Louise Wise Services, “Our Indian Program,” 1960

A pioneer in offering adoption to mixed-race children and children of color, Louise Wise Services placed a large number of children through the Indian Adoption Project. This excerpt describes the agency’s early role in that effort and suggests that matching played a somewhat different role in adotions of native children during this period than for other children marked by visible differences.

Miss Jenkins discussed our Indian Program as a whole, giving the background of the project which was created a little over a year ago by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America. There are very few services offered to Indian unmarried mothers who may want to give up their babies for adoption. The mother has very little communication with the Indian Bureau workers who are not geared to the unmarried mothers’ needs and the mother has had to be dependent on state resources which have provided a limited number of homes for Indian children, and who would more likely place the child in a foster home than in an adoption home. The possibility of finding good Indian adoption homes has not been fully explored and not enough has been done in placing Indian children with non-Indian families. We are not sure how much prejudice has had a part in this and more interpretation is needed. It is hoped that some of these things may be resolved in this project. The project is for a period of three years and it is hoped that adoptive homes can be secured for 50 children and that the project will stimulate additional placements by the local agencies.

To date our agency has placed six Indian children and at present we have one child in care. The first two children referred to use were half Indian and they were placed with Jewish families, who had one child from us. The third, a little full Indian boy, was placed with an Indian family and it turned out to be very suitable as both the child and the adoptive father were from the same reservation in Arizona. The next two children, twins 2-1/2 years old, were placed with a Protestant family. The fourth child placed (with a Jewish family) was Peter, 2 years old.

Peter, a full Indian child, was born September 1957, came here October 1959, and was placed for adoption in December 1959. The ratio of Indian blood is determined because as a member of the tribe Peter shares in the money the tribe accumulates, and Peter had money of his own. Peter’s parents were on the verge of divorce and he was always the center of controversy between his parents. They had married very young and have three children; they were not able to take on the responsibility of a family with the result that the children were shifted from relative to relative. Peter had been in a foster home when his mother took him back and shortly thereafter his parents surrendered him.

Peter was placed in a boarding home on an Indian reservation in Montana. The plan was for Miss Jenkins to visit him and to help him get to know her, and in short, to make him comfortable enough with her so that she could take him back to New York. The Bureau of Indian Affairs worker was very helpful to Miss Jenkins, and worked with the Indian boarding mother in order to get her assistance in helping Peter to relate to Miss Jenkins. The help the boarding mother gave was outstanding and much careful thought was given in planning for the big change in Peter’s life.

Peter managed beautifully on the 9 hour plane trip to New York, even tho he was very frightened when the plane took off. He adjusted well in our boarding home where Miss Jenkins visited him every other day so that she could continue her relationship with him thus serving as the connecting link between his past and his future.

The family selected for Peter had originally attended one of the group meetings for applicants interested in older children; they were over-age for our regular group of young children. The leader of the group had been favorably impressed by them and felt they might also be interested in an Indian child. When this was explored they were most enthusiastic and wanted Peter immediately. The adoptive father grew up in Canada and knows quite a bit about Indians. Peter was placed with them and they are already speaking of adopting another Indian child. The placement is working out very well and Peter is beginning to acquire a sense of permanency.

The Committee found the presentation fascinating and enjoyed it very much.


Source: Minutes of the Child Adoption Committee, January 12, 1960, Viola W. Bernard Papers, Box 161, Folder 11, Archives and Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University.

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