She is the founder and director of First Nations Repatriation Institute, which offers resources for First Nations people impacted by foster care or adoption to return home, reconnect, and reclaim their identity. White Hawk is the Director of Healing Programs at the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and was formerly an elder-in-residence at the Indian Child Welfare Law Office in Minneapolis. She is the subject of several documentaries, including Blood Memory: A Story of Removal and Return.

Gene Thin Elk (Sicangu Nation) is an internationally known consultant in the area of Indigenous healing methods.

Terry Cross (Seneca Nation) is the founding executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. He is the author of the Heritage and Helping and Positive Indian Parenting curriculum, as well as Cross-Cultural Skills in Indian Child Welfare.
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Minnesota Historical Society Press (December 6, 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 232 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1681342413
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1681342412
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 12.8 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.75 x 9 inches

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