Adoption, foster families, and Fictive Kinship

As a professor of Anthropology, I teach students about marriage customs, the importance of kinship to the fabric of societies, and cultural norms surrounding the social obligations one has to the people around you.

Every culture does it differently, but all cultures have what’s called “Fictive Kinship.” From the root “fiction”, fictive kinships are forms of kinship or social ties that are based on neither consanguineal (blood ties) nor affinal (by marriage) ties. But they are hardly “fictional”.

I have a strong personal reason for studying this particular characteristic of kinship, as both of my children are adopted. Every society handles the “legality” of adoption differently. In the historical past, it was uncommon for complete strangers to become responsible for your blood children – family members, no matter how “remote”, were expected to take responsibility for you (think Pollyanna). But when the need for families to take children grew as orphanages of the 19th century fell out of favor (in the U.S. in particular, foster homes began to be preferred by the 1950s, and Foster Care agencies gained government funding by the 1960s – https://www.americanadoptions.com/adoption/do-orphanages-still-exist), more and more people began legally adopting children as their own.

Fostering has a long history of acceptance, however, as a way to grant a poor relation social status or teaching them a trade, more in the line of the idea of a “patronage”. In the 16th century, England passed laws allowing the children of parents who were sent to almshouses (effectively homeless shelters, but much, much worse than those of today) to be put into indentured servitude with a family or business until adulthood, usually 18. https://nfpaonline.org/page-1105741 This practice was then picked up by the young United States of America, and indentured service was still practiced for the children of the poor into the early 20th century.

It’s important to stop here and talk for a moment about how adoption has been used throughout history and in this country as a means of cultural genocide. It wasn’t that long ago that our own government had a formal policy of taking Native American children from their parents for the most ridiculous of reasons and giving the child to a white family to legally adopt, thus forcing Native peoples to “assimilate” into the larger European-based culture in the U.S.

Boarding schools were another way the government tried to force this assimilation, indoctrinating Native children into “white culture” by not allowing them to speak their native languages or learning about the tribal history and tradition (https://www.cpr.org/show-segment/when-native-american-children-are-adopted-by-white-families-it-isnt-always-a-happy-ending/). It’s a shameful legacy of the concept of the “Melting Pot”, affecting thousands of children and families.

In the “Western” cultural system of Lineal Kinship (https://umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/anthropology/tutor/fundamentals/lincolat.html), where there is a strong understanding of the importance of “mothers” and “fathers”, and an almost culturally entrenched definition of who is or can be “Mom” and “Dad”, adoption was kept secret until just recently. Horror stories of the extremely rare occasions in which the law has taken children from adoptive families to re-place them with birth parents, coupled with a fear of not being perceived as the child’s “real parents”, plus the shame associated with the birth mother “giving away” her child and perhaps the adoptive mother’s own inability to have children, fueled this secrecy. With kinship being so fundamental to our human condition, is it any wonder that it’s so complicated?

The need for all that secrecy, and the shame involved, is still a perception that’s out there today, however, with the first season of Once Upon A Time outlining the fight between an adoptive mother and the birth mother who feels her child is being abused. “He’s my son!” adoptive mother exclaims. “No, he’s MINE!” birth mother yells back, somehow winning the argument with just those words. Can you tell that I’m still a little salty about that scene?

So what does “parenthood” actually mean? What does it mean to be a child’s “mother” or “father”? To be called “Mom” or “Dad”? I’ve actually had people ask me how I planned to create the “maternal bond” between me and my children, as I didn’t give birth to them, and they weren’t originally from any blood relatives, so…. I still am blown away by this question. It’s the idea that it might be “unnatural” to love a child as one’s own that you have no close blood connection to. I will never understand that idea.

I’ve also had many a person ask how my children will be able to create a “sibling bond” between them, as they again are of no close blood relation to each other. To this, I can easily respond with “Sweetie loves Little Dude”. She said from Day 1 that he’s “our baby”, and she even had say in what his name would eventually be. They are truly sister and brother.

I’ve also, though, had many people share with me their own stories of being adopted, or of informally “adopting” others as parents when the relationship between their own legal relations disintegrated. If you’ve ever fussed over what to get someone for a holiday present, that’s a bond that might just be socially binding, meaning that if you shirk your social obligations, there could very well be social consequences.

