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Can a non-Native person adopt an American Indian child?

Many prospective adoptive parents want to give a home to children most in need of a loving, permanent family. Here in North Dakota, for some that means adopting an American Indian child. However, there are legal restrictions in place that can make it difficult for non-Native people to adopt American Indian children.

According to 2013 data, 5.4 percent of North Dakota residents self-identified as American Indian or Alaska Native. In Minnesota, that number was 1.3 percent, which is still higher than in many states.

Back in 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act became federal law. The purpose of the ICWA was to prevent what was considered to address the issue of what was considered a disproportionate number of Indian children being adopted into families or placed into foster homes where they weren't exposed to their tribal culture. The law requires states to make "active efforts" to help Indian families keep their children and raise them within their native culture.

Many states, including North Dakota and Minnesota, have state laws on the books to further enforce the intentions of the ICWA. For example, in Minnesota, Indian parents are required to notify their tribe before giving their child up for adoption.

Over the years, there have been challenges to the ICWA. It's been argued that the law is discriminatory, for example. However, advocates for the law contend that it's necessary to help American Indians preserve their culture.

If you are a non-Native person in North Dakota or Minnesota seeking to adopt an Indian child, regardless of the circumstances, it's essential to seek the guidance of an experienced adoption attorney who understands not only the federal law, but the laws of your state.

Source: Considering Adoption, "Understanding ICWA – Indian Child Welfare Act," accessed March 10, 2016

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