The Oregon House of Representatives recently gave unanimous approval to legislation that would require state judges to accept tribal customary adoptions in cases that involve Native American and Alaska Native children, ensuring that they can remain connected to their family and tribe.
Tribal customary adoption is the transfer of custody of a child to adoptive parents without terminating the rights of the birth parents, according to the federal Children’s Bureau’s National Child Welfare Resource Center for Tribes. While mainstream U.S. adoptions can be open, with parents maintaining some connection to the child, their parental rights are almost always terminated as part of the process.
Deep into the 20th century, Native Americans suffered under U.S. policies that sought to erase their cultures through forced separation of children from their parents and tribes, handing the kids over to white families and harshly punishing any attempt to claim their heritage. The result was untold damage on Native children, families and tribal cultures.
The bill, which recently passed the House, is scheduled for a Senate hearing this week. If it becomes law, it would mark a major achievement for state Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D), whose Native heritage is Shoshone-Bannock, Ute and Carrizo, as well as other backers who’ve worked on the issue for years.
“For too many Native children in Oregon, the care that they are receiving while in state custody is not culturally appropriate and out of compliance with federal law,” Sanchez said in a statement. “Following decades of destructive assimilation policies forced upon Native children and families, the protections and commitments in House Bill 3182 are long overdue.”
According to legislative records, Indigenous children made up only 1.6% of Oregon's child population in 2018, yet they accounted for 4.8% of all kids in foster care.