Adopting a Native American Child

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The Indian Child Welfare Act

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 (3)
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Ann - 2 years ago
0 0 6
I am a Modoc Native and was adopted at the age of six. My adopted parents who were not Native (bless their hearts) were very instrumental in making sure that I was enrolled in the Tribe, had my hunting and fishing rights with the Tribe and communicated with the Tribe regularly. I was born in 1965 and the Klamath Tribe(s) were in the process of selling assets of the Tribe for compensation. Tribal members received numerous payments for such assets as mineral rights, timber, etc. through the '70s. I was an enrolled member of the Klamath Tribe at the time of s few of said payments. I was also a direct descendent of a member of the final roll (my full-blooded Modoc mother) which was required to collect any of these payments. The BIA refused to recognize me as an heir to these monies stating that since I was legally adopted, I would inherit through my adopted parents as if they were my natural blood parents. I have never thought this was fair. Any hope for a re-do? #1
Valarie - 1 year ago
0 0 5
I would like to know about adopting a child and I am native American and I would love to adopt a child so I am wondering about the programs or how to apply to adopt a child please would like some assistance if possible #2
Britt - 11 months ago
0 0 1
I'm part Cherokee and part Seminole mixed with scotch. I am 36 and medically there is no explanation for why I can't have my own child. My grandfather grew up in an orphanage so we are looking to adopt a baby. I have been well educated in the Cherokee ways and know we would raise a baby with tribal values. I'm just not sure how to go about adoption out of the state of Georgia. #3
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