Native American Adoptee-coming Home
I am a 44 year old adult female adoptee. I began searching for my birth family when I turned 18 years old. I was raised in a wonderful white world, my adoptive parents
were both very loving and always loved me as one of their own children. They are both alive and in their late 80's currently.
I was contacted by my birth family when I was 40 years of age. I was contacted by my half sister Sarah. She was able to inform me of all the information I had been searching for since I turned 18. She informed me that my Birth Mother
had died in 1997. She slowly began to tell me bits and pieces that finally fell into place within my soul. My birth Mother was Cathee Dahmen. She was an enrolled band member of the Minnesota Chippewa, Grand Portage, MN Tribe. She gave birth
to me at the young age of 17 years old. During the early 1960's this was a very shameful position to be in and looked upon as a disgrace to the
"family". Cathee kept me for almost a full year, and it was her Mother, that took me away one day, while Cathee was attending for High School classes and adopted me out. I had been adopted out without my Mothers permission, by her own Mother (my Grandmother).
This angered Cathee, so she decided to move out of State to live with her Uncle George Morrison (Famous Native American Artist). She lived with George and his wife and tried to finish High School in Rhode Island. Since George was an accomplished Artist, Cathee helped out with chores, and also sat as a portrait model. Many of George's friends utilized Cathee's beautiful image and painted her portrait. Eventually a local Photographer wanted to know who the beautiful portrait model was?? Cathee was offered to opportunity to move to NYC and become a Fashion Model! Upon finishing her High School education she moved to NYC and began Modeling, eventualluy becomming one of the first "Super Models" in the late 1968's.
She moved to England and eventually to France, she married an actor. They were married for about 7 years and had one daughter by the name of Sarah. This is the half sister that contacted me. Cathee divorced after 7 years of marriage. Cathee then met another Man and remarried. Cathee and the 2nd Husband were married for about 7 years as well, and divorced sometime in the 1980's.
I of course was amazed at finding out all that I did. I also was provided information on my Birth Fathers side, and was too late in connecting with him as well. T . Conklin Sr. died in 2001. Although he was aware that I existed, he told only one person in his family that I was his daughter, that was his Sister. T. Conklin was an enrolled band member of the White Earth Reservation in White Earth Minnesota. I have been able to connect with that side of the family, and have been welcomed into their existing family unconditionally.
All of my dreams have come true for me. I believe that things happen for a reason, and that technically I have not lost a Parent, because my Parents (adoptive) are still here for me today. Eventually I will lose them both, and I will have two familys to help me cope with my loss.
The only sad part of my story, is that coming home to my Tribe has been a very hurtful process. Keep in mind that I was trying to become enrolled since I turned 18 years old. I have over 25 pages of documentation showing my efforts with the adoption Agency
, pleading that they help assist me with connecting me with the tribe that I was ritefully connected to. Many many years passed by and eventually I gave up, leaving the last time that I tried was 1992.
When I was found, I approached my MN Grand Portage Tribe, was was told that somehow I was enrolled in 1992. My enrollment was linked to Cathee's family. I had been considered a "long lost band member" since 1992. I was amazed that for 10 years was enrolled as a band member and never knew it!! I was also informed that I was due a substantial sum of back per capita payments since that 1992. I was thrilled to find out that not only was I enrolled, but I was also receiving a large sum ($20,000.00) under my enrollment number.
Within two weeks my Tribal Council decided that my 1992 enrollment was an "error" and informed me that there would be no back pay. They were however enrolling me with a new Enrollment Number, however since this was a new number, there would be no money linked to this new number.
I immediately felt the door slammed in my face. I was coming home, and NOT being welcomed. I even felt as if they (Tribal Council) was NOT wanting me as a new band member, much less a "lost band member". After all the years of searching, and being raised in a white world, I felt as if I should just stay where I was. The Indian Community which was suppose to be home was ousting me, and not considering me as one of their own.
You remember the Uncle that Cathee went to live with in Rhode Island? George Morrison, considered one of the Greatest Native American Artists of the 20th century! When the National Museum of the American Indian
was opened in September 2004. George was one of the two main featured Artists, along with Alan Houser.
I attended this Opening and Marched during the First Native's Procession. I marched with my cousin Briand (George's Son) and my Aunt Hazel (George's x-wife). I also marched with the Tribal Council who traveled from Grand Portage to attend this Historic Opening event. The entire time I marched, NOT once did my Tribal Chair ackowledge me! I felt daggers on my back as they marched behind me. This was such a beautiful poinent moment in time for me, and the entire time I felt as if my Tribal Council members were acting as if I did not belong. I did not give in! I belonged there regardless, and I truly believe Cathee would be proud that I am coming into my culture. I am Native American and just because a few insensitive Council members with Power trips will not ruin my right to be there. I have the strength of my birth mother, and I know that she is within me, guiding me with her spirit.
Please share with other Native American Adoptee's to not give up hope. Things will happen at the right time in your life, and to not be afraid of pursuing your culture.
© Suzi Fedorko
Credits: Suzi Fedorko