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I'm skeptical of a claim made in an Indian Country Today article about adoptions of Indian kids from North Dakota
September 6, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Is the Indian Child Welfare Act being ignored in adoptions of American Indian children from North Dakota?
My curiosity was piqued when I saw a reference to North Dakota in a story that ran last week in Indian Country Today about an ongoing dispute over the attempted adoption of a Shawnee baby from Oklahoma. Her mother is Shawnee; her father, who is white, is citing the Indian Child Welfare Act in his fight to prevent the adoption of the baby by a South Carolina couple. Here is a link to the article: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/08/27/underbelly-us-adoption-industry-trafficking-native-children-151006
In the same article, the reporter claims that an unidentified lawyer made the claim that another South Carolina lawyer told him that he placed "upwards of 50 Native American children from North Dakota" last year alone. The lawyer also supposedly made the explosive claim that Indian children are easier to place, "because they're lighter-skinned." The article makes the claim that lawyers nationwide are making large amounts of money arranging the private adoptions of Indian children.
The article didn't go into further detail about these supposed adoptions and I haven't been able to locate contact information for the reporter, Suzette Brewer. Was the lawyer talking about the adoptions of older American Indian children from foster care, perhaps, or claiming that women from North Dakota have traveled out of state and he has arranged for the private adoption of their American Indian children by white families outside North Dakota? Are the children being referred to perhaps Indian by descent, but not necessarily enough Indian to qualify for tribal membership?
The federal Indian Child Welfare Act requires that the child's tribe be notified if an adoption is being considered or if the child has been placed in foster care. Efforts are supposed to be made to preserve an Indian family or, failing that, to place the child with relatives or other tribal members. There are cases when tribes consent to an Indian child's adoption by white foster parents or a white adoptive couple, but they are usually given jurisdiction to decide those matters.
I'm also skeptical of the claim made in the Indian Country Today article that as many as 50 American Indian kids from this state were adopted in the last year, simply because this is such a small state and that would be a huge percentage of the Indian kids who are born here in any given year. If a child is born to a member of a North Dakota tribe outside the state and placed for adoption, the tribe is supposed to be notified and given the opportunity to intervene in the case. Could that many Indian kids from here really be adopted nationwide without the tribes noticing? I kind of doubt it. Perhaps she is talking about South Dakota instead.
For the record, the North Dakota Department of Human Services said there were 206 total adoptions in North Dakota in 2012. Of those, 115 were of children with special needs, likely from the foster care system. Of those, 84 children were white, 25 were American Indian and six were black. There were 35 infant adoptions, of which 32 babies were white, two were American Indian and one was black. There were three international adoptions, all of children from Asian countries. The agency did not provide the race of the adoptive parents, but I imagine that a significant number of adoptive parents of American Indian children in the state are also American Indian. There were also 52 adoptions by stepparents. The agency doesn't keep track of the race of children adopted by a stepparent. I don't count 50 American Indian kids in those figures.
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