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

The cultural connection to books

Today I read about a terrible decision Spokane, WA public schools made: to lay off all of their school librarians. In order to try to balance their budget, they are removing the unseen hand guiding young students through the wealth (and litter) of information modern society has made available to them.

As Americans, we also don’t read enough outside of our job or career any more. Scholarly book sales are on the decline. Heck, even popular books sales are on the decline, and that includes e-books. Whether or not the problem might be that we are all so busy trying to make a living, the issue is there. We no longer have a cultural connection to books, or even to the acquisition of knowledge in general.

These two facts connect so much of what has been happening in our society for the last 30 years or so: the disinterest in knowledge, and the inability to gauge the usefulness of information presented to us. I truly don’t believe that social media created our short attention spans, but the other way around: that social media was created as a response to our demand for just the bits of information that we need, outside of the context that takes too long for us to understand.

I consciously noticed this trend myself my first year teaching, over a decade ago. I’m a complete nerd, I’ll admit, but when none of my students have read anything I reference? (I make a lot of pop culture jokes based on books and movies). I started making lists of books I’ve read that I can remember the titles to. And then I asked my students (at the time, I wasn’t much more that 10 years older than the traditional undergraduate) to make their own lists. When I had over 400 books I can recall the titles to on my list, and they could barely come up with 20? I knew there was a problem. But how to address it?

Ted Striphas, Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado, has been blogging about the cultural connection to books for some time (https://www.tedstriphas.com/teaching/the-cultures-of-books-reading/). It’s fascinating how other cultures looks at books and reading. Did you know that the UK has the highest sales of non-fiction books per capita (in countries where we have stats available)? And in Iceland, it’s the tradition that on Christmas Eve, everyone gives each other a book, and your family spends the evening reading. https://www.readitforward.com/essay/article/jolabokaflod-meet-favorite-new-holiday-tradition/

I think I must be Icelandic.

So I started passing out lists of books I think my college students should read. Not those lists of “Books everyone should read before graduating college”, but books that I think are interesting and important. Books that can change your mind. Students responded well, though as it wasn’t an assignment, I have really no idea if they ever took up the list to actually read through. But, ever the optimist, I then started a hashtag on Facebook, #Pertermannbooklist, where I listed 50 of my favorite/important/mygodyouneedtoreadthisbook books.

Now it’s your turn. No, I don’t think this will “fix” the world. But, like Kris Kristofferson, I can’t believe that no one wants to know.

(In no precise order)

  1. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
  2. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  3. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  4. How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (It’s my favorite book of all time. Fight me.)
  6. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  7. The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov
  8. Alpha Beta by John Man
  9. Maphead by Ken Jennings
  10. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  11. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  12. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  13. To Reign in Hell by Steve Brust
  14. The Choose Your Own Adventure series by Vermont Crossroads Press
  15. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
  16. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  17. Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen
  18. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  19. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  20. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  21. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  22. The Seven Daughters of Eve by Brian Sykes
  23. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  24. The Tunnel by Russell Edson (poetry that will blow your mind)
  25. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

If you’re still with me, I hope you read some of these. 😀

I’ll probably post another list later, maybe with a theme. Happy reading!

-dlp

Petroglyphs

Wyoming Petroglyphs. They are absolutely stunning. And we have so many! Paleoindians (peoples inhabiting Wyoming around 8000 years ago), Fremont, Shoshone, Comanche, Apache, and Arapaho have all called Wyoming home.

Mostly Southwest Wyoming, though there are amazing sites in Northwest Wyoming as well, just as the Dinwoody and Medicine Wheel sites.

People ask me all the time: What do they mean? Short answer: We don’t know. There are a variety of reasons people make pictures. For decoration, to make the place special, to make the area holy, or because the area is holy. Special places are made or recognized by Native Americans then are used as “libraries”, or a place to store cultural and historical knowledge (All other cultures do this, to. Churches are a good example).

Image result for White Mountain Petroglyphs

Ancestral Shoshone petroglyphs (White Mountain Petroglyphs), carved into the soft sandstone. From Wikipedia Commons.

