This Positive Life: An Interview With Shana Cozad
March 17, 2011
Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was adopted at birth. My biological mother was 19 when she had me and at that time in Oklahoma, many young Native America women were -- I don't want to say harassed -- but they were put on public display, not in their Indian communities but in their rural communities, so that they were accessed by Baptist ministries. They were given lectures that, if they were not educated, married and living in a house with a white picket fence, they had no business having children. Many Native American women in the early 1970s were forced into being sterilized and were not given the option of ever being able to have children. There were some very bad things happening to women, especially Indian women, at that time.
My biological mother was young and impressionable and didn't know what to do and was offered the possibility that adoption would be a better way for me, a better way for her and a better way for the community. So she put me up for adoption. It was one of the most painful things that she has ever had to do in her entire life.
I'm one of those people that can say I've always felt a bond between me and my biological mother; and it doesn't matter how far away I journey or how long it has been that we haven't spoken or seen each other, I feel the bond between me and my mother.
I did not meet her until I was 23. I searched for her from the time I was 18. I'd known I had another mother since I was 4, because I did not look like my brother and sister who were in the family where I was being raised. The family who adopted me was an Anglo family and we grew up in Oklahoma City until I was 12. My family came from the school of thought that adopting babies is very noble, it's very good, it's the right thing to do; it shows what good caring people they are. However, I didn't know anything about Indian culture and I was never taken around powwows. I never saw another Native American face until I was 18.
Shana and Mallory, at age 7, at the annual Bacone College Powwow.
When I reached 18, I saw profound differences between who I was and who my parents were. As much as I wanted to please my parents and make them like me more, make them like me as much as I felt they liked their own children, I really felt that I was going to find more answers about who I was if I found my culture, and if I found my birth family. I had this sense that, the entire 18 years that I grew up with my Anglo family, my biological mother was very, very sad without me and that she was waiting for me to return. So when I was 18, I sent off to my tribe for my head rights and I was sent a check for $5,000 -- which is what is equivalent for Native Americans having given up this entire country, our land and our freedom. I took the money and I decided I was going to go on a journey.
When I would walk into the Native community and say, "I'm adopted. I don't know where I come from and I'm looking for my mother," there was this outpouring. It was really quite beautiful, and that's what leads up to how I met my son's father. He was Native American and I had met his mother. Although she's not Native American, she was married to a Native American gentleman, so she knew a lot about Native culture and she answered a lot of questions for me and helped me understand things.
Even though I looked Native, I knew nothing about these traditions. I wanted to know everything about where I came from. And I was impatient. I felt awkward going up to Kiowas and saying, "What is that symbol about and why do you wear these colors? Why do the men's moccasins look like that but women's moccasins look like this?" I felt I was very out of place.
People were very, very helpful; but the bottom line was that there was no way to get through the records to get my birth certificate opened. It had been formally sealed, so it was really just going to be this process of trying to get to know as many people as I could until we could figure out the right way to find my mother. So when I had eventually met my first boyfriend's mother, her perspective was, "This is something that you have to pray about." The family I had grown up in was atheist, so I knew nothing about prayer. I had no formal relationship with ceremony.
She brought me into Native American ceremonial ways, Native American church, Native American sweat lodge ways. She said, "You may not know your mother, but you can start by knowing and being introduced to your ways. This is where you come from. This is what your people do. This is what, undoubtedly, your family is still doing today. It just might not happen in the way of filing the documents and doing the paperwork trail, but it might happen this way, through prayer." So I was taught how to pray. I was taught my Native culture through her introduction.
Eventually, through the breakup with the dad and being diagnosed with AIDS and the speaking and all that, what's really ironic is one day I showed up at Santa Fe Indian High School to do a presentation to their 7th grade class. I was invited especially because I was a Native American speaker with AIDS, so it was appropriate for their audiences. When the teacher said, "Oh, you're Shana Humphrey. What tribe does Humphrey come from?" Native Americans are regionally named according to their tribes. I said, "Well, I'm Kiowa, but Humphrey is my adoptive last name. I don't know what my original last name would have been."
She said, "Hold on. There are ways we have -- behind closed doors -- but this is what we do. I'm going to call this person that I know at the enrollment department within the Kiowa tribe, and I'm going to tell her that I met you. Give me your date of birth. Give me where you were born. Give me the time of your birth and we'll track everything from there. I'll have her look through every record that she can find and we'll figure out who your mother is."
Within two weeks, I had a letter from the enrollment department that said, "Your mother is Carol Cozad. You were indeed born at Grady Memorial Hospital on August 11, 1971. Your records were officially sealed in Oklahoma City; however, in our department they are not sealed and we can tell you this. Here is her address." And they sent my mother, my biological mother, the same letter: "Your daughter is looking for you. Here is her name. Here is where she was born and this is her current address."
Was she excited to hear from you right away, or was there some apprehension?
She was. She was very excited to hear from me. Within about three days, I got my first letter from her. She addressed me as her baby girl. It was the fall when we exchanged information; and I went out and saw her the following spring, when I was 24.
When we saw each other, it was like we recognized each other. I'd never carried an ounce of anger. I never carried resentment towards her. I knew that she had to do what she did. I knew that that was her situation. There was only room for happiness in our rejoining and reconnecting. So at a time when my white family had abandoned me, here was this open door and there was my biological family that I could return to.