Indian Adoption Project

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As historian Margaret D. Jacobs writes in A Generation Removed,  

“The story of [the Indian child welfare] crisis is not just an American Indian story … but a profoundly American one. For every Indian family who lost a child to foster care or adoption, another non-Indian American family gained a son or daughter, a brother or sister…. [American Indian families and communities] experienced heartbreak and trauma and deeply mourned the loss of their children. They saw state intervention into their families and the placement of their children in non-Indian families as one of the most egregious violations of their rights. Their campaign to reclaim the care of Indian children undermined the image of good-hearted American families and led to the uncomfortable question: Have white Americans been complicit in an unjust practice?…  The moral of this story depends on who is telling the story.” [1]

Once the success of the boarding schools was called into question, the dominant belief was that Native children were better off raised in white homes. To that end, in 1958, the Bureau of Indian Affairs created the Indian Adoption Project, administered by the Child Welfare League of America, to promote adoption of Native children from sixteen western states by white adoptive families in the East. 

In 1966 the BIA announced in a press release that adoptions of Indian children through the Indian Adoption Project, with help from the Child Welfare League of America, were increasing and boasted thatlittle Indians were brightening the homes and lives many American families, mostly non-Indians. The children ranged in age from newborn to 11 years.

According to Sandy White Hawk, one of the TRC Commissioners, My adoptive mother constantly reminded me that no matter what I did, I came from a pagan race whose only hope for redemption was to assimilate to white culture.

compelling question

Why didn’t government officials take steps to strengthen native families to keep native children in their homes?


  • Margaret Jacobs, A Generation Removed (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014).
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs Press Release, March 14, 1966.
  • Claire Palmiste, “From the Indian Adoption Project to the Indian Child Welfare Act: the resistance of Native American communities,” Indigenous Policy Journal Vol. XXII, No. 1 (Summer 2011).


A Generation Removed


“From the Indian Adoption Project to the Indian Child Welfare Act: the resistance of Native American communities” 



  1. Read the excerpt from A Generation Removed and answer these questions:
    • What values and ideas motivated IAP officials? How did they portray Native mothers and fathers and families? What stereotypes were common at the time? Analyze why historian Margaret Jacobs states that the “definition and interpretation of [child] neglect became a highly contested notion.”
    • How did Native parents respond to the IAP?
    • What is the connection between Indian child removal and colonialism in the U.S.?
    • Develop an argument that explains why child welfare officials did not try to strengthen Native families and keep children within their homes. Carefully analyze the reasoning of child welfare officials. 
    • What have you absorbed from mainstream dominant culture about Native Americans? What stereotypes do you carry around inside of you? 
  2. Read the BIA Press Release. How would you describe its tone?
  3. Read the excerpt from “From the Indian Adoption Project to the Indian Child Welfare Act: the resistance of Native American communities.”
    • How does the author explain the increase in the adoption of Native children by white couples? 

[1] Jacobs, xxvii-xxviii