by Bev Reweti, transracial adoptee, forcefully taken from her Maori Whanau to a white adoptive family in New Zealand ; currently in the process of making a legal claim against the New Zealand state for being displaced from her origins.
This is my letter to New Zealand Minister of Justice regarding my position on adoption legislation that removes Maori children from their whanau, hapu and iwi.
Hon Kris Faafoi Minister of Justice firstname.lastname@example.org
12 March 2021
Dear Mr Faafoi
I am delighted to know you will be progressing adoption law reform this parliamentary term.
I was born on the 30th of May 1956 in Wanganui to Robin Jean Oneroa and Reweti Mohi Reweti II, I whakapapa to Ngatiwai, Ngapuhi and Ngati Whatua.
I was adopted on the 25 June 1957 through the Magistrate’s Court Patea by a non Maori couple. My name was changed from my birth name Mary Oneroa to my adopted name.
I am the Claimant for Wai 2850, a claim on behalf of myself, and tamariki Maori who were displaced from their whanau, hapu and iwi (my claim), which is currently filed in the Wai 2575 Health Services and Outcomes Kaupapa Inquiry (the Health Inquiry).
It is my position that all legislation that removes Maori Tamariki from their whanau, hapu and iwi constitutes a breach of Article 2 of te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi (te Tiriti / the Treaty) which quarantees Maori tino rangatiratanga over all of our taonga, including Tamariki Maori and their wellbeing.
I am involved with the group InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). ICAV is a platform and a network of support for intercountry adoptees and the issues that they face growing up in these sorts of spaces, including the forced removal of Tamariki from their whanau.
In 2001, The Benevolent Society published a book titled The Colour of Difference, of which I was a part of and is about the journeys of transracial adoptees. I was also a part of its sequel published in 2017, a project of ICAV, called The Colour of Timewhich explores the impacts of intercountry adoption over an extended period of time (16 years after The Colour of Difference).
Tamariki Maori who are placed outside of their whanau or iwi, as I was, experienced a loss of true identity. We are positioned between our birth families and the families chosen to care for us by the State.
We often have behaviours and feelings over pathologised, while also being required to integrate the trauma of removal from our whanau, hapu and iwi, all without understanding or specialist support.
I have been actively participating in all matters relating to displacement and adoption for a long time and advocating for justice for all those who have been affected by displacement of tamariki Maori from whanau, especially those who are brought under the auspices of Oranga Tamariki and other organisations providing care.
It was through my involvement and great concern for the processes around the forced removal of Tamariki Maori from their whanau and instructing my lawyers to look into these processes for the purpose of the Health Inquiry, which led to the monumental Hastings Case and the attempted uplift of newborn pepi from a young Maori mother.
We are in the midst of unprecedented times with COVID-19 taking over the world but as an Asian intercountry adoptee raised in a white adoptive country, I find myself once again, in that uncomfortable “in-between” space. I have lived the experience of sitting between two very different cultures and races – east and west. I am a product of both but yet at this point in time, I feel ashamed at how human beings can behave and treat each other when ultimately, we are of the same human race.
I have been raised with the white mindset of my adoptive country but I have also spent over a decade embracing my once removed cut-off Asian heritage. My current pride in being Asian didn’t happen easily because I was adopted in an era without education to advise parents that our cultural and racial heritage is of immense importance. I had to put years of concerted effort into reclaiming back my birth heritage, race and culture. So I find this period of overt racism against Chinese/Asians as very confronting. It reminds me of how I once use to hate my own Asian-ness. I was teased as a child for how different I looked — picked on for my slanting eyes, flat nose, and non European profile. I grew up isolated being the only non-white person in my community as a child. I know that for many Asian adoptees (and many adoptees of colour) right now, we are having to relive those racist moments all over again.
What has been particularly triggering recently, is to see the American President choosing to consciously speak about the COVID-19 disaster with pointed fingers at a whole race, calling it the “Chinese Virus”. I felt personally offended. Did you?
When a leader of the world’s superpower labels a whole race in such a negative manner it overtly tells us that racism is very real, acted out by those highest in power. They make it appear as if it’s “normal”, “okay”, “justified” to do so —- but racism should never be okay! So adoptive families, if you haven’t recognised that we intercountry and transracial adoptees experience racial micro aggressions every day, I hope that this period in time, is your wake up call!
Racism is one of the most common issues we intercountry adoptees end up having to navigate. Facing racism and having to constantly explain why we look Asian (or any colour different to the majority) but speak, think and act like a white person in our adoptive country is a constant challenge. This has been documented in many of the resources we adoptees contribute to and create, eg. The Colour of Difference and The Colour of Time. Sadly, not all adoptive parents recognise the racism we experience and many are definitely not equiped to know how to prepare us for it.
Some more-awoke-adoptive-parents have recently asked what they can do to support their adoptive children who are of Asian descent. I’m sharing this advice from Mark Hagland, a Korean adoptee who has been co-educating adoptive parents at this facebook group for many years:
“I think that parents absolutely need to find ways to explain the situation and the environment to their Asian children. Of course, whatever they say must be age-appropriate and sensitive to the individual temperament and stage of development of their individual child/ren. And every child is different. But all children deserve the truth–sensitively and lovingly shared, of course.
Some parents will inevitably say things like, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly harm my child! I want her/him to remain innocent for as long as possible!” Any such sentiment reveals white privilege. All children of colour end up experiencing racism. The least loving thing possible is to avoid preparing one’s child to experience the inevitable. Far better to lovingly explain to one’s child that there are going to be difficult experiences out there, but that they will be okay because they will be supported by you, their parents.
I often tell parents of young children that even the youngest children can understand the concept of fairness. Start with that, if you have a young child. Start with the idea that some people are mean/unfair just because of how someone looks or where they’re from. It IS mean/unfair. With a young child, we need to prepare that child without imparting fear or trauma.
I made sure as a young adult to move to a very large, diverse, welcoming, progressive city in order to live in psychological comfort. And this is literally the first time as an adult that I’m even the least bit worried about experiencing aggressions or micro aggressions against me personally, in the city where I live. I believe it will mostly be okay, but who can say for certain?“
I have also been like Mark and as an adult, I ended up relocating myself to a city area that is much more diverse than where I grew up. In my city of Sydney, Australia, I have found a place to belong where I’m not the only Asian or non white person in my community. I have also married into an Asian family which has helped me immensely to embrace my race.
For young adult adoptees, if you are struggling at the moment due to the increase in racism you see directed towards Asians from COVID-19, I highly recommend joining adoptee led groups and communities where you can connect with others and be supported by your peers. There’s nothing like being able to freely speak amongst a group of people who understand what it’s like! The validation and peer support is invaluable. If you have found yourself hugely triggered and struggling emotionally, please seek out further professional support and surround yourself with a strong support network of people who understand what it’s like to be a racial minority. Here is also a link with some great tips.
Right now it’s not an easy time for anyone, but for adoptees and any people of colour, it is a heightened time for being a target of racist acts/comments and/or for being triggered. Please take time to nurture yourself and join into communities who do their best to support and understand you. Let’s all: