Native American Adoption

open adoption of Native American children
The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978. This act regulates the adoption of children with Native American ancestry. It was passed because it was found that adoptions outside of tribes showed a negative impact on the longevity of the cultures, traditions, and populations of specific Native American tribes.

Proving Tribal Ancestry

Tribal ancestry is extremely difficult to prove and varies greatly from tribe to tribe. A birth mother may believe her child has Native American ancestry simply due to a supposed family history. Many American citizens believe they have Native American lineage, but few have proof. The only way to truly prove that a child is Native American is not with blood work, but with documentation.

If there is any question that a child may have Native American ancestry, the adoptive parent, birth parent, or adoption agency should contact that Nation with the name of the supposed person who was on the tribal rolls.

In most cases, there will be no proof that a child has Native American ancestry. Many of these records have been lost over the years. Just because a name has not been documented does not mean that a child does not have a biological claim to Native American ancestry. It does mean that the child is not legally a part of that Nation. The laws specified by the Indian Child Welfare Act will not apply to the adoption.

Should a tribal connection be validated, that child still must be enrolled in the tribe. Each Native American tribe has its own rule regarding whether, how, and if a child can be added to the tribal roll. Some only require proof that the child is related to a person who appears in their records. Others need proof of a certain percentage of Native American ancestry before they can be added.

Validating Native American Ancestry

If a child’s Native American ancestry has indeed been proven, there are further steps that must be taken before he or she can be adopted. First, the tribal group must decide whether or not they wish the child to be adopted by a member of that Nation. According to the Indian Child Welfare Act, the federally recognized tribe does have full jurisdiction over the adoption of any member that has been enrolled.

If the Nation decides they do not want a member of their tribe to adopt the child, the adoption will be managed by the original agency. Otherwise, the Native American tribe will seek a home that they believe is best for that child.

This article is a short overview of the intricacies of Native American adoption. We recommend consulting with an attorney that specializes in Native American adoption to address your specific situation.