Some of the petroglyphs in Wyoming do have known meaning, as they are made relatively recently by cultures are still intact today. But many groups, having been mistreated by government actors in the past (and unfortunately still today), are not willing to discuss the meaning of their historical petroglyphs with anthropologists. This is akin to many religious groups not being willing to discuss certain details of their beliefs with outsiders.

Check out Wyoming State Historical Society – http://www.wyohistory.org and Sacred Destinations – http://www.sacred-destinations.com for more information on how to access these amazing sites.

So, when you visit these sites, be respectful. Obey all federal and state regulations. DON’T TOUCH. Don’t assume you can take pictures, check first. Try to engage with the local culture, especially if there is an interpretive center nearby. Consider the oppression these peoples had to go through, and be grateful that some of these cultures are still around today.

When visiting the White Mountain Petroglyphs specifically, remember that there is limited cell service, and the road is rough. Bring extra water and a vehicle that has a high clearance, with a full tank of gas. Be smart about going “off the grid.”

-dlp

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I have degrees in both Geology and Anthropology. So I think a lot about the environment, and how we as humans survive in different environments. For example, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about winter. Because it’s cold. Not a fan.

Winter still has it’s icy grip here in Wyoming. It keeps trying to change to Spring, but Winter comes back with a sarcastic smile. And we’re supposed to get more tomorrow. :O

I’ve lived in a lot of different places. But the best “Winter Culture” I’ve ever experienced was in Minneapolis. Zurich, Switzerland, comes in a close second, but I still miss Minneapolis’ Winter Carnival, the Skyway, the litter heaters at bus stops. All of it was created with a cultural understanding that one should be outside in the wintertime.

Here’s a great story about winter culture in Minnesota if you’re interested:

http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/199905/03_gundersond_refugees-m/?refid=0

Wyoming has a slightly different relationship with winter. It’s more of a “hunker down” mentality that serves people well in the West, where resources during the winter are so scarce (particularly in the historical past), you might not make it to see Spring.

It was safer to walk to the area I wanted to see than to drive.

When regular people have the app for the Wyoming Department of Transportation on their phone, you know something’s different. Heck, I don’t think there are too many other states that even have an app for their state DOT. And when you have to really plan for a night stay along I-80 because there is a good chance of it being closed when you want to come back, you know this is serious stuff. I see many comments on social media, or even just on TV, that tell me that the rest of the country thinks The West is a bit ridiculous when it comes to our winter response. The idea of scare resources stumps most Americans.

But it’s still true here. My town has one bakery. It cannot service the entire town, so it doesn’t even try. They make only what they can sell between 6am and 2pm every day. There is no more to be had. If the gas station runs out of (anything and everything), they have to wait for a truck to come from another state. This applies no matter what side of Wyoming you’re on.All of this is worse in the winter, when these supply trucks can’t get to some of the small towns (every town in Wyoming is a “small town”, btw) reliably. So the conservation of resources is still a survival skill here.

So, essentially, the snow my backyard is acting like a dune field. Though I do see sediment buildup on some of the older so, which indicates a windbreak. If you want to know where the wind is consistently the weakest, look for the dirty snow.

To be honest, it’s where I’d want to be in a zombie apocalypse. Because people here still know how to make stuff and save stuff. Watch out, America.

You don’t need to travel far to see wonders. You can find amazing things right at home. Start by looking down at your feet. Or out your front door, apparently.

See the ripples? Living snow dunes!

And if you feel like reading about how famous Wyoming is: The Five Coldest Cities in the World

Mush!

-dlp

Welcome to a new adventure!

