The Indian Adoption Project

The Denver Post reported on a new book written by Susan Devan Harness. She is a Colorado State University cultural anthropologist and has written about the experiences of those swept up in the Indian Adoption Project.

In fact, Harness was among the 395 or so American Indian children who were forcibly adopted into white families as part of a national social experiment conducted from 1958 through 1967.

She found that like herself, many of these adopted children were ostracized and belittled in both white and American Indian communities.

Her book — “Mixing Cultural Identities Through Transracial Adoption” — describes how the project started as an informal agreement between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League.

The idea was to rescue American Indian children from poverty and challenging social conditions and give them access to the resources of the white middle class. But activists say, it was just another effort by the white U.S. government to eradicate the American Indian population.

Most of the forced adoptions were based on prejudices according to interviewees. Many children lived with extended families — including aunts and uncles — and often did not have a room to themselves. Many of the homes also did not have running water or electricity.

“I think it’s interesting that the state would be more interested in yanking a child away from his home than in helping to try to get utilities and other services to these homes,” one interviewee said.

The Child Welfare League has acknowledged the damage it inflicted during the forced-adoption period, issuing a public apology in 2001.

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0 Responses to The Indian Adoption Project

  1. Pretty interesting stuff. I’ve heard of the book, however haven’t read it.


    My wife from the Coeur d’alene reservation in Desmet Idaho where her family lived. Had two boys and a girl taken and given to white family. The two men returned to the Idaho area and lived in the northwest. The oldest was later killed by FBI agent at Wounded Knee. I would my sons to read the book at some time in the future.

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