Healing and Protecting Our Wounded Children: Interview with Florence K. Fiddler, Turtle Mountain, N.D.

Photographs and article by Danny Beaton

My kids are saying what are you going to talk about Ma, I was thinking what always is important to me is our children, and I thought what’s important to our children’s future is so inter-connected. If we don’t do something for the environment what are we leaving for our children. If we don’t do something for the children in our family, then nothing is important, our children are the most important thing, if our children are important then everything is important. Our children are definitely the most important thing for us.

I got my first foster license when I was eighteen years old. My sister did foster care before that, you know Indian families, they always have some children around. There is an inter connectedness of those people who are having these meetings to figure out what’s the answer, what are we going to do for these kids. I go to these different meetings, I’m really blessed because my life crosses a lot at these different places. I work with these kids, a lot of people are kind of patient with my goofyness, they let me in. So I go to these meetings and they are always talking about what’s the answer, what’s the answer. It is that all these issues are so connected and we attack one peace, and it’s a little of the answer, but society as a whole is probably the issue, and that we don’t take care of our kids, we are not taking care of all these things that make the world right for our kids.

Look at these older women who are still with us, and they’re at our circles and they’re relaxed and they’re laughing, talking. When you think of everything they had to go through, to get to that day. I mean by God could we do that today, survive, what they survived. I know a lot of really strong people in this world, and especially a lot of strong women. So I think we could do that again, but I know my ma had to work really hard and my dad had to work really hard especially with those disabilities to get to that point where our family was intact in spite of all the issues and problems for some of my siblings, who did really fine with their lives.

Our kids today are suffering terribly and half the time we don’t even know it. We don’t know how much they’re suffering. I know ever morning during the school year I got to get those babies up and get them ready and send them out to that school. I feel like I am sending them off to war, because what they have to face. Each generation has its struggle, each generation has its struggle for survival and we want to think its getting better. I never have fancy clothes or make-up and all of that stuff. Because I think if don’t get all those fancy things, then I can use that money to get my children’s life further. Like my mother sacrificed, so my life could go further than hers. If I sacrifice, my children’s life will go farther than my own. I look at my kids and I say holy shit they’re still struggling. I realize every generation is going to have a struggle, but what is the struggle for, to try and keep our kids out of the gangs, still fighting the whole issue of a toxic population, still fighting the whole issue of genocide, still fighting racism. I almost liked it better when I was younger and they just hit us with sticks and put us in jail or whatever.

I think this institutionalized racism is harder to fight, because people who might be our allies its harder for them to see institutionalized racism. Last year we had a fight to keep my granddaughter out of group home, they wanted us to put her into group home because she had troubles. They thought the best idea was a group home. If she gets into a group home, they’re going to medicate her, and you’ll never know who she is. So we had to fight for her, because she was a kid. A lot of the people who helped win that fight and we did win, a lot of the people who helped us win were white people. Non native lawyers. Just because the mother was toxic didn’t mean she was a bad mother, don’t get me wrong. There’s toxic women out there who can’t raise their children right now, but they love their babies. This girls mother loved her, she loves her children but she just can’t raise them right now. Just because she has addiction issues doesn’t mean that her and I are not allies. It’s the system that wants to set this up that her and I are antagonistic. The system does not want me and that birth mother to be allies.

We’re looking at third and fourth generations, so we need to be protecting those children. My grand daughter’s generation and at the same time I don’t think we should be throwing my mother’s generation away. There’s too much to throw away.

Indian Identity

How does the government figure out who is Indian. In the USA part of the genocide practice is that people are brainwashed into thinking that blood degree is an enrollment safe enough. Part of the genocide practice was to say when you cannot document one quarter blood, then one quarter blood in any tribe, then you’re not Indian any more.

