Whether you are interested in adopting a Native American child, an adoption professional working with Native and Indigenous Peoples, or a Native American adoptee trying to reconnect with your culture and heritage, chances are you've encountered the complexities of the Indian Child Welfare Act. While the Act, initially enacted in 1978, has got to be in the running for the federal law with the greatest number of amendments, it's important to understand what led up to its enactment, and the effects of previous policies that make it so important.
Ill-treatment of Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples dates back to the arrival of the first settlers in the "new world;" however, I'll just touch on some recent history, specifically the Indian Adoption Project.
The Indian Adoption Project operated between 1958 and 1967 under the auspices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with support and funding from the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). CWLA participation bestowed an air of legitimacy on the practice of removing Indian children from their families basically because the "white man knew better," and while adoptive placements under the Project itself were limited, it is estimated that more than one quarter of all Indian children were removed from their families and placed into white adoptive and foster homes or orphanages before the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.
In 2001, the CWLA Board of Directors passed a resolution expressing regret for that group's participation in the Indian Adoption Project, and for its failure to support the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978. Speaking at the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) conference in Anchorage, Alaska that year, CWLA President/CEO Shay Bilchik's remarks included the following comments: