Diane Tells His Name, 61, grew up never knowing she was adopted.
“When did you first feel like you were different?” Bonnie Buchanan, 23, asks her mother during a recent visit to a StoryCorps booth.
“Probably elementary school,” she replies. “I had a younger sister, and I really didn’t like doing the same things that she would do.”
Instead of tea parties and dolls, Tells His Name spent her time outdoors, peering at the clouds and stars.
“And my sister was blond, tall and thin like my mother, and I was round and brown,” she says with a laugh.
She remembers flipping through family albums, searching for her face in the old photographs and never finding it.
“Eventually when I was 37-years-old, I happened to see a picture of my mom in October of 1951, and it shocked me because I was born in November of 1951, and my mother was not pregnant,” Tells His Name says. “That’s when I knew I was adopted.”
“How did you feel?” Buchanan asks.
“It was very satisfying to know that I wasn’t crazy,” Tells His Name says. “I didn’t blame them, I wasn’t angry with them. In 1951, you just didn’t talk about those things.”
She discovered her Native American roots on her original birth certificate, which also pointed to her birth mother’s name and her first home, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
To get in touch with her beginnings, she returned to South Dakota, received her Indian name and took what she calls a “crash course on how to be Indian.” After that experience, she and her husband contacted Indian Family Services to adopt a child from her Lakota tribe.
“And, finally, they faxed us a picture of a little Indian child, and she was drinking chocolate syrup out of a Hershey’s bottle. And our son said, ‘That’s her! That’s the one we need to adopt.’ And it was you,” Tells His Name says to Buchanan, who chuckles in response.
After researching Buchanan’s family tree, Tells His Name discovered they are cousins.
“I thought that was just — that was amazing,” Tells His Name says. “I’m glad you’re my baby.”
“I know. I’m glad you adopted me,” Buchanan replies.
“I am too,” Tells His Name says. “It’s like our whole family was just planned out so that it would be best for all of us.”
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall with Jasmyn Belcher.