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Friday, February 14, 2014

Adoption From a Native American Perspective

Leland Morrill, adopted from the Navajo Nation
Leland Morrill was estranged from his Navajo lineage for twenty years. Today, as an author, advocate, and speaker, Morrill shares the unique perspective of how adoption is viewed by Native American family and culture, through the eyes of an adult adoptee.

Leland Morrill was born in 1966, on sovereign land, in the Navajo Nation, within the state of Arizona. He was not issued a birth certificate, and does not know the exact date of his birth. His young, unwed mother was his sole caretaker for the first few years of his life, and according to Leland, this wasn’t unusual in Native American culture.
“Marriage is a Christian concept, not Native,” said Morrill. “Many people from my parent’s generation weren’t married. It’s a very matriarchal society. When you’re born, you take on your mother’s last name, you go to your mother’s family, and the women decide whether the men stay around after the children are born. That’s the way it was. ”
When Leland was two years old, his mother suffered a fatal head injury after flipping her car on a bridge in Albuquerque New Mexico. It was September 1968; Leland was two years old.
“My brother and I went to St. Anthony’s orphanage, where they figured out that we were Navajo, and took us back to the reservation to stay with my grandmother. In our culture, once your mother dies, your next caretakers are your aunts and grandmothers. They are considered your mothers,” said Morrill.
Less than a year after being placed in the care of his grandmother, Leland was taken to the Indian Health Services Hospital for a minor burn on his foot. After Leland was treated, he was taken to another hospital in Gallup, New Mexico, where the Bureau of Indian Affairs decided to investigate.
“They saw poor people, Indians. My grandmother was a sheepherder, living on an Indian reservation without electricity,” Morrill said. “My relatives couldn’t speak English, so they said— ‘we don’t know if these people are your relatives or not, so we are going to take you.’”
Leland was immediately removed from his home and placed with an adoptive couple looking for Native American children to foster and adopt. The day after he was adopted, the family moved to Ontario, Canada, severing all ties Leland had to his biological, Native American family.
Not uncommon for the times, before 1978, when Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, a very high number of Indian children were removed from their homes by public and private agencies and placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes or institutions. Leland, who was part of the Amicus Group that went to DC to attend the argument on behalf of Dusten Brown and the Cherokee Nation in the “Baby Veronica” adoption case, explained that there are new laws and bills being passed currently to help further protect biological families. One bill in particular, the Oklahoma Truth In Adoption Act (HB 1118), urges judges to consider the biological family members first before allowing a child to be placed with non-related adoptive parents by an adoption agency.  
“From a human trafficking point of view, I was trafficked,” said Morrill. “Every time they adopted a child, they went to another country. They adopted seven more children when we got to Canada, and then we moved right after that. They separated us from our cultures.”

“They trained us within the Mormon ideology; they thought they were saving us. They thought they were doing the right thing, and from that perspective they were good people. But from a Native American perspective—they were not.”
Leland Morrill returned to his mother’s clan, the Many Goats Clan, for the first time in 1989, to be greeted with open arms by his grandmother and his cousins. “I was a little freaked out, like—wow! this is what I would have been raised like.”
“I tell Native American adoptees like myself—yes, this is what happened to you. You were trafficked. But you have to get past that. Consider yourselves different, because you were forced to assimilate into a different culture. But use that assimilation in your favor—whatever education or opportunities were presented to you that others on the reservation didn’t have, you can come back and use them to help your people.”

For more about Leland’s story, read: Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects


  1. This was a very interesting and informative post.

  2. I am so upset my blood boils.I'm not sure if I'm Choctaw Indain mix or what .Still as a mother of loss to my son that was taken ,almost like this back in the day of the baby scoop era ,my son didn't have a chance.Polotitions and people in high places of office of this supposedly free country ,that has never really been a free country as some greedy people from who knows where stole and made war on US soil ever since we knew land was over her but I wasn't there,history tells us we are and were never free.Only the jet set and the greatest of money in their banks made their own money making juman trafficking industry taking family of the American Indain and their children to this very day of a worldwide genocide .After the war on the American Indain ,it remained under a slavery.As their civil rights were taken away just as adoptees and 1st mothers of today and they are under this slavery for neglect to have what the constition says all man is supposed to have( Freedom to their documents of who they are ,adoptives changing the newborns very place and time of birth ,not giving the real mother any rights.All people are at risk and have lost a lot of blood relatives,they do not belive that blood has any merit for who we are.We are not made of iron and steel but the greeds adoptives have stone cold hearts,not a definition in my book of human beings that just take babys and children because they have more money,not once offering the good and civil way help thy neighbor -they only the adoption Industry helped themselves to other couples child which is not what God had in mind for his people .God is the one that had diciples to write down the many thousands of bloodlines,even Moses and he was also forced by having no choice .Later is when Moses left Egypt saying let my people go .He saw his real mother and they lived and were mother and son again the way God wanted it.I promise ,this all this horror is caused by greedy while man and I'm white,trying not to be preduce against my own people It's wrong no matter what the people my own kind -I think?As I grew older I saw in the holy bible many things in my Church said about indains and their life.What a goodness even when they meditated so did the diciples and spirit in the sky was a plus and I wish them all a final Open all records,give back all blood kin to the American Indains of this country ,enough -enough Maybe if one person starts a say no to votes and it turns overwhelming ,this nation just might then realize it is not theirs -But the Peoples !

    1. Free as A Bird, I am so sorry for the loss your son and hope beyond hope that you are reunited. What happened in the Americas to Indigenous First Nations has been buried and concealed -- but many adoptees I have met are opening their hearts and sharing the pain and loss they endured because of closed adoptions, like Leland did sharing his story. This story is still being written. Many of us were born in the 40s up to the 1970s, before the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed and made federal law. But we know many states are not following this law and children are still being placed with non-Indian adoptive parents, as with Baby Veronica last year. I agree we must say no, no more, no to taking Native children and placing them with non-Indian parents. It must end in 2014.

  3. I too was taken by a lutheran adoption agency. I was 4, and the only one of my bothers adopted. The issue for me, was that my grandmother was taken from her tribe and placed into a nunnery when she was young. She had no tribe to fight for her. It's a systematic problem, a forgotten racism that's too far removed from the source, that emanates in our society like an old scar. I feel like dirt swept under a rug. Now I am left without a family, and without my culture.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I am a black market baby from Arizona . Doctored birth certificate says 10/28/1969. I believe I am half native and half Caucasian. I have dreams , visions, and see things that I am told are Native American and I am highly intuitive and a long list of other gifts. I doubt I will find my family as my life is based on lies and I walked away from adoptive family and their trust fund. I know what I feel is truth. It is disgraceful what was done to people by powers that be. Thanks for letting me share. Nadia

    1. Nadia, There is always hope (as in DNA tests) and courts are changing how they deal with our issues. Please email me: - don't lose hope.



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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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