Adopting a Native American Child

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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:

    "One ethnic group, however - American Indians and Alaskan Natives - a people of many cultures and governments, and the original citizens of this land - was singled out for treatment that ranged over the decades from outright massacre to arrogant and paternalistic "improvement." CWLA played a role in that attempt. We must face this truth.

    "... While adoption was not as wholesale as the infamous Indian schools, in terms of lost heritage, it was even more absolute. I deeply regret the fact that CWLA's active participation gave credibility to such a hurtful, biased, and disgraceful course of action. I also acknowledge that a CWLA representative testified against ICWA at least once, although fortunately, that testimony did not achieve its end.

    "As we look at these events with today's perspective, we see them as both catastrophic and unforgivable. Speaking for CWLA, I offer our sincere and deep regret for what preceded us." (see full text)
So, the next time you feel frustrated with the Act, remember what was done in the past. It won't help things go more quickly, but with an understanding of why the Act is in place, it may be easier to be patient as you go through the necessary legal steps. There are several resources for those with an interest in and connection to the adoption and foster care (past and present) of Native American and Indigenous children, including: Legal Information for Adopting Parents CWLA President/CEO Shay Bilchik's Remarks Historical References Related Resources
Visitor Comments (7)
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OjibweSarah - 4 years ago
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CINDY....Are you a tribal member? It's interesting that you say you are "part" Cherokee and yet refer to it as "their" culture and "those" children...generally as tribal members we consider it "our" culture and "our" children. If you are not a tribal member and can't prove lineage to a tribal member, then I can see why they didn't allow you to adopt. You sound an awful lot like an outsider than an insider. #1
Carla - 4 years ago
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I am completely lucky as an adoptee from a tribe myself. I was fortunate enough to be adopted under the right circumstances, and I know that my birth mother had only my best interests in mind. I can only hope the best is being done for those in my same situation. And I believe it takes a special kind of heart to take in ANY child that's not their own blood. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the birth families and adoptive families involved in this process. I am a mother of two, that I carried myself... but I am in the beginning stages of looking into adoption, because my husband and I may want children in the future, but don't necessarily want the biological way right now. It's hard with such a rich culture to think that it may not be as strong in another situation, but with the right people involved and a strong support system, there is hope for everyone. Good luck to all hoping to adopt, and you're all in my thoughts. #2
Cynthia - 4 weeks ago
I recently discovered my Naïve American heritage(I was adopted at two months old) and I am interested in receiving more information about my birth parents,I am 43% Naïve American and I live in the County of San Bernardino . Any suggestions or comments regarding the direction,I should pursue?? #3
Cindy - 4 years ago
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Being part Cherokee, I wanted to adopt a small child from the Cherokee Children's Home in North Carolina, where I donated many items to those beautiful children, in which many of them were abused by family members. I was told no because the Tribal Council would not approve someone like me, adopt a full blooded Cherokee child unless I was full blooded native American myself. I truly understand this decision to maintain their heritage but, me being part Cherokee myself, I would have done anything to continue that child's heritage because everything I am in my heart is native. I support their heritage and always have. I understand the Council's for turning someone like me down but, had I been able and been blessed to adopt a native American child, that child would have had many more opportunities and chances to grow in a healthier, wealthier, and more stable home than being kept at the Children's Home until she would have been placed back with abusive parents. #4
Julia - 3 years ago
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I am a Native American woman looking to adopt a Native American baby. I am resently remarried and have four grown children and my husband would love for us to have a baby. He does not have any children of his own and I cannot have anymore. Where would I seek help in my looking to adopt a Native baby. #5
Guest - 4 years ago
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Being a Native American woman, I understand both sides. I understand that there are many wonderful families that would open up their home and hearts to any NV baby or child. I also understand the argument of my people. We are a dying breed..only make up .5% of the population. Keeping us together is of the utmost importance so that we don't die out completely. So many reservations are poverty stricken, and cannot provide for their people, let alone new babies. My husband and I are so fortunate to be NA and very successful...we can provide the needs, both financially and culturally these children need. There is no easy answer...I can only pray and hope that all our children are safe and warm. #6
Lisa - 4 years ago
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I understand the horrible treatment that all native people have gone through. Very very sad.I think that if there is no family for any poor orphan.I would hope anyone that is a decent person no matter the background would be able to adopt a poor helpless child or baby.I think I would be perfect in adopting a Native American child or baby due to the fact I am part Indian myself.I understand alot of the issues.Life doesnt make since but I believe that we all should be given a chance to make a better tommorrow for anyone that has had such grusome past. I hope someday i can be that person to make a childs life better. Hopefully sooner than later. Take Care and God Bless. Lisa Moore #7

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