- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

BYLAS, Ariz. She waited in the social services office while her husband went for a walk. They were a long way from home in Ames, Iowa, and more than a little nervous.
They were about to meet their new son.
Linda and Laurent Hodges had seen a blurb in the newspaper about Indian children needing permanent homes. They liked the Southwest and were intrigued by Indian culture. Most of all, they had been unable to conceive and desperately wanted a child.
They contacted Iowa social services and put in a request: Could they adopt an Indian baby?
The couple had heard tales of Indian children being snatched from their families without cause, under the pretense of rescuing them from a life of poverty and despair. So when they learned that Arizona officials had a 4-month-old Apache boy available, they checked the circumstances.
The mother was unmarried, an alcoholic. The father was out of the picture. The boy's older brother was in foster care, and his sister already had been adopted. This child lived in yet another foster home.
On June 2, 1970, the Hodgeses arrived at the social services office southeast of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. Before her husband had even returned, Mrs. Hodges saw the social worker coming with a baby the color of milk chocolate, wearing a sky blue shirt and diapers. He had a tuft of brown hair and huge eyes to match. "He likes orange juice," his foster mother had scribbled in a notebook she sent with the child. "He isn't a cry baby."
They named him Andrew, and the boy with dark skin and big brown eyes took his place among his new white family in middle America far from his tribe and his heritage, far from the relatives the Hodgeses knew nothing about.
It would be 26 years before Andrew would return.
This year, the head of the Child Welfare League of America offered American Indians something they had longed to hear for more than three decades: an apology for taking their children.
From 1958 to 1967, the league, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, worked with social workers across the country to aid in the adoptions of Indian children into non-Indian families.
Those who created the Indian Adoption Project said it stemmed from a study showing 1,000 Indian children were legally available for adoption but in foster care or being passed from family to family on a reservation, living in poverty and destitution.
To American Indians, the project was yet another attempt by the U.S. government to assimilate Indians into white society, another attempt to "kill the Indian, save the man" or, in this case, the child.
"It was genuinely believed that Indian children were better off in white homes," says Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. "The philosophy was that Indian people would disappear and blend into society."
In all, 395 children from 16 states were adopted through the project. However, the long-term effect was greater. The Child Welfare League wrote about the project and encouraged member agencies to continue to promote such adoptions.
Andrew grew up amid the corn fields and college life of Ames, Iowa, a mostly white, middle- to upper-class university town. His father, a Harvard graduate of English and French descent, taught physics at Iowa State. His mother, a blend of American and Austrian, was a free-lance writer.
For as long as he can remember, Andrew knew he was adopted and that he was Indian. Until high school, he was the only dark-skinned guy in class. And, somehow, the empty dirt fields after an Iowa harvest reminded him of a reservation he'd visited only once as a little boy while vacationing in Arizona.
Yet Andrew knew nothing about his native culture or his real family. It never occurred to him to ask. He was a Hodges, and an Iowan like any other a boy who detasseled corn for extra money, worked on airplane and car models, and howled with laughter at Laurel and Hardy films.
"I didn't really think about it," he says. "I had everything I needed with my family in Iowa."
Back on the reservation, a grandmother he'd never met enrolled him in the tribe. An aunt wondered where he was, whether he thought about them. A cousin didn't even know he existed.
Shay Bilchik, the head of the Child Welfare League who made the apology to Indians earlier this year, calls the adoption project "narrow-minded thinking" something "very hurtful to those children and their families."
By 1974, some 25 percent of Indian children had been removed from their homes, placed in foster care, adoptive homes, institutions or boarding schools. The majority were cared for by non-Indians.
That started to change in 1978, with passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The law says that if Indian children are removed from their homes, social workers must first try to place them with extended family, other tribal members or a different tribe before allowing adoption by non-Indians. The law also gives tribes jurisdiction over child-welfare cases, allowing them to intervene in adoption proceedings.
Today, 12.5 percent of Indian children are in out-of-home care, but many of those are with extended family, according to Mr. Cross of the Indian child welfare association.
While the numbers have improved, the legacy of the Indian Adoption Project lingers.
Even now, Mr. Cross cites problems. Sometimes social workers aren't properly trained to identify children as Indians. Or agencies fail to notify tribes of adoptions.
However, the true legacy of the project lies with the children adopted during that time and since, the ones they call the "Lost Birds."
In 1996, when Andrew was 26 years old, he went with his parents to the county courthouse to help a friend track down the child she had given up for adoption years earlier. There, the idea struck. "Mom," he said, "we should try that."
Within a week, Mrs. Hodges had called the social services office in Arizona, armed only with the name of Andrew's birth mother. A social worker asked a colleague if the name sounded familiar. The colleague happened to be one of Andrew's cousins.
Andrew's brother called a few days later.
Over Mother's Day weekend 1996, Andrew returned to the San Carlos Apache Reservation to reunite with his family his brother, Leo, who grew up in a foster home on the reservation; his maternal grandmother, Regina, who had enrolled him in the tribe; and a slew of aunts, uncles and cousins.
Andrew moved to Arizona in 1997. He lives and works in Phoenix, and returns to the reservation whenever he can. He is learning about his culture, and proudly shows off his tribal enrollment card.

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