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Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  145 ratings  ·  32 reviews
2019 High Plains Book Award Winner for the Creative Nonfiction and Indigenous Writer categories 

In Bitterroot Susan Devan Harness traces her journey to understand the complexities and struggles of being an American Indian child adopted by a white couple and living in the rural American West. When Harness was fifteen years old, she questioned her adoptive father about her
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 1st 2018 by University of Nebraska Press
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Feb 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Susan Devan Harness’ Bitterroot was the first An account of her childhood in a chaotic and abusive white family following her removal from her family and tribal community at 18 months, as well as her journey to piece together her history and her family of origin in adulthood, this book was less a journey of Devan Harness’ healing, and more of a journey into the vulnerability of abandonment and grief that these adoptions create for this children torn asunder from their entire being by colonial po ...more
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Here's the truth: this is an important memoir. Susan Devan Harness’ story belongs solely to her and yet mirrors the harrowing journey of so many transracial adoptees across the United States and Canada.

Harness was honest, she did not hold back. If I’m to also be completely honest, there were some things said that did not sit well with me. I must acknowledge this is because I had the privilege of being raised Anishinaabeg by two parents who spoke fluent Anishinaabemowin.

I have lived my life as An
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Susan Devan Harness, born Vicky Charmain Rowan, is a member of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes and was raised from age two by white parents in a predominantly white community in Montana. This memoir recounts her experience growing up visibly Native surrounded by white people and their racism, the abuse and neglect she suffered at the hands of her alcoholic father and mentally ill mother, and her experience trying and finally succeeding at connecting with her birth family. Though in large ...more
"Social memory is what ties all these perceptions together, allowing them to be regifted from one generation to the next. I was not responsible for not fitting in. Society holds that responsibility. I am able to breathe a sigh of relief to put down that burden."
I always find writing reviews of memoirs to be a bit difficult so this isn't a review, just a description and some thoughts.

Susan always knew she was adopted, it was never hidden from her and she was made acutely aware that her indigenous
Erin || erins_library
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
“Tradition is what we do. Culture is who we are. Even though Ms. Harness wasn’t raised around us, she is very much a member of our culture, because we are a culture that has experienced assimilation with such negative consequences.”

I really appreciate Susan Devan Harness and how she bared her soul by sharing her story with us. The effects of Transracial adoptions on Indigenous people isn’t something I’m intimately involved with, so I am honored to have learned about her experiences. The feelings
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
As an infant, Harness was adopted; as a teenager, she began searching for her roots and was told that her birth family was dead or deadbeat or both; as an adult, she finally began to uncover the truth.

After he adopted me from my fractured reservation family, I think he believed if he could raise me just right, I wouldn’t be Indian anymore. If I was white I would be free from prejudices, free from the hatred so entrenched in Montana culture. But in the American West, being Indian is what you are,
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A heartbreaking and important memoir about the author’s experience as a transracial adoptee, taken from her tribe and adopted by “nice white people.” She shares the racism, abuse and harm done to her while living in a society not her own, and the difficult task of trying to find her place in any community even after locating her birth family.
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: get-from-library
3.5-4 - A difficult read but an important part of the colonial story of cultural genocide, erasure and assimilation enacted upon Native people. Also brings some visibility and nuance to transracial adoption that is very much needed.
Alisa Wilhelm
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow this was so good. Intricately layered vignettes that criss-cross across the author's life as much as she criss-crosses the American West provide an intimate context to her life. Susan Devan Harness was adopted when she was 18-months old after being taken away from her negligent mother (and family, and life on the rez, and all that comes with that). She was adopted by a white couple, their only child. Both her birth family and her adoptive family were dysfunctional. She has faced a lifetime o ...more
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was illuminating, heartbreaking, and hopeful. I bought it because I heard an interview with the author on Colorado Public Radio and I'm so glad I did. The author provides an honest and vulnerable account of being adopted by a white family out and how that affected her coming to terms with her Native American heritage.

I recommend this book if you're looking for something to challenge you, make you see things in a different way, if you're a history buff, or if you simply want to learn m
Julayne Lee
Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Susan Devan Harness' BITTERROOT is necessary reading in understanding transracial adoption, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and Native American history. Many aspects of Bitterroot resonated with me as a transracial adoptee and it was also an education in all the things about Native American History that I was never taught. It should be required reading for all adoption professionals as well as prospective adoptive parents and really all of America.
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was beautifully written about a heartbreakingly sad experience that ended up defining so many children's lives. The educational value of this also can not be over looked, as I grew up in Montana, and am not completely oblivious of its sordid history, but is certainly one of Montana's dirty little secrets.
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Gripping, spellbinding, and true.
Terri Balside
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Compelling, courageous, and raw in its honesty, this memoir pulls no punches as the author looks for answers and understanding as a transracial adoptee.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
I picked up Bitteroot as part of a three book buddy reads discussion on transracial adoption, prior to this I had little to no knowledge of this book’s existence and several people struggled to source the book. The difficulty of access becomes one of the myriad of ways people are shut out of engaging with Native history and literature, and as a consequence the opportunity to understand and critique systems and structures put in place which continue to fracture Native families.

