Dorgan's new book revisits story of 'Girl in the Photograph'
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Former Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan was enjoying the success of his fourth book, a critique of big-business greed, when he found the subject of his next book waiting right on his Facebook page.
It was a message in 2016 from Tamara DeMaris, who first caught the North Dakota lawmaker’s attention in 1990 after her teary-eyed portrait appeared along with a newspaper story on the abuse of foster home children on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. DeMaris, 5 years old at the time, had been severely beaten when she was 2.
Dorgan, 77, kept the newspaper clipping for decades as inspiration to help Native Americans, but had no idea what happened to DeMaris until she contacted him nearly three decades later, after finding a speech by Dorgan online while researching PTSD. Her story is the focal point of “The Girl in the Photograph: The True Story of a Native American Child, Lost and Found in America.”
Set to go on sale Tuesday, the book ties DeMaris’ difficult journey to the struggles of Native Americans and offers possible solutions.
“It has been a hard life, but she’s found some stability,” Dorgan told The Associated Press. He said DeMaris does not want to comment beyond the book, but added she now has “a special friend, a place to live and an opportunity for some health care.”
The book follows Dorgan’s most successful effort, “Take This Job and Ship It,” which made the New York Times bestseller list. After spending much of his 30 years in Congress working on Native American issues, including a stint as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, it’s Dorgan’s first time writing about his efforts to improve life for native and indigenous people.
“I had worked over many years in Congress to help Indian tribes find the resources to address serious problems, including the issue of safeguarding Indian children who were placed in foster care,” Dorgan writes early in the book. “It hadn’t been enough. It certainly wasn’t enough to offer safety to a 2-year-old child whose serious injuries would plague her for the rest of her life.”
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska lawmaker who was the ranking member of the Indian Affairs committee alongside Dorgan, called the Democrat “the most focused” on Native American issues and said he did it out of “passion and care” rather than for political reasons. Dorgan often brought up the girl in the photograph, Murkowski said.
“He used to go to the floor with her picture all the time when he would speak to these issues,” Murkowski said. “His voice would be elevated when he would talk not only about her plight, but the plight of so many native children.”
Dorgan said in an interview he spent “a great many hours” chatting with DeMaris both in person, by phone and through emails. The book describes how DeMaris has dealt with issues such as PTSD, homelessness and three attempted suicides, including as recently as 2015.
“For the longest time I was surprised every day that I wake up,” she said in the book. “I still feel that way and I have a lot of sad thoughts.”
Dorgan told the AP he hopes that people who read the story will understand what it’s like to “navigate through these difficulties.”
And he tries to offer hope. One chapter features six American Indian success stories — Dorgan said some might be more accurately called survival stories. The final vignette features Minnesota Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe who was elected to that post in 2018.
The last chapter highlights new opportunities, including job prospects in energy and natural resources, information technology and government contracting, which Dorgan said will “require engaged federal and state governments working with Native Americans to make it happen.”
Dorgan said proceeds from the book will be split between DeMaris and the nonprofit Center for Native American Youth, which he founded in 2011.