And there’s the difference between “fostering” and “adoption”: nonwithstanding the “legal” aspect, but when the relationship is recognized within the larger social order, when you have obligations to that person that are socially recognized, that’s a true relation. It might seem a bit “scientific” to boil down relationships this way, but when you hear your child call you “Mama”, the very reason that that’s so special is because you know all of the cultural meanings behind that word, and what it means for this child to call you that name. It means a lifetime of commitment, of worry, of beaming pride, of tears and joy.

-dlp

On the Oregon Trail

One of the things I’ve been very interested in since my undergraduate days is preservation and conservation. Preservation is the idea of “freezing” something like an artifact in time, preserving a specific moment in history for the future to enopy and learn from. Conservation is the idea of not bulldozing stuff flat, but considering the need to sometimes repurpose historic buildings and the landscape for the needs of today and tomorrow. We have to consider what gets preserved, what might just need to be conserved, and how to do it. But we also must consider what CAN be preserved or conserved. Not only with available time and money, but in the available technology. Simply put, not everything can be, no matter how important it might be.

I’m starting new research using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry (mag) on the Oregon Trail. Since moving to Wyoming, I’m become involved in the unique nature of the Trail through Wyoming, and shown many the actual trail ruts. It’s a visceral connection to a movement that we can hardly imagine today, people picking up everything they own and putting it into a wagon, or a hand-cart, or even just a leather roll on their backs, and walking or riding for weeks and months across this vast country. I’ve seen tears come to the eyes of adults, and children choke up as they look East and West down the Trail. The Trail itself is worth preserving. But how?

I’ve been working with GPR and magetometry for several years. They both have industry and scholarly applications. Here’s the Wikipedia entry for GPR, in case you’re interested: GPR, and here’s the one for magnetometry: Mag. But I’ve never used it on a road before. WyoFile reported on my work last year: Oregon Trail, and I’ve just gotten in from the field this year with even more data.

I had an amazing field crew this year! (Kim Haws pictured)

This project will take years. I’ll post some of the GPR images soon as I process them. But I’m excited. Stay tuned.

-dlp

Just as a note: I have a formal research permit to conduct this work on federal land. Don’t try this at home, folks!

The magic of the outdoors

My kids LOVE the outdoors. Well, actually, Sweetie’s loved it since about three months old, when I would take her outside and sit in the waning days of our Wyoming summer. Little Dude is a bit more cautious, but really likes water and splash parks.

I think children are naturally attracted to the outdoors, and to nature, but unfortunately, society have a nasty habit of crushing their love and curiosity by the time they’re teenagers. Some of this is because we are all understandably busy, and it is simply easier to put them in front of a tablet than to plan an outing. Some of this is because we as parents don’t have the experience or confidence ourselves in going camping or hiking, and feel overwhelmed with where to start.

I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen to my kids. Sweetie seems to genuinely enjoy picking up leaves and rocks and bringing them into the house (no, I’m not exaggerating), and Little Dude loves throwing dirt and mulch into the air, and making piles.

Sweetie in the field!

I think a lot about how my spouse and I are encouraging their interests, and even that we need to support them to have outside interests. How does a parent do it? Especially in the hectic world that we all live in, when most live in urban settings, and might never see a farm until they start school?

I honestly think part of the answer is to allow ourselves to have interests, and to share them with our children. I read them books that I like, we take them to places that we enjoy. That seems to be rubbing off on them both. Heck, I even watch the TV shows I like with them (Doctor Who is her favorite, and I think Little Dude’s got the making of a serious gamer). We love going to “view spots” and just looking around, or stopping spontaneously by the side of the road if we see a historical marker. It keeps their interest, and ours.

The Natural Wildlife Federation has a great website with links and activities for getting kids more interested in the outdoors: Connect Kids and Nature. And there is emerging research that links outdoor time with better mental health – less anxiety and stress – in young children: Children’s Mental Health. Outdoor play extends children’s attention spans, and I’ve even read that there seems to be a connection between nearsightedness and the lack of sunlight a child might receive between 5 and 15 years old. We (as a society) are keeping our children in the house too much, and it’s affecting every part of them.

Child and Nature has some great tips for how to raise an “outdoor kid”, which first and foremost is for you to show them YOUR interest. If you don’t like camping and bugs, that’s fine. Find something else about the outdoors that you can enjoy with your kids. They’ll have a good time if you are. And their best advice: DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE SILLY.

The key seems to be to start early. Which is why we’ll take Sweetie and Little Dude out again tomorrow.