Our first post! I’m personally excited about this collaboration, and I daresay Mark is too. We plan to alternate posts every week. Mark is more interested in politics, I’m more of a globalist. Mark is a US historian, I’m an archaeologist with degrees in geology, historical archaeology, and anthropology, so this site ought to stay hoppin’. 😀

Women of Wyoming

I thought I’d start off with some thoughts about our current “home state” of Wyoming. It’s an interesting place, and I’m sure both Mark and I will write about it often. For example, I recently gave a talk on Women in Wyoming to a slightly conservative-leaning group. I had been invited, but as it wasn’t an academic group, I was a little nervous. It was… interesting, at first, to say the least (nah, it was just plain awkward), as it was clear that the title of my talk “The Anthropology of Wyoming Women” was off-putting: many people who aren’t familiar with academics think that we’re all left-leaning pinko communists (yes, I’ve actually been called that here, seriously).

I, as a Wyoming woman who is raising two small children here, had a few things to say, even if I’m a transplant. I talked about my children, about doing my academic research here, and I showed them some of the things I’ve discovered:

That women have been part of the fabric of Wyoming ever since Europeans set foot in the Wyoming Territory. And that even prior to that, the Shoshone and the Arapaho have strong traditions of female empowerment, even if those past traditions seem oppressive to us today. Sacajawea, Calamity Jane, Estelle Reel, and Nellie Tayloe Ross are just a few of the women who molded Wyoming culture.

That while women might have been granted the right to vote for all the wrong reasons (https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/right-choice-wrong-reasons-wyoming-women-win-right-vote), women came to Wyoming for many of the same reason men did, to find prosperity, for the simple freedom, to flee oppression.

Now, that’s all well and good, but we have some issues. Today, we still have one of the lowest female to male ratios in the nation. Which, I think, is an important consideration when looking at Wyoming culture. In a male-dominate society, women do not get more girly, but quite the opposite: our women are known for their ruggedness and ability to put in work as well as a man. Not always by choice.

A good friend who had just moved to Wyoming from the East said, “And I was considered a tom-boy back home! But these Wyoming girls are ROUGH!” She meant that both physically and mentally, in that it was difficult for her to even relate and make friends, as Wyoming women didn’t seem to want to talk about the same things young women in the East did – small talk seems to be mostly around children, family, and then hunting, jobs, and the economy. Maybe Wyoming history, if the group knows each other well. Heavy stuff for a “women’s group”, and you had best know what you’re talking about, regardless of your political leanings.

Another colleague, born and raised in Wyoming, told me that it was frowned on to “dress up” as a young woman, because it implied you were too girly, and possibly a hooker.

Wow.

The funny part of that story is that prostitutes had a place in politics and the economy in the early days of Wyoming, as the show “Adam Ruins Everything” explains so succinctly and hilariously:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Lp_sWLgHuA

It’s also important to consider the influence of deprivation and isolation, as Wyoming is not only the least populated state in the nation (there’s fewer people here than in Rhode Island!) but we’re also the least densely populated, beating out Alaska. Someone told me that’s because Wyomingites don’t actually like talking to people, or seeing people, or hearing people….

And I’ve seen that in action. When I first moved here years ago, my boss told me “Don’t feel too bad if you don’t make friends right away. Wyomingites will ignore you for at least three years, and then maybe start inviting you to things in five…” He was pretty much on the money to the month. Though I’m still trying to work out if the timeline has more to do with the density (or lack thereof) of the population as opposed to citizens actually not being “friendly” – when neighbors can be easily miles apart, and shift-work keeps you from going to events at normal hours, it could easily take people years before they ever actually meet, even in a small town. (Population of Wyoming towns is a post for another day.)

A famous archaeologist once said “Wyoming is North America’s answer to Outer Mongolia.” There are a lot of parallels. There are simply things you can’t get in stores in Wyoming, services you can’t access without paying huge sums to have people come in from Denver or Salt Lake. UPS even charges a “Rural Delivery Fee” to deliver packages to most any location in Wyoming, even to towns directly off the Interstate.

*Insert Incredulous Emoji here*

No wonder family still ask me if people ride horses to school here.

In the end, my talk was well-received, and I even got handshakes from old-timers who appreciated the information and how I delivered it. I’m not a fan of tone-policing – I still think that an adult ought to be able to listen to anything regardless of how it’s delivered and still take away information, but I did appreciate the implied compliment.

Onward!

-dlp