Full bloods could not sell their land just a couple of generations ago, so they invented a scratch test where they scratch your arm and count how many seconds for it to disappear and then they decide you’re not full blood. You can sell your land for a nickel, they stole our land. You have kids walking around, they might be from ten different tribes all together yet they might be full blood kids. You saw my kids Danny, do any of them look none native, not one of my kids have enough documented Indian blood to be enrolled and recognized by the government as Indian children. As far as the government of the United States is concerned all those dark little babies I have, they’re all white therefore are not protected by Indian child welfare laws. As far as the government is concerned those are white children. This is genocide, its institutionalized genocide. There’s a man here who calls it disenfranchised. When you’re dealing with that traditional world, never at ceremonies has anybody said “Let me see that enrollment card, let me see your Indian card, what is your blood degree, want is your blood quantum”. You go to ceremonies and people just want to see that you’re sincere. I love the way I’m treated by traditional Indian people when they are living their culture and they know their traditional values. Whenever I go to ceremonies people ask you what help do you need, people want to reach out their hand to you, that’s the way we were in the old days, that’s our way of life. This whole process of blood degree and enrollment which loses those children if you’re not enrolled you cannot have that trust land, you lose your identity, you lose your land, you lose your education rights, you lose your health rights, all of the treaty rights, you lose. You could be a full blood Indian and not be recognized as an Indian, unfortunately a large number of our people have fallen to that same trap that thinking “Oh that’s right, they’re not Indian because they’re not enrolled”, enrollment is not a process that our people came up with, it was a government process. A colonization activity. Here we are brainwashed because we’re educated by their system.

I get up in the morning and I want coffee, I’m just an Indian woman doing what needs to be done, but I want my coffee. This is our dichotomy we’re walking these two paths. It can be from people like me who walks both paths, like being a bridge, because I have to be able to work with this white system and communicate with them on their level, I have to know what they’re saying so I know when they are lying and when they’re coming to hurt the kids. I have to understand them to some degree to protect our kids but I can’t understand them so well that I become one of them. I have to understand this traditional world well enough also because if I’m not bringing those children back to who they’re supposed to be, I’m not doing my job either. (DB- “you’re a beautiful woman for saying the things you just said”).

It’s a crazy life! Twenty years ago I went to Janet McCloud and she is one strong woman and a warrior. And I talked to Betty Laverdure I said “Can I quit now because I have worked with a lot of kids, I felt like I had done a pretty good job.” She just laughed. The last time we were in Montana I said to Betty and I reminded her what she had said “Keep doing this work with our children” and I said Betty I’m fifty years old now, can I quit now? This time she really had a good laugh and she said you are doing a great job.

These old people are not going to give me permission to quit, the children don’t give me permission to quit, because its work that has to be done. These kids that come to live with me are really high level kids that probably came out of an institution or group home, mental institution or health hospital, they came out of them institutions to live in my home, or they got here and they would have been placed in an institution. Every one of them kids would have been medicated and not one of them kids is medicated now, now there has been a few over the years, I know some kids needed medication, but nine times out of ten it’s a process of detoxifying them kids from the medication that makes it easy for adults to work with them. And we wonder why we are living in a toxic society, we are teaching these children as very young children, to be drug addicted. We don’t like the way they behave so instead of working really hard and concentrating our efforts on changing that behavior, we just medicate them for an easy way to take care of them.

At the Sundance that’s an individual experience, but it takes everybody involved to make the arbour, get that tree up, take care of those songs, the prayer is my prayer, but it takes a lot of people. It’s back to that interconnectedness, the answer for those children is an interconnected answer, there isn’t a single answer. There’s places in Manitoba that we go Sundance, when I pull into that Sundance camp, all those people come over to help me. A lot of people think being a single woman must be hard to have all these kids. But I have a community, this is tribal thinking, we have to go back to that. Not just native people, not just indigenous people, but every peoples as a whole, all cultures, all societies need to go back to that tribal thinking. Because when you have tribal thinking you see yourself as a small part of a whole and all of a sudden you become responsible for that whole picture, we are destroying our Mother Earth therefore we are hurting our children. If we are not taking care of our families we are not taking care of Mother Earth. I don’t have any problem driving two thousand miles to go to Sundance with a pile of fetal alcohol children. ‘Cause I know when I get to that camp all those people are going to help me, they’re going to make sure we get our tent up, they’re going to make sure we got what we need, they’re going to make sure if I’m down there at the arbor, someone is watching out for our kids. No one has ever said your kids are too damaged to come to our ceremonies, no one has ever said your kids are too wild. Our elders say bring your kids we understand these issues. The elders understand through our ceremonies our children will find healing and if it takes some extra effort and extra energy to have these damaged kids at the ceremonies. The people who are running them ceremonies know it will take extra energy to run them ceremonies for those children, it will take extra effort for those kids. The community that supports that ceremony, yes, they have to put in more time because we have fetal alcohol children, we have drug affected children, we have a variety of handicapped children coming to ceremonies here in the bush, that takes extra effort and extra energy on everybody’s time. I have no problem going to Sundance because everybody helps me.