Does your local area have a “rock finding club” on Facebook? It’s a great way to catch their interest. Paint a few rocks and leave them for others to find, and then upload your own finds to the local page for everyone to see. Kids love showing off their hard-won finds!

-dlp

Why can’t Border agents take donations?

Last blog, Mark handled a tough topic with the academic aplomb I admire him for. But I don’t want him to shoulder all the weight of the heavy topics. There’s a lot going on right now that needs to be talked about and better understood. This week, I’ve been inundated with questions from friends, family, and internet acquaintances about the issues at our southern border today, particularly in the area of donations. ‘Why aren’t they taking donations?’ people are asking.

This is actually part of the law known as The Antideficiency Act, and it prohibits federal agencies from obligations or expending federal funds in advance or in excess of their federal appropriation, and from accepting voluntary services. The earliest version of the act was passed in 1870 after the Civil War, to end the executive branch’s long history of creating coercive deficiencies. Before this legislation was enacted, many agencies, particularly the military, would intentionally run out of money, forcing Congress to provide additional funds to avoid breaching contracts. Some went as far as to spend their entire budget in the first few months of the fiscal year, funding the rest of the year after the fact with additional appropriations from Congress. Not the greatest way to run a country.

Because of this law now, the government can’t spend any money or accept any donations other than what Congress has already allocated to it. This is meant to keep agencies honest, and not take money from private groups with specific agendas, which could end up working as blackmail. The Act is meant to keep corruption out of the federal government. A link to the nitty-gritty of the law can be found here: https://www.gao.gov/legal/appropriations-law-decisions/resources

We can talk about why there is a surge of asylum seekers in another post, but the attention on children not having what an average person would consider to be basic hygiene has brought the issue of how these centers are being funded and managed. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/adolfoflores/migrant-children-border-patrol-detention-soap The federal government is currently paying $775 per child a night at these “Unaccompanied Child Detention Centers”. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/immigration-border-crisis/trump-admin-s-tent-cities-cost-more-keeping-migrant-kids-n884871 The reason for the high cost, an official told NBC News, is that the sudden need to bring in security, air conditioning, medical workers, etc., is much higher than the cost for structures that are already permanently staffed.

Another issue is that the system of detention facilities managed by the Border Patrol was never designed to house children, and the federal funding allocated yearly to the Border Patrol was never expected to cover the costs of housing children for more than a couple of hours. One can have a discussion about why many of these children have been separated from their families while requesting asylum, I suppose, but it’s difficult to find a reasonable argument as to why the Border Patrol are being tasked with housing them. It is simply not a function they are equipped to do. It’s a bit like asking car factory to start making diapers overnight.

Charity and the collection of donations in times of crisis is a big part of the American identity. We are all usually grateful when we have the ability to help. Patrick Rooney wrote an article synthesizing data on how much Americans give during emergencies, and who. You can read his work here: http://theconversation.com/american-generosity-after-disasters-4-questions-answered-83277, but he doesn’t really explain why we give.

Recently, the Justice Department was asked to explain why detainees were not regularly being given such hygiene products as soap and toothbrushes, when the detainees have been stripped of most items as they are processed. the lawyer for the government made a poor showing, trying to explain that the children, especially, weren’t expected to stay in the facilities for more than a couple of days, so not having the chance to bathe wasn’t that big a deal. And it wouldn’t be, if the children were only staying a couple of days. But it has been documented that many children have been in these centers for weeks, as some as long as a month without adequate clothes, soap or washing facilities, and without beds. https://www.npr.org/2019/06/27/736781192/scenes-of-tearful-flu-stricken-and-underfed-migrant-kids-emerge-in-new-accounts

Funding bills have passed both the House and the Senate as of today, and the bills will now go to through the process of Reconciliation before being sent to the President’s desk. But many in the House and the Senate are concerned that neither bill has protections to keep the money meant for humanitarian aid from being diverted to enforcement. https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/27/politics/border-funding-migrant-crisis-nancy-pelosi-house-senate-bills/index.html So, the next few weeks will show us what type of government we truly have.

And yes, it’s even more complex than what you’ve just read, if we consider that different centers are operated by contractors to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which then function under a different set of rules, depending if they are a registered non-profit or a for-profit organization.

But I think a reconsideration of the Antideficiency Act may be important. When we as Americans see that there is a dire need, we do not want to be told by our government that we can’t help. That’s never going to be a good answer.

Please feel free to leave comments, particularly any clarifying information, as this story is still fluid.

