Blood Memory: A Story of Removal and Return and Discussion with Sandy White Hawk

Photo credit: National Archives - Division of Indian Health

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On Nov. 9 the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to overturn the Indian Child Welfare Act, which has kept most Native children with Indian families since 1978. Sandy White Hawk was taken from her Lakota tribe at 18 months and adopted by a white woman who abused her. Her research with Ohio State Assistant Professor Ashley Landers shows that Native adoptees and fostered individuals are more likely to be abused, suffer from depression and consider suicide than other adoptees. Their work was submitted to SCOTUS in an effort to preserve the legislation.

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You can access the documentary through the Columbus Metropolitan Library system or the Ohio State Library.

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Sandra White Hawk is a Sicangu Lakota adoptee from the Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota. She is the founder and director of First Nations Repatriation Institute, the first organization whose goal is to create a resource for First Nations people impacted by foster care or adoption to return home, reconnect and reclaim their identity. The institute also serves as a resource to enhance the knowledge and skills of practitioners who serve First Nations people.

White Hawk organizes Truth Healing Reconciliation Community Forums that bring together adoptees/fostered individuals and their families and professionals, with the goal to identify post adoption issues and to identify strategies that will prevent removal of First Nations children. She also has initiated an ongoing support group for adoptees and birth relatives in the Twin Cities, Minnesota area. 

White Hawk is the Elder in Residence at the Indian Child Welfare Law Office, Minneapolis, and is a consultant for the Tribal Training Certification Program, University of Duluth, Minnesota.

She is a spokesperson on the issues of the adoption and the foster care system and how First Nations People have been impacted. She has traveled throughout the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Australia and Japan, sharing her inspirational story of healing. 

She served as Commissioner for the Maine Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission and served as an Honorary Witness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools in Canada.

She serves on the boards of: The Legal Rights Center of Minneapolis and The Association for American Indian Affairs.

Sandy White Hawk
Ashley Landers headshot

Ashley L. Landers, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Human Development and Family Science program, Department of Human Sciences within the college. She is a community-engaged family scientist who conducts research in partnership with First Nations Repatriation Institute, which focuses on the permanency, health and well-being of Indigenous/American Indian/Alaska Native families in child welfare.

Landers’ research examines what happens to American Indian/Alaska Native children and families following family separation (e.g., foster care, adoption, reunification), and how these children and families fare (e.g., maltreatment recurrence, mental health problems, behavioral health disparities).

Findings from a decade-long partnership with the First Nations Repatriation Institute translate into policy and practice by providing support for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). They also support Tribal efforts to address the detrimental impact of the systematic removal of American Indian/Alaska Native children.

Research from the collaborative partnership was recently cited in a Tribal Amicus Brief for an ICWA case in the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as by the World Health Organization in a report on preventing violence against children. Ashley has published over 25 articles on family separation, child welfare and reunification and presented at over 40 local, national and international conferences.

Landers was an “Eyes High” Postdoctoral Scholar with the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, from 2016 to 2017. She was an assistant professor at Virginia Tech prior to joining Ohio State in 2021. Landers is an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Clinical Fellow, Approved Supervisor and Minority Fellowship Program Alumna.

She is an editorial board member for the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy and a 2022 Health Disparities Research Institute Scholar with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. In 2022, she was awarded the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development’s Alumni Award of Excellence and the AAMFT Minority Fellowship’s Mentor of the Year in 2019 and Dissertation Award in 2017.