Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Adoptive Thoughts

At the moment I'm reading Anna Haebich's Broken Circles: Fragmenting Indigenous Families, 1800 - 2000, and I'm finding it quite interesting, even if the immediate fault with the book is that Haebich appears to be interested in making every Indigenous person a victim.

Which is, of course, not to say that Indigenous people and culture haven't been victims, but there are moments, such as in the chapter detailing Louis Johnson/Warren Braedon's life and death in Perth, where you feel as if Haebich has held back on the details of Johnson/Braedon's life, so as to allow him to be more easily identified as a victim. It is as if she doesn't want his individual personality--whatever that may be--to get in the way of the history or events surrounding his adoption and death. Haebich appears to be much more interested--and perhaps justifiably so--in showing a how generations of Aboriginal men and women have been damaged by their separation from their families and their culture and who are now forced to deal with a restrictive and racist culture without any of the social and cultural units that would help them navigate this. As a fault goes, it's a tiny one, because what Haebich shows is all true, but just isn't a sense of the individual coming first and the result is that, at times, it makes the tragedy of whole thing--and it is a fucking tragedy--it makes it feel abstract.

There's something a bit dicey about saying that, but that's mostly because I'm a white guy. Still, the fault is still there, within the writing, but maybe it'll play out differently by the end of the book.

Returning to the Johnson/Braedon chapter, however, there was this section that just showed a real flaw in my thinking, and that was regarding the people who adopted Indigenous children after they were stolen from their parents. This was in the 1973, so it wasn't so long ago, and happened up in Darwin--the family moved to Perth shortly after--and Warren Braedon was taken from his mother and family and adopted by Bill and Pauline Johnson. Everything that Haebich writes at this part is quite heartbreaking, though one of the worse, I thought, was when the Johnson couple see the baby in the crib, and it has 'Baby Warren' written on it, and they say, 'Is that his name?' and the people in the adoptive agency say, 'No,' despite the very fact that it is. For someone unknown reason that small act of cruelty just sticks with me, but, the real flaw in my thinking related to the Johnson couple who adopted Warren (who they named Louis, shortly after).

I had never thought about the people who adopted stolen Aboriginal children. In a way, you're not encouraged to think about them, I think, because they form another part of the tragedy of the whole event. People who adopt children are, by a large, nice people, with good hearts, and a desire to offer a good home. People who adopt aren't looking for slave labour, after all, and at the time of this adoption, there was a public perception put out by the media and the government that Aboriginal parents didn't want their children, weren't fit to raise them, both in terms of emotions and living standards, and so the people who did adopt these stolen children, misguided though they were, were by and large acting out of altruistic notions. (They were, too, not Aboriginal, since the adoption of Aboriginal children by Aboriginal men and men was discouraged.) Anyhow, as I was reading the second on Braedon/Johnson, there were these sections relating to this couple who, having been the parents to their son, and loved him, had this realisation after his death that they had been able to bring him into their own family due to this massive injustice done to a an entire culture of people, and that though they were ignorant to this, they also realised that they too played their part in the injustice that was done to Indigenous people.

"To take a child away, to participate in an adoption that may be seen to be to the child's benefit, is one thing, but to actually participate in an adoption that was specifically against the mother's wishes is doubly unjust. Anyway in our ignorance--and that's the only justification, the only excuse we've got--that's what happened. Our reaction was, well his mother doesn't want him, we'll give him a good home and his is going to be advantaged rather than disadvantaged by the seperation."

--Bill Johnson.

"I personally felt ashamed because I had returned Louis to his own people dead. They had waited years for their son to come back. How can you look a hundred relatives in the face and say, 'I've got five photo albums to show you of your son?'"

--Pauline Johnson.

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