The Bitter Cup of Impeachment

The last two weeks, Dana has shouldered the “burden” of this blog, so I am making up for it with a long post on a pressing issue. Forgive me in advance for the length, but I think you’ll find the subject a fascinating one!

There’s been a lot of talk in the presses lately about the subject of impeachment. How could I, a presidential historian, resist writing on it?

To be clear: I am not going to comment on the Mueller Report, Donald Trump, the Justice Department, or Nancy Pelosi. If you want to know what’s going on in current events, may I suggest one of the national newspapers, which have for the most part done an excellent job of covering the ongoing debate. Here’s a short list of reliable sources with links:

Instead, I think it more interesting to reflect on the irony that just one year ago (March 2018) we passed the 150th anniversary of the first presidential impeachment in American History. What’s more, by retelling the story, we can observe the parallels of history.

History is always with us. Blink your eye, and 150 years go by, and we’re still talking about the same subjects, and asking the same questions.

The Story

Let me paint the scene.

It’s 1868. The Civil War has been over for three years. The Republican Party controls Congress, but not the Presidency. Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, has been thrust into that office by the death of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. He is a Southerner, but he is loyal to the Union. Beyond that, though, there’s not much daylight between him and the former Confederates. Johnson is a white supremacist, and he believes in states’ rights.

https://cdn.loc.gov/service/pnp/cwpbh/00100/00112v.jpg
Andrew Johnson, Seventeenth President of the United States
(Library of Congress)

Many Republicans in Congress expected Johnson to come down hard on the South not only for the war itself, but now for the death of Lincoln as well. Instead, Johnson surprised everyone by offering the South lenient terms of readmission to the Union. All that southerners had to do was take an oath of loyalty to the Union. High ranking members of the Confederate government could even apply personally to Johnson for a Presidential pardon.

While Johnson made it easy for southerners to come back into the Union, he completely ignored the former slaves. They were now at the mercy of their former masters, who began enacting harsh laws (called Black Codes) to force them back onto plantations.

Johnson did nothing to stop the Black Codes, so the Republicans in Congress passed a Civil Rights bill declaring all persons born in the United States citizens, and entitling them to protection under the law. In other words, former slaves could now sue their employers for harsh working conditions and unfair business practices.

Johnson vetoed the bill, citing states’ rights. Republicans, in response, overrode his veto. And now we had a ballgame!

For Republicans, there was an additional problem.

The Supreme Court wasn’t on their side! It had begun declaring laws passed during the Civil War unconstitutional, saying that many of them only applied during times of war. Republicans realized they would have a hard time keeping their Civil Rights Bill on the books, so in June 1866 they passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Now natural-born citizenship, and protection under the law were constitutional guarantees–written in stone. The Court couldn’t touch it.

Image result for Salmon Chase Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of the United States during Reconstruction
(Supreme Court Historical Society)

This brought on the second showdown between Congress and the President.

Johnson, of course, opposed the 14th Amendment. And–since an amendment requires 3/4 of the states’ approval for ratification–he counseled that the South refuse to ratify….which it did in unison.

Unlike a bill, though, the President’s approval is not necessary to amend the Constitution. Republicans therefore argued that Johnson was illegally involving himself in a Congressional matter, and many of them started calling for impeachment.

At the same time, they chose to punish the South for not ratifying the 14th Amendment. In March 1867, they passed the Reconstruction Acts (again over Johnson’s veto), which stripped the states of their sovereignty and placed them under martial law until they passed the 14th Amendment, and/or registered all black men to vote.

Image result for The Reconstruction Acts
The Southern districts under the Reconstruction Acts of 1867
(Study.com)

There was one more “hitch.”

The Reconstruction Acts required the President (as commander-in-chief) to name military governors of the southern “districts”–that’s what they were calling the states now. Johnson was supposed to work with his Secretary of War to make that happen. But the Secretary of War was Edwin Stanton, who had been appointed by Lincoln. Stanton supported the Republicans over Johnson, so Johnson fired him and put General Ulysses S. Grant in that office (Grant was non-partisan, and hated politics..just the sort of person Johnson was looking for).

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Secretary of War Edwin Stanton
(Library of Congress)
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General Ulysses S. Grant
(Library of Congress)

Thinking that Johnson might pull something like this, Republicans had passed another law over Johnson’s veto–the Tenure of Office Act. It said that because a President needed Senate approval to appoint a cabinet officer, a President also needed Senate approval to fire them!

Three strikes, and you’re out!