At 18 months old, S
Katya Cengel
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Bitteroot is a book that asks a lot of its readers – and that is a good thing. If you want a simple solution, then look elsewhere. If you want to challenge yourself to see transracial adoption in all its complexity, then let this book be your guide. Harness does not have an answer, she has a story, her own, and as it unfolds you learn to see things how she does. The view is not always pleasant. As a Native American woman adopted by a white couple as a child, Harness struggles not just with the i ...more
I find this book very hard to rate. For content and a unique perspective, I would give it a five. This was a very hard read for me because the timeline does loop de loops, and I found the writing hard to hold in my head. I think this could have been five stars if an editor would have organized the section into a continuous timeline and designated the flashbacks in some way like a different font. I feel for Susan's journey and am sad that so many of these stories have gone and continue to go unre ...more
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"You think too much about being Indian", her uncle tells her. She says he has the luxury of knowing who he is. Towards the end of the book, she becomes increasingly bitter about all of the stereotypes that have hurt her so much, and apply them as a blanket stereotype to Natives. It seems she has internalized many of these prejudices and can't see the situation with fresh eyes. This is what might prevent her from being who she wants to be? Her refusal to accept that her history and identity are a ...more
In the mid-1960’s two year old Victoria Charmaine was removed from her Salish family and adopted by a white couple. She was renamed Susan.

Her white father held many of the typical racial stereotypes against Indians “Goddam-crazy-drunken-warwhoops”.

Her mother loved her dearly but fought mental illness.

Neither wanted their daughter to search for her birth family. They wanted her to grow up completely assimilated into a white world. They told her that her family had all been killed in a car crash.

Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Never stop telling people what happened to us, what’s been done to us. They need to know.”

I really appreciate how the author share her experience as a transracial adoptee from an early age throughout her adult life. She had to learn how to live with un-healable wound, she had a-lot of pain towards her mother and had to internalise what was said about her.

I think, Internalised racism is one of the saddest parts of transracial adoption, in the authors case and probably many other children.

Jan 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-nations
Susan Devan Harness was adopted from the Salish Kootenai tribe in the 1950s and raised by white parents. This is her story of coming to a deeper understanding of her identity and her families, birth and adoptive. She is so good at describing how it feels to understand and live White cultural norms, while looking Indian. And it is so painful. Good but hard reading, esp for White parents who have adopted trans-racially.
Jul 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a memoir, it's a well-written page turner. As a history of colonization, assimilation, and the Indian Adoption Project, it may not have been as strong as I might have wanted. Harness does have a more scholarly work that would could probably answer my need for more. Harness has still not been able to obtain her adoption record in its entirety. The wounds of the Indian Adoption Project may never fully heal.
Aug 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I try not to comment much on memoirs seeing as this is someone’s life they are sharing.

Instead, I will say this was an incredibly thoughtful writing of a hard life. Living between two cultures and never feeling you truly belong is a long journey to self-love.

An absolutely wonderful read for anyone looking to get a better understanding of the effects of the Indian Adoption Project (1958-1967) in the USA.
Gail WechslerDavid
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Compelling biography of Native girl adopted by white parents. Heart rending search to find herself and her birth family. Facing racism, bigotry as she grew up in a white world. Gives a greater understanding of the racism against people of color in our world even today. Well written and thoughtful book
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderfully written memoir of a woman's journey to find her roots in a Native American world after being adopted as a young child by a white couple. The author's descriptive writing takes you into her world and you feel the pain she endured as she completed this journey. Wonderful book!
Aug 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Overall, a very interesting read of the author's search for her identify. Sometimes the narrative seemed to lack some organizational cohesion, but the author's emotional journey was clearly portrayed.
Oct 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The author explores the difficulties of being an American Indian child who was adopted by a white couple, and the meaning of culture and family. Well-written. Interesting. Thoughtful.

Food: Comfort food.

Mel Manion-towner
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent memoir and exploration of belonging
Karen Auvinen
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An important book.
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hard to read - colonizers were (and continue to be) horrible to Native Americans. Bleak.
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Susan Devan Harness, author of Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption (University of Nebraska Press, 2018), is a member of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes, a cultural anthropologist, writer and speaker.

Ms. Harness shared her expertise on the TEDxMileHigh stage with her presentation "Adopting a Child of a Different Race? Let's Talk..." She has an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology

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