A moving piece from ARIKARA CONSCIOUSNESS
My first experience with social workers happened when I was about six or seven years old. When I recently reminded my mother about this encounter, even though what had happened occurred more than fifty years ago, she winced in distress and said, “Yes. I remember that day. It was awful. I still don’t like to talk about it.” I was quiet for a while respecting the fence she had suddenly erected to protect herself from that time. When it seemed that the tenseness had left her I continued by saying, “I think I was about eight years old when that happened.” She replied, “You were only six or seven; maybe younger. You were just a little boy. When I used to think back to that time and all that happened I used to wonder what ever made you want to be a social worker.”
In my community, we all knew that the light, green-colored car with black lettering on the doors belonged to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). We knew the tall, bald-headed White man that drove the car and smiled and waved at us was the BIA social worker. We knew he took children from our community and sent them away to boarding schools or to live with White families, especially those kids that had parents that were poor or drank a lot. We knew that what he did broke the hearts of many parents.
Sometimes the kids that he took away came home; sometimes they didn’t. Off and on, over the years, as we grew up we would hear about someone from our community that had died and how their relatives had brought them home to be buried. But we didn’t really know them, only the family name, since they had been adopted out to a White family or gone to a boarding school and then went to live in the city, never to return until their death.