When Johnson fired Stanton he technically broke a federal law. Congress had him right where they wanted him, and began immediately drawing up articles of impeachment.

A Political Process, Not a Criminal Court

Congress was treading on uncharted ground. Impeachment had been used in the past, but only against a member of the Supreme Court–Justice Samuel Chase–and he wasn’t even removed from office. What was more, the whole scenario had occurred sixty years ago.

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Justice Samuel Chase
(National Portrait Gallery)

No living member of Congress had ever actually seen the process of impeachment in action, and never had it been used against a President of the United States!

What was more, there were many lawmakers who doubted that Johnson had really committed an impeachable offense. After all, the Tenure of Office Act was a new law that changed the power structure between President and Congress…something that normally would require a constitutional amendment, and that would probably be struck down by the Supreme Court.

All that the Republicans could rely on, then, was theory.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states that a federal officeholder shall be impeached and removed from office for “Conviction of Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But there’s a problem. No legal definition existed for “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The theory, then, is complicated. Because Congress makes the laws, it is up to Congress to define these infractions. And since Congress is elected, and its makeup changes over time, so too the definitions of these infractions can change. Furthermore, looking back to the framers of the Constitution, it appeared that they understood “high crimes” as abuses committed by federal office holders. Because Congress was a political body, and because the Presidency was the highest federal office in the land, then, impeachment and removal from office could be for strictly political reasons!

It didn’t matter if the Tenure of Office Act was questionable. Congress could impeach Johnson just because they didn’t like him!

And so they did! When the articles of impeachment came up for a vote in the House of Representatives, they passed by a vote of 126 to 47, with 17 abstaining. Impeachment, however, is only the process of indicting a person. Removal was up to the Senate.

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Print depicting the moment when the United States Senate was informed that the House of Representatives had impeached President Andrew Johnson
(Library of Congress)

But the Senate was less sure that Johnson should be removed!

Without a Vice President, if Johnson were removed, the Senate Pro Tempore would ascend to the highest office. And that person was Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade–a radical Republican whom many senators liked even less than they did Johnson! Furthermore, conservative Republicans raised issue, particularly, with Wade’s support for divorcing America’s paper money from the gold standard. Was it not better, they asked, to keep Johnson in office temporarily and simply deny him another term? After all, 1868 was an election year, and neither the Democrats nor the Republicans were going to nominate him.

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Senator Benjamin Wade
(National Portrait Gallery)

In the end, the Senate voted for Johnson’s removal by a vote of 35–19. However, Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution requires a 2/3 majority vote to remove an office holder. The Senate fell short of that number by exactly 1 vote!

In his 1956 Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage, Senator John F. Kennedy immortalized Kansas Republican Senator Edmund G. Ross, whose decisive vote kept Johnson in office. Ross felt that removal would embarrass the country at a time when it needed to heal, and Kennedy interpreted it as an act of bravery, putting country above party.

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Senator Edmund G. Ross
(Library of Congress)

By the fall of 1868, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson had faded into history. That November, General Ulysses S. Grant was elected as the eighteenth President of the United States. Furthermore, the next year, the new President nominated Secretary of War Stanton to the Supreme Court, but Stanton died before he could take his seat. And as for Andrew Johnson, he was remembered fondly by southerners for his attempts to safeguard their liberties. In 1875, his home state of Tennessee returned him to the United States Senate. He arrived in Washington in time to participate in a special session of Congress, but he died later that year.

Legacy

Since the Johnson impeachment, only twice more has a President (Nixon in 1974, and Clinton in 1998) been threatened with impeachment and removal. In both instances, the process divided the country in ways that threatened the unity of the American people. The question was asked in both cases, is it wise to remove by force a president who was put in office by the democratic vote of the people? Is it not better to let the people be the final arbiter through the ballot box?

In the case of Nixon, the President settled the matter by resigning from office in August 1974. With Clinton, the people turned against the impeachers, and in the last two years of his term, the President’s approval ratings went up!

Related image
Richard M. Nixon resigned of the office of the Presidency on August 9, 1974
(C-Span.org)

It would appear then, that although impeachment is always an option when power is abused, it is not a very expedient one. The American people prefer to be the power that rewards or punishes elected officials. Put another way, a citizen of Wyoming does not want a Senator from Massachusetts making the decision for them.

For more information on the Johnson Impeachment, the Nixon Watergate Scandal, or the Clinton Impeachment, see the following sources:

— m.a.n.