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About the Indian Adoption Projects

This history is not well known since it is not taught widely but is now being discussed on the college-level and on the internet like this blog about American Indian Adoptees.

This is a summary:

Indian Adoption Project(s)

“Government policies shifted in the 1950’s towards a more humanitarian view, but not without serious consequences.  Humanitarians still viewed assimilation as the best answer to the ‘Indian problem’ and viewed tribes as incapable of caring for their children.  New projects began, such as the Indian Adoption Project, which used public and private agencies to remove and place hundreds of Indian children in non-Indian homes far from their families and communities (Mannes, 1995).  Few efforts were made or resources committed to help tribal governments develop services on tribal lands that would strengthen Indian families. As efforts to outplace Indian children continued into the 1960s and 1970s, the Association on Indian Affairs conducted a study in the 1970’s that found between 25 percent and 35 percent of all Indian children had been separated from their families (George, 1997). This study also found that in 16 states in 1969, 85 percent of the Indian children were placed in non-Indian homes (Unger, 1977).  The long-term effects of these massive out placements of Indian children were only just beginning to be understood in the 1970’s, which included effects not only on individuals, but also the well-being of entire tribal communities. Not until 1978, after the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act (P.L. 95-608), did the federal government acknowledge the critical role that tribal governments play in protecting their children and maintaining their families.”

“These are the facts. Between 1958 and 1967, Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) cooperated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), under a federal contract, to facilitate an experiment in which non-Indian families removed 395 Indian children from their tribes and cultures for adoption. 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….”
—Working Together to Strengthen Supports for Indian Children and Families: A National Perspective, Keynote Speech by Shay Bilchik at the National Indian Children Welfare Association (NICWA) Conference, Anchorage, Alaska on April 24, 2001

“If the Native American population was 2 million and just one quarter of all children were removed before the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, then (on-paper) 80,000+ children were removed from their families during the early to mid-1900s.  If the population was 3 million, then over 100,000 were removed and relocated via adoption.” (You do the math…)
—Trace A. DeMeyer, One Small Sacrifice: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects

“In 1984, 80% of American Indian infant adoptions into non-Indian homes were made without notification to the child’s tribe or the Secretary of the Interior. Six years since its development, the ICWA still was not understood, was not being implemented correctly or was simply ignored. The problem exists today; and with the time-frame of child adoption procedures being accelerated under President Clinton’s new adoption policies, the risk of Indian children being permanently removed from their families, their tribes, and their culture continues to increase.”
—American Indian Child Resource Center

An adoptee’s ‘records’ include: the adoption decree; information about birth parents and their families gathered during pre-placement interviews; and the Original Birth Certificate (OBC).  Several states offer restricted access, like Michigan.  Restrictions include consent vetoes, required parental permission even for adults, mandatory intermediaries, and open records for adoptees born in certain years.  Proposals to change the laws are being considered in several states. 


  1. my ggrandmother was born 1897 and adopted at the age of 14 how could I find out if she was one of them? she was adopted by an irish family in friendsville pa around 1912

  2. My Granfather William G Cornette born 1917 American soldger was in iceland in the secont world waar where he met my Granmother I did hear story of my granfather he told his friend here in iceland he haw a natiwe American blood all we hawe found is the Irish half and not my grate granfathers parents there is wery difficult to find the other half. My Granfather looks Native American and so Dous my Mother, My mother haw 8 children meny of us hawe strong ficical aperance like Native American and granchildren and grate gran children all of us were born in Iceland. We wuld like to find the missing other half i tried to get dna test kit from we were not able to get the kit becous of legal striction here in iceland.i am hoping to find help how to find way passed this strictions.


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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.

Did you know?

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New York’s 4o-year battle for OBC access ended when on January 15 2020, OBCs were opened to all New York adoptees upon request without restriction. In only three days, over 3,600 adoptees filed for their record of birth. The bill that unsealed records was passed 196-12.

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Canada's Residential Schools

The religious organizations that operated the schools — the Anglican Church of Canada, Presbyterian Church in Canada, United Church of Canada, Jesuits of English Canada and some Catholic groups — in 2015 expressed regret for the “well-documented” abuses. The Catholic Church has never offered an official apology, something that Trudeau and others have repeatedly called for.


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.

Original Birth Certificate Map in the USA

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