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Arkansas Adoption Preys on Cultural Misunderstanding with Marshallese | The New Republic
"Adoption is embraced in the Marshall Islands, but in the Ozarks, it means something very different. The tragic consequences of cultural misunderstanding."



"But nothing baffled Arkansas officials and community members more than the fluid notions of Marshallese family: a matrilineal system wherein all related members of a generation are considered the joint parents of a child. “[Kids] will show up [to school] one day with someone and say, ‘This is my mom,’” said Sandy Hainline-­Williams, an American nurse who has become a cultural liaison for Springdale’s Marshallese. “And the next day, a different woman: ‘This is my mom.’” Other nurses puzzled over women who were slow to answer when asked how many children they had. “I’ve teasingly said, ‘You can’t not remember having a baby!’” said Gina Jeremiah, a pregnancy intake nurse at Parkhill Clinic for Women, an obstetrics-gynecology practice within Willow Creek Women’s Hospital in Springdale. “All the women take on the role of mother in the kids’ lives,” said another nurse.

These attitudes, anthropologists believe, were born of the ethos of extreme generosity necessary for crowded island life. “There’s a general idea that things belong to everyone, as opposed to specific people,” said Elise Berman, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. “And those things include children.” Some studies have found that 25 percent of Marshallese children are raised by someone other than their biological parent. Many adoptions in the Marshall Islands take place because an older relative has actively solicited the offspring of their younger kin—a stark contrast to the United States, where adoption is mainly seen as the last resort of unprepared or unwilling parents. Older family members will approach expectant relatives and, in a telling linguistic formulation, say, “Give me my child.” And because an adopted child usually just moves a few doors down, adoptees almost always know their biological parents. If a birth mother suspects her child is being mistreated, she has the right to take him back. “We have this belief that the role of the mother will stay there forever,” said Melisa Laelan, a Marshallese court interpreter and the founder of Springdale’s nonprofit Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese. There’s even a Marshallese phrase for this: Jined Ilo Kobo, which refers to the unbreakable connection that a mother has with her children; it can’t be severed no matter who raises them."



"Furlow wasn’t the only one concerned. At area hospitals, staff watched dozens of their Marshallese patients plan to relinquish their children, often to couples who had signed up just months—or even weeks—earlier. (Hopeful adoptive parents frequently wait years for a match with a healthy newborn baby.) Labor and nursery nurses traded horror stories involving tearful and confused new mothers, who asked whether they were allowed to hold or feed their babies, and lamented that they couldn’t change their minds because they lacked the money to repay the lawyers. Once, after a mother refused to part with her baby, an adoption attorney came in with his translator to “chew the mother out,” said one nurse. Another time, an attorney wrote an angry letter to an area hospital, instructing the staff to stop speaking to the mothers about adoption, said another nurse.

Staff at both local hospitals, Washington Regional and Willow Creek, began increasing their efforts to inform Marshallese mothers of their rights, but they were often stymied by the language barrier. Though the hospitals subscribed to a phone-in translation service, Marshallese interpreters were so rare that they needed to make an appointment. They often had to rely on family members or the adoption liaisons instead, and were never sure what information was being passed along. And Marshallese women were arriving from the Islands all the time; it was the new arrivals who seemed to give up their children most often. “It sounds juvenile, but I put it in terms of, ‘Do you understand that your baby goes away and never comes back?’” said Gina Jeremiah, the pregnancy intake nurse at Parkhill. “There’s been several instances where they go, ‘No, I’ll see my baby when it turns 18.’”

