Saturday, November 9, 2002

Couple fashions native dolls

Playthings go to American Indian girls in foster care

The Associated Press

[photo] Ellen Baird holds Regina, a doll in traditional Creek dress, in her Norwich home.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
NORWICH - When Jay Gardner watched his daughter playing he noticed all her Barbie dolls were blonde, blue-eyed and fair-skinned.

His daughter Skylyn, an American Indian, was not.

"She was totally into the Barbie scene, but she wasn't completely identifying with them," said Mr. Gardner, a Creek Indian.

After some discussion, his wife, Ellen Baird, came up with a homemade solution.

Ms. Baird, a Rosebud Indian, found a native-looking doll after much searching. Using leftover fabric from Skylyn's American Indian jingle-dancing costume, Ms. Baird created a similar costume for the doll.

"By the end of the day, Skylyn had forgotten about Barbie," Mr. Gardner said.

Other American Indian children took notice of the doll as well.

"At pow-wows, the kids would look at it and say, `There's a doll that looks like me!' " Mr. Gardner said. "They'd look at it with their mouths open."

Ms. Baird, a former foster mother under the Indian Child Welfare Act in South Dakota, knew there were many other children who could benefit from such a doll.

"Kids who don't have a strong sense of identity have a stronger chance of getting into trouble," Ms. Baird said.

Girls are particularly susceptible to the loss of identity.

"There are activities for the boys, groups and sports teams," Ms. Baird said. "But often girls in foster care have much more trouble fitting in."

Ms. Baird said she didn't want those children to lose their tribal identities the way other families did during federal relocation efforts of American Indians in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Ms. Baird and Mr. Gardner formed The Little Moccasin Feat Project which takes 18-inch dolls and dresses them in appropriate tribal or powwow regalia. The dolls are then put up for "adoption" to individuals and companies for $150 each, which is tax deductible.

For every four dolls that are "adopted," the project can afford to create a backpack of goodies for an American Indian girl in foster care.

The backpack includes pajamas, a doll with a change of street clothes, a doll-sized blanket and a special short story about Native American cultural connections.

"Native kids in foster homes usually don't have any belongings of their own, and especially no family belongings that might be linked to their Native identity," said Ms. Baird.

"This is a great thing for kids who are in foster care to identify with," Mr. Gardner said. "It's something they can literally hold on to."

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