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Saturday, February 12, 2011

About The Indian Adoption Projects and Programs

I realize many people think that the Indian Adoption Project was small, and involved a few hundred children. In fact, the BIA's Indian Adoption Project studied 395 cases. What did happen was in states like New York, they did their own Indian adoption programs. In fact, 16 states removed 85% of Native children for closed adoption, which is a staggering amount of children. No one knows exactly how many!

The following is an excerpt from Working Together to Strengthen Supports for Indian Children and Families: A National Perspective, Keynote Speech by Shay Bilchik at the NICWA Conference, Anchorage, Alaska on April 24, 2001

For a long time in the early history of child welfare, many educated middle-class Americans sincerely believed that the world would run smoothly and sweetly if everybody would just make the effort to think and behave like they did. In the name of improvement, Irish and Italian children were scooped up from city tenements that looked crowded and dirty, away from “unfit” single parents and the smells of unfamiliar cooking, taken to the countryside in orphan trains, and parceled out to rural families. Most of them never saw their parents or siblings again.

These were terrible acts, no matter how noble or “professional” the intentions of their perpetrators. Next to the death penalty, the most absolute thing a government can do to an individual is to take a child away. But these were acts against individual immigrant families, and no European national group was singled out for these removals to the point of being imperiled.

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.

No matter how well intentioned and how squarely in the mainstream this was at the time, it was wrong; it was hurtful; and it reflected a kind of bias that surfaces feelings of shame, as we look back with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

I am not here today to deny or minimize that role, but to put it on the table and to acknowledge it as truth. And then, in time, and to the extent that each of us is able, to move forward in a new relationship in which your governments are honored and respected, our actions are based upon your needs and values, and we show proper deference to you in everything that concerns Native children and families.

These are the facts. Between 1958 and 1967, CWLA cooperated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, under a federal contract, to facilitate an experiment in which 395 Indian children were removed from their tribes and cultures for adoption by non-Indian families. This experiment began primarily in the New England states. CWLA channeled federal funds to its oldest and most established private agencies first, to arrange the adoptions, though public child welfare agencies were also involved toward the end of this period. Exactly 395 adoptions of Indian children were done and studied during this 10-year period, with the numbers peaking in 1967. ARENA, the Adoption Resource Exchange of North America, began in early 1968 as the successor to the BIA/CWLA Indian Adoption Project. Counting the period before 1958 and some years after it, CWLA was partly responsible for approximately 650 children being taken from their tribes and placed in non-Indian homes. For some of you, this story is a part of your personal history.

Through this project, BIA and CWLA actively encouraged states to continue and to expand the practice of “rescuing” Native children from their own culture, from their very families. Because of this legitimizing effect, the indirect results of this initiative cannot be measured by the numbers I have cited. Paternalism under the guise of child welfare is still alive in many locations today, as you well know.


  1. I am so sad this was allowed to happen. To many of my relatives whose children were talked out of them prior to giving birth in the Alaska area, this was a part of their lives taken from them. I have had 3 cousins who have gotten their BIA records of birth and found their mother. It is sad because it was after she began suffering from Alzheimers disease. I have had another cousin reunited with our tribe recently. I have been searching for clues as to which nurse from the Tanana Hospital adopted my sister in law either 1960 or after 1962. I would like to know who can help us to find her as her brother is in last stages of terminal cancer. 1 brother has died in a car accident and their mother passed away in 1967. There are 3 brothers surviving. Ages 58, 50, 43. We are members of an Alaskan tribe. I have found that BIA has sealed records of all adoptees from that hospital.

    1. Contact Terry Cross at the National Indian Child Welfare offices in Portland, Oregon - either call or write. You can also contact Sandy WhiteHawk in Minnesota at her website: -- they will have some ideas for you up in Alaska. America - the gov't - did this to many Indigenous families - and it needs to end by opening records for adoptees. I am so sorry this happened to your family.
      My email is:

  2. Looking for adoptees born in Tanana Indian Hospital in Alaska during the "Indian Adoption Program". Many were adopted out to nurses and doctors or their friends.

  3. I am an adoptee who is still trying to find my family. My "New birth certificate" that the white family had made, showed them as my birth parents. However, I had been told that the maternal father had actually paid $100.00 for me. For the longest time, I was told that my real family were poor Mexicans who could not feed me. But I started trying to find out more information about my real family when I heard I was bought like a piece of clothing. I had never heard of an adoptee bought before. I always felt isolated, was physically abused, and somehow always knew my real family was alive and woukd never have abandoned me to a white family. It was only when I was a teenager and wanted to start making beadwork, and bustles to join an Indian dance group, did my adopted mother let it slip that I was native American when she made disparaging remarks about both my people and me. I was still an infant when I was taken, the date of the birth certificate say November 7, 1962. However, there are no records of my birth where I was told I was born. I know now that I mist have already been several months old when taken. If you have any information that coukd help me in finding my fa.ily. I woukd greatly appreciate it.

    1. Hi Unknown, I hope you get this reply. Please email me so I can get you in touch with someone who can help you find your records. We'll need to know what state you were born. On your birth certificate, they list the state and that is usually not altered. My email:


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Veronica, we adult adoptees are thinking of you today and every day. We will be here when you need us. Your journey in the adopted life has begun, nothing can revoke that now, the damage cannot be undone. Be courageous, you have what no adoptee before you has had; a strong group of adult adoptees who know your story, who are behind you and will always be so.

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As the single largest unregulated industry in the United States, adoption is viewed as a benevolent action that results in the formation of “forever families.”
The truth is that it is a very lucrative business with a known sales pitch. With profits last estimated at over $1.44 billion dollars a year, mothers who consider adoption for their babies need to be very aware that all of this promotion clouds the facts and only though independent research can they get an accurate account of what life might be like for both them and their child after signing the adoption paperwork.


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Why tribes do not recommend the DNA swab

Rebecca Tallbear entitled: “DNA, Blood, and Racializing the Tribe”, bearing out what I only inferred:

Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

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