Although the adoption of a Native American child by an American citizen technically falls under domestic adoption in that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service plays no role in the process, it is not simply a transracial adoption that requires the usual cultural sensitivity on the part of the adoptive parents.
Adopting a Native American child is tricky precisely because most people do not go into it with the idea that it is like an international adoption. In fact, because Indian reservations maintain some level of political autonomy, tribal members are essentially dual citizens of sorts. However, their tribal affiliation takes precedence when it comes to adoption law.
Since 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act has been an influential part of deciding which families are eligible to adopt Native American children. The motivation behind this law is to keep Native American children in Native American families in order to avoid losing their cultural identity. The history of adoption in the United States is marred by forceful separation of parents and children in an effort to assimilate Native American children into mainstream Anglo-American culture by removing them from their parents for any number of reasons and immediately placing them for adoption with Caucasian families.
There are instances when a child truly is in need of an adoptive home, and there aren’t always qualified and willing Native American adoptive families available for the child. In these situations, the best interest of the child comes down to a choice between a permanent, loving family – albeit of a different ethnicity – or growing up in Native American foster homes and aging out of the system. It remains questionable how useful it is to attempt to pass down a nation’s cultural identity to the next generation at the cost of a child having a family of his or her own.
The Indian Child Welfare Act exists because Native American culture and identity is at risk of extinction due to heavy assimilation, not just of children adopted by non-Indian families, but also due to young people moving off reservations in search of better economic opportunities, as well as intermarriage between tribal members and outsiders. It isn’t fair to place the burden of maintaining cultural identity on the shoulders of children already in precarious familial situations.
Credits: Karolina Maria
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