Native Generations

I was going to write about this in my [Friday Wrap Up] for the week, but an hour later it became clear to me that this deserved to be its own blog post. So, with a full heart, here it is.

A friend of mine shared this video exploring the Urban Indian Health Institute’s Native Generations project, which aims to increase awareness about disparities in AI/NA infant mortality. The video eloquently argues that there is value in prenatal and postpartum support that is culturally relevant to the needs of the AI/NA community–that in fact, this kind of support is a crucial piece of promoting strong, healthy families. The history of forced removal of AI/NA children from their families has resulted in several generations of the community being disconnected from their cultural heritage and parenting traditions, exacerbating the health disparities that are prevalent in Native communities across the country.

One of the goals of the UIHI’s project is to create safe places where the AI/NA urban community can come together to rebuild those connections. They understand the interconnections between physical and emotional health on both an individual and community level. Again, the power of group care and support is evident throughout this video. These are the spaces where new parents feel supported in their own journeys, where they can acknowledge their whole selves and receive health care that is not just “culturally competent” or “culturally sensitive,” but culturally affirming.

It makes me tear up a little just thinking about it, because as a Korean adoptee, I couldn’t help but be struck by some of the parallels between the practice of removal of AI/NA children and the trans-national/trans-racial adoption. A second generation of Korean adoptees in both the US and Europe are now growing up and becoming parents, trying to figure out how we want to raise our children. We straddle several cultures and also have our own unique adoptee culture…but I know several adult adoptees who have spoken about that deep longing that emerges upon becoming a parent to reconnect to their own roots. It’s very powerful stuff. Jerilyn Church, former ED of the American Indian Health & Family Services, is quoted in the video

Many of our families are second and third generation removed from our homelands…[they] are grandchildren of those who survived boarding schools. I find a real reverence and respect for that history and all also this collective longing to heal that history.

I think there are many adoptees who would recognize that collective longing–it often emerges when we become parents ourselves and are faced with the reality of a huge missing piece of our family history that we can’t pass on to our children.

To be clear: I am not saying that trans-national adoptees face the same systemic oppression and disparities that the AI/NA community does. Adoptees often benefit from white privilege and in fact, adoptees are the unwitting beneficiaries of an immigration system that favors them and their (often white, middle and upper-class) parents over the many thousands of immigrants that struggle to make it in the U.S. But, I do see parallels in the experience of cultural disconnect, and it is from this place that my heart really resonates with the programs that the UIHI are creating to re-establish that community and support new families. This is a video that is going to stick with me for a while…and I think it is going to deeply inform the way I approach my work as a midwife working with families during the childbearing year.