Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Native American Adoption

From the comments section of two of my recent posts (Dr Phil Speaks on ICWA & ICWA and Dr Phil - Oil and Water), its clear to me this is a topic we need to discuss more. I really, really appreciate the respectful tone of everyone's comments, even when people have been on "opposite sides" of the issue of Native American children's adoptions.

I think everyone knows, I am a non-native foster parent who has had Native kids in and out of my home. Understanding the history and the importance of trans-cultural adoptees and foster children staying connected to culture, I want to do it right.  Many of the foster parents I know would say the same but don't know where to start. When I was recently placed with a native child, I scoured the internet for resources for raising a Native child - not just a how to or how not to adopt one - and there weren't any. Not a one.

The honest truth is that the majority of white American knows very, very little about Native American history and even less of the current realities of being Native in America - on or off reservation. When I started to regularly volunteer on reservation and get to know Native Americans in my own community, I was amazed at the thoughts in my own head as well as questions, comments, from my non-native friends when I got back home. "What are their houses like?" "What do they eat?" "Come'on, racism isn't that bad in America." Wait, reservations still exist?" "Why would anyone choose to live there?" "Why don't they just move?" And in looking at my photos, "Oh my gosh - those babies are beautiful, how could you not just bring them all home?!" The vast majority of non-native America has NO IDEA what it is to be Native in America.

It is my firm belief that unless we start to provide meaningful information to all sides of the adoption community (social workers, children birth families, adoptive families, foster families, tribes and our friends and family), we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past on a smaller scale. Native kids will continue to be placed with uninformed non-natives and without providing them tools, the children will continue to be raised without a huge piece of their story.

Someone needs to step up and admit that: yes, native children should be placed with native families, but for various reasons, sometimes they are not. When that happens, How can we do it differently? Because the truth is, there are non-native foster and adoptive families out there who would like to learn. Like to be taught as the parents of these children, a better way. Of course there is the flip side of adoptive parents who don't care, don't want to learn, would rather not think about the race of their adopted child, but we can hope that with training - that close-mindedness would become less and less.

Our history is ugly - our future doesn't have to be.

Conversation heals and conversation changes things. So let me hear your thoughts - as many as you have - pro/con from native or non-native - anything said respectfully will be heard. Questions I have:

  1. How could there be more recruiting of Native families to foster and adopt? How can we encourage agencies and counties to encourage qualified families? Are there current stumbling blocks to native families becoming foster/adoptive families that I don't know about?
  2. What would you like to say to foster families who are currently fostering a Native child?
  3. What would you like to say to potential adopters who are thinking about adopting a Native child?
  4. What would you like to say to non-native families who have already adopted a Native child?
  5. In those cases where Native children ARE adopted by non-native families, what can the families do to nurture their child's Native heritage?
  6. What resources are there currently or would there be in an ideal world to help Native children adopted by Non-natives stay connected to culture?

I plan to pull together some of the comments and resources here along with the comments from the other comments sections on the blog to put together some cohesive thoughts... Excited to start this conversation.


  1. I am a native american foster mom who just found this blog and have alot of input beyond this comment box.

    1. How to better recruit native foster homes? My tribe's ICWA department sent out postcards to members asking for foster homes. I called for more information and didn't get any. Then I got a call 6 months later asking if I would take a baby boy that night. I said yes. I had no training, no support from the tribe, the social workers checked my home and called it a child-specific placement. I have been through alot of struggles with this process, but the bottom line is that the ICWA workers are not trained social workers, they are in it for a paycheck, made me all sorts of promises to take the child and then they vanished. When I demanded more support I was shunned from their office. So now I just deal with the state directly and don't even bother with them. I do not think I will foster again because of this experience. So as far as stumbling blocks for us? Tribal Politics.

    2. What I'd say to non-natives fostering our children: All tribes are very different culturally and please try to reach out to members and especially tribal elders to learn about the child's tribe and clan. You might be able to provide that child with a starting point when he or she is older to learn about where they come from. In my child's situation, ICWA worked perfectly. There was no immediate family available to take him, so rather than the state screening 3 or 4 people at best, the child's family of (in our case as a tibe) 1600. We live four houses down from the baby's great-grandmother. He sees his older siblings weekly. We go to tribal events and he is known to his people. Also we realized a couple weeks after placement that the boys mother is my husbands cousin so we are also considered kinship foster now.

    I have to go, a baby crying. I will try to finish this later.

  2. Answers to 3 through 6 are the same as my anser to 2. Find the Elders, they are the key resource for our youth. Every tribe is so different though, its hard for me to tell you how to find them. We do not have a reservation. And there are many white people among us that live right in our neighborhoods and don't know who we are. But thinking of this backwards, where do I see white people involved in the tribal events? The historical society is generally interested in hosting cultural events, and sometimes the schools ask for a tribal member to come in and speak. These might be good starting points if you don't know anyone from your child's tribe and don't see any public cultural events.

    Wherever you live in this country, there was a tribe walking where you live today. You may or may not get much help calling your locally federally recognized tribal headquarters: this is government beaurocracy just like the rest of them and I know around here, if they don't know you they won't bother calling you back. Try instead to find cultural events, but don't stop there - attending isn't enough because these things are mostly put on for white people. Grab an elder and tell them who you are and who your child is, and ask for their guidence and wisedom in raising this child. Most native elders are waiting for an opportunity to pass on their wisedom and are eager to help. Do not pretend we don't exist because thats how most of us are treated through our lives, like some sort of mythical creatures from times past. Old knowledge is greatly valued and just by asking an elder you are showing respect in a way most of society doesn't. If you commit to this kind of relationship, you'll be better able to judge the distinction between the hoaky wannabes and the true culture. As in, don't a hang a dream catcher in the kid's room and call it a day. Or bring him to some ceremony that someone is charging money for. It has to be about the child's tribe (again, we're each so different) and nurturing a real relationship with members of the tribe. Without a real relationship, nobody is going to take the time to teach you the language or traditions or cook the meals your child's ancestors made. You can't google a tribe and send an email and expect to be given a list of all the tribal values and history and culture. Imagine if someone emailed you and asked you: "Hey, I'm raising a white child and I'd like to learn more about their culture. Can you tell me some of your history and culture?" You wouldn't know where to begin, right? It's disregarded as an ignorant question because, don't people recognize that not all white people come from the same origins or have the same traditions? And where to begin with history? You couln't possible sum it up in one book or one conversation. So alot of the response you're going to get will depend on how you ask your questions, and to whom.

    I hope I've been some help. Thank you for asking these questions.

    1. Wow - thank you so much! I would love to feature some of these in a blog post in the future. Would that be okay with you? Would you be interesting in sharing anything else in the future? If you're interested, you can email me at


It'll be a pleasure hearing your thoughts. Alisa