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White Earth Reservation welcoming home its own

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe is hosting a welcome home gathering this weekend for tribal members who were adopted outside the reservation as children.

Organizers of the event, to be held at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, say that during the 1950s and 1960s the reservation lost uncounted children in what advocates call a systematic removal.

The gathering is believed to be the first sponsored by a tribe to welcome back adoptees, said organizer Sandra White Hawk of St. Paul.

"There's never been a tribe that's doing what White Earth is doing," said White Hawk, who was herself adopted, at 18 months, from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and raised by a family in Wisconsin. "This is very historic. I would like to see tribes across the nation do this for their people."

Adoption of reservation children was common for several decades until diminishing markedly after passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Between 1969 and 1974, based on national estimates, between 25 percent and 35 percent of American Indian children were placed for adoption by courts and welfare agencies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

No official count is available of the number of White Earth children who were adopted, many from impoverished homes, but the American Indian Policy Center estimated one in four babies was adopted, along with Red Lake the highest rate among Minnesota reservations.

"That was pretty common years back," said George Fairbanks, a White Earth spiritual elder from Ponsford, who will conduct healing ceremonies at the gathering. "Things have changed drastically."

The White Earth tribe will have enrollment officials at the gathering Saturday and Sunday, with books showing family relations, in the hope of helping adoptees reunite with relatives, Fairbanks said.

Organizers are hoping about 100 will turn out for the gathering, and about 50 have pre-registered, some from as far away as New Mexico, said White Hawk, who first returned to Rosebud in 1988, and has spoken with six of her nine siblings.

"There'll be some heartaches and grief and happiness," Fairbanks said. "We're just hoping a lot of people show up."

If you go:

What: Welcome Home Gathering for White Earth Adoptees

Where: Shooting Star Casino, Mahnomen

When: Saturday and Sunday

Online: For more information or to register, go to the First Nations Orphan Association Web site:

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to