It all started with this phone call. On Friday, Trina Hungate of Hilger, Montana was listening to KXLO radio and called in to our statewide radio talk show, Voices of Montana. For years, Trina has been searching for her husband Will’s birth mother.
“We are trying to locate a Claudette Buckman who would have been in Helena on April 3rd in 1959,” said Trina live on the air around 9:50 Friday morning.
According to Trina, her Native American husband was adopted in the days before the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) went into effect. Those were days when, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the federal government, states, and private adoption agencies sought to remove Indian children from their tribes and families in order to “civilize” the children or provide them with better lives. Congress passed the ICWA to end this practice and the high rate at which Indian children were being removed from their homes and placed with non-Indians.
“My husband was one of those who was adopted as an infant from the reservation to a great white farming couple,” added Trina. “He grew up on a white ranch, and worked his whole life. But he’s trying to locate his birth mother whose name is Claudette Buckman and she would have been in Helena on April 3rd, 1959.”
To that, I responded on the air by saying, “You never know, there might be somebody listening who knows.”
Then, just a few minutes after the show ended, I got a call from Joyce Robinson with KMMR radio, our affiliate in Malta, Montana. Joyce told me she got a phone call from Ruth Buckman Longknife who lives at the east end of the Little Rockies and was listening to KMMR. “She said, I’m the sister of the birthmother,” Joyce told me.
So I gave Trina Hungate a call and passed along the phone number for Ruth. I could tell that Trina was shaking and choking up on the other end of the phone, realizing that she may be on the verge of finding her husband’s birth mother. That was the last I heard from Trina until today, Monday morning.
Now, after years of calling every Buckman they could find in the phone books, it turns out one simple phone call to a statewide radio talk show is reuniting her husband with his birth mother.
In a follow up interview that aired on Monday’s Voices of Montana, Trina said, “They’ve been looking for him as long as he has been looking for them, and so it’s just a miracle. It’s a miracle that everything happened the way it did. It’s a miracle that it actually was the birth family that was listening to your radio show and that we were able to be put in contact.”
For her husband Will, at times it felt as if his birth mother was a lifetime away. As it turns out, some 53 years later, she’s only a two hour drive down the road in Billings.
This Saturday Trina and Will are making the trip to visit his mom, newfound brothers and sisters, and more than a dozen aunts and uncles.
Click here to listen to the full interview with Trina Hungate that aired live in the 2nd half of Voices of Montana.
***h/t to Congressman Denny Rehberg’s office for providing access to the CRS report on the ICWA.