For Furlow and many of her colleagues, an uneasy sense of complicity began to set in. (It was Furlow who contacted me last July and asked me to look into this story.) “I feel like I’m involved unwillingly,” said Jeremiah last November. “On the one hand, we’re happy for the couples that are struggling and can’t get pregnant. But then from the other side of it, I ache for them a little bit—for the patients that are having to go through this,” said another Park­hill physician, Julian Terry. “For all of us,” said Laureen Benafield, one of Furlow’s pediatric partners and an adoptive mother herself, “the red flag has just been the volume ... the sheer numbers feel so wrong, predatory.” Benafield wasn’t the only one to note the volume: “When we say it’s gotten out of control, it’s really a money-­making business for many people,” Robert Hix, an OB-GYN at Parkhill, told me. “You can almost tell that some of them are not sure what’s going on until the baby is gone.” A judge who has handled many adoption cases summarized the sense of concern and helplessness among his colleagues, who told him: “If they present you paperwork in the right manner, then you’ve gotta sign it.”"



"To Laelan, it seems clear that adoption brokers are trying to spread their business across multiple jurisdictions to capitalize on the fact that not all courthouses have implemented strict translation requirements. A doctor at Parkhill clinic, Robert Hix, said Marshallese patients have begun evading the doctors and nurses’ questions, and nurses have seen people exchanging babies in the parking lot in order to hide from suspicious medical staff. “As we’ve started to try to create systems to protect them,” said Koehler, “will it just become a kind of arms race,” with attorneys coaching potential birth mothers at every step? “Because it seems like we’ll always be behind on that.”

When the illicit adoption business was booming in Hawaii, it took a coordinated community campaign to create an alliance strong enough to stop it. Advocates met with Homeland Security, the FBI, and local and state legislators; judges intervened and hospitals and politicians were enlisted to help enforce regulations to protect Marshallese mothers and children. But the first step in Arkansas should probably be a widespread education campaign to help recently arrived Marshallese understand that the adoptions happening in Arkansas are a far cry from those back home. Marshallese women are offered false comfort, Lang said, through another Marshallese proverb, Jinen Koto In—or “Mother of the Wind”—which implies, even more than Jined Ilo Kobo, that nature will always return a child to her original mother. In the United States, where the rules governing closed adoptions are rigid and unyielding, that’s simply not true. Birth parents who sign away their children in closed adoptions will likely not see them for years or decades—if ever."
adoption  marshallislands  parenting  culture  2015  kathrynjoyce  arkansas  ozarks  us  law  legal 
april 2015 by robertogreco
National Geographic Found
"On stick-charts, the sticks represent wave patterns and shells mark the atolls. Marshall Islands, Micronesia, May 1967."
micronesia  maps  mapping  stickcharts  marshallislands  1967  geography  cartography  navigation 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Polynesian Stick Charts
The Nonist on stickcharts:

"The Polynesians, scattered as they were over 1,000 islands across the central and southern Pacific Ocean, were master navigators who tracked their way over a huge expanses of ocean without any of the complex mechanical aids we associate with sea fairing. They didn’t have the astrolabe or the sextant, the compass or the chronometer. They did however have aids of a sort, which though seemingly humble, were in fact the repositories of an extremely complex kind of knowledge. Called Rebbelibs, Medos. and Mattangs, today we call them simply “Stick Charts.”

There are three kinds of stick charts. …"
marshallislands  micronesia  nonist  mapping  oceanography  geometry  history  maps  geography  cartography  stickcharts 
november 2012 by robertogreco
Stick Charts
"Like the carved wooden map from Greenland stick charts reflect a different perception of the world. They are made with sticks with shells to represent islands. The straight sticks are a framework. Curved sticks indicate ocean swells curving from contact
navigation  wayfinding  marshallislands  charts  maps  mapping  gvlo  stickcharts 
november 2007 by robertogreco
Micronesian Stick Charts
"constructed by palm ribs bound by coconut fibre with shells used to represent the islands. These stick charts are not charts in the western sense but are instructional and mnemonic devices concerned with swell patterns. They are not an essential navigati
navigation  wayfinding  marshallislands  charts  maps  mapping  glvo  stickcharts 
november 2007 by robertogreco
Marshall Islands stick chart - Wikipedia
"Marshall Islands stick charts were made and used by the Marshallese to navigate the Pacific Ocean by canoe off the coast of the Marshall Islands."
navigation  wayfinding  charts  maps  mapping  glvo  marshallislands  stickcharts 
november 2007 by robertogreco

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