Native American adoption is regulated by federal law, instead of state laws like most other adoptions. In 1978, the U.S. passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, which allows sovereign states to regulate the adoption of tribal members. The ICWA states that Native American adoptees have a right to know of their cultural origins and maintain the opportunity to be active in the Native heritage. Depending on the child's familial circumstance, the voluntary or involuntary placement of a child in an adoptive or foster home may be handled by the federal court or transferred to a tribal court.
The federal position in Native adoption is part of a dark past in American history, when between 1958 and 1967 the Indian Adoption Project removed about a quarter of all Native children from their families because the "white man knew better." Because of this dark past and the suggested effort to keep Native adoptees interactive with their tribal roots, a Native American adoption takes extra work to make the child feel integrated in both the adoptive family and Native tradition. This is an adoption choice where an open adoption may be recommended.
Adoptive parents should familiarize themselves with the religious beliefs and practices of a Native adoptee as well as common food and social activities of the child's background. There are countless Native youth clubs and resources out there to help a Native adoptee embrace his or her roots.