On June 9, 2013, as our family honors the June 9, 2004 anniversary of Roland J. Morris, Sr.’s passing, I feel called to bring his memory and his brave actions to the attention of our newest members and supporters, many who may be unfamiliar with Roland’s legacy.
Roland and I founded CAICW in February 2004 to fill a critical need for all families affected by the ICWA and the destructive forces of reservation life. In my book, ‘Dying in Indian Country,’ I chronicle our family’s own struggles and losses as a result of Indian policy, our decision to leave and our ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ. Roland and I both believed then, as I still do now, that the solutions to the problems we seek to expose and resolve rest in the hands of God. Even on the hardest days, we must trust Him to provide the direction and the answers to our prayers. In the meantime, CAICW remains committed to our original Christian ministry to share His Word while advocating for families at risk of harm due to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Our efforts are judicial and educational, as well as a prayer resource for families and a shoulder to cry on.
Roland, of 100% heritage, spoke Ojibwe as his first language. He was born and raised on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota and spent his entire life watching friends and family die—physically, spiritually and emotionally—from the effects of alcoholism, drugs, violence and suicide. He himself was a survivor of these destructive behaviors and the more he came to know God, the more convinced he became that monumental change was needed to help his people.
He was especially concerned for the children and distressed by the lack of concern he witnessed by many adults within Indian country. He longed for the self-destruction to stop. God led Roland to step out and speak up for change in Indian country. It took great courage to do so then and it still does. Today, nine years after Roland’s passing, instead of hearing about positive change in Indian country, we continue to witness more of the same abuse and neglect, but on a much larger, more evil scale. And yet, tribal and federal government officials continue to turn a blind eye to the situation.
Roland was particularly concerned about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), whose dictates perpetuate the abuse of children with Indian heritage by entrapping them in corrupt tribal systems. Instead of providing for the best concerns and welfare of children, this law has served to financially prop up corrupt tribal governments, more often serving the best interest of the tribe, social workers and federal officials than the children it is suppose to serve. The most high profile example of the complications and abuse of this law today are exemplified by the “Baby Veronica” case heard in April 2013, by the United States Supreme Court. In Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, two-year-old Veronica had been given for adoption as a newborn by her non-Indian mother, only to be later removed from the only home she ever knew on the basis of 1.12% Cherokee heritage.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down their ruling this month.
Not long before Roland’s passing, in April 2004, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a series by Larry Oakes entitled, ‘The Lost Youth of Leech Lake,’ which chronicled many horrific accounts of destruction and despair happening to the children of Leech Lake. While the series initially caused a great stir, in the end it was not enough to bring about any significant change.
One of the victims highlighted in the series became an integral part of CAICW’s continued mission to expose the abuses in Indian country and urge action to bring positive change. Sierra Goodman, who was first given to a man to be used for sex at the age of ten, attempted to run away more than a dozen times to return to the only family she felt loved and safe with—a non-Indian foster family she had initially been placed with then taken away from because of the ICWA. After attempting to hang herself at the age of 16, Sarah was finally allowed to return to the family who loved her. This past February, Sierra joined CAICW in Washington, D.C. to personally tell her story to lawmakers and urge them to make changes to the ICWA by sighting the physical and emotional damage she has suffered as a result of the law.
As Roland spoke out against Indian policy, he appeared in numerous newspaper articles across the country. On May 14, 2004, Washington Times reporter Jennifer Lehner wrote:
“Mr. Morris said that once children are relocated to the reservations, they are subject to the corrupt law of the tribal government. Instead of preserving culture…the tribal leadership uses the ICWA to acquire funds provided through the legislation…ICWA is supposed to help children, but instead it helps tribal governments.”
Nine years later, tribal governments are no less corrupt, and the ICWA has become an integral funding source for all tribal issues. Lawyers, social service programs, social service workers, care providers, grant writers, foundations and tribal leadership are all getting rich as a result of this law. In the meantime, the children continue to suffer. In the past year, people we have seen new voices speaking to these concerns. The New York Times and Frontline’s Kind Hearted Woman documentary revealed these same issues and the abuses taking place on the Spirit Lake Reservation of North Dakota. Thomas Sowell penned the article, “Whose Welfare? The Injustice of the Indian Child Welfare Act,” in a January 2013 National Review Online article, while former Oglala Sioux Tribal Judge Patrick Lee recently wrote about the problems in his article “Why I filed a complaint against the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council.”
After attending a South Dakota conference in May that was aimed at hearing the grievances of reservation tribal members affected by the ICWA, native author David Rooks penned an article in the Rapid City Journal titled, “Rooks: Questions unasked, unanswered.” Rook is brave enough to write,
“Have there been problems with the implementation of ICWA? You bet. But while we’re gathered, let’s ask some additional questions. Questions, perhaps, no one wants to ask, like: Why are so many Native children winding up in foster care?”
He goes on to state,
“If we’re to be honest, we’ll look at each other and ask: What is going on with our families? What really is the problem? How do we restore our own cultural imperatives? How do we—not someone else—mend our own Sacred Hoop? Yes, children are sacred. Why is it so many of ours need to flee our people to be safe?”
Yes, like Roland did, people are finding their voices to bravely speak out and expose the truth, but after 13 Mandated Reports about the abuse of children on the Spirit Lake, SD reservation and NOT ONE SINGLE action being taken is it possible that change will never come to Indian country? Are the problems in Indian country just another long-running scandal the federal government is working 24-7 to keep in the dark? In honor of Roland, and most importantly for the sake of the children, I urge you to continue to vigilantly monitor and speak up about these atrocities. The U.S. Constitution defends the rights of all U.S. citizens and CAICW is calling on our government to equally protect children of all heritages.
In memory of Minnesota Chippewa tribal member Roland J. Morris, Sr., the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare is sponsoring an essay contest on June 9-15, 2013, to draw attention to the widespread and ongoing physical and sexual abuse of children living within Indian Country. The topic of the contest is ‘Why Children Are More Important Than Politics’ with a subtopic of ‘Why Is Our Federal Government Ignoring Ongoing Child Abuse?’
The 800-1500 word submissions can be sent to Administrator@caicw.org.