Mormon Church & Indian Adoptions

Many American Indian children were entered into forced adoption with Mormon families.
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The Mormon Church has a complex history with American Indian people and tribes of the United States. This history begins with the foundational beliefs of the Mormon Church and its founder, Joseph Smith. These beliefs led to the adoption of thousands of American Indian children who were taken from their homes to encourage assimilation. To stop these adoptions and forced assimilation, the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted to keep American Indian children connected to their tribes and culture.

1 Mormon Church

The Mormon Church was established in 1830. According to BBC Religion, the foundational belief of Mormonism is to restore the Church as established by Jesus Christ. The Mormon Church follows 13 key articles of faith that members believe align with the Bible and the Book of Mormon. With a small beginning of six members, the Mormon Church now has over 14 million followers worldwide. Today the Mormon Church’s official name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS.

2 Mormon Faith and American Indians

Founder and prophet Joseph Smith established Mormon beliefs about American Indians. In 1823, according to Mormon Church history, Smith made a proclamation after a visit from an angel and translating golden plates he discovered. He proclaimed that American Indians were a branch of a lost tribe of Israel called the Laminites. According to this belief, the Mormon faith was meant to bring salvation to American Indians. This became the reasoning behind the adoptions, which were supported by the United States government through the Indian Adoption Project.

3 Indian Adoption Project

Between 1958 and 1967, the federal program called the Indian Adoption Project encouraged the adoption of American Indian children. The federal government partnered with the Child Welfare League of America during this time. From 1966 to the first few years of the 1970s, another organization called the Adoption Resource Exchange of North America took the role of its predecessor in obtaining and moving American Indian children from their homes on the reservations to families looking to adopt and assimilate them. The Navajo children in the Southwest were taken from their families to live and work with Mormon families. The end of this came with enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

4 Indian Child Welfare Act

Also referred to as ICWA, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 was a federal law passed because so many Indian children were being removed from the reservations and their families. According to an article in "Indian Country Today," thousands of Navajo children were forced to leave their homes, almost one third of American Indian children. The National Indian Child Welfare Association supported the act as serving the best interests of American Indian children, their families and tribes. The act also set federal requirements in regard to custody cases that involve American Indian children who are part of a federally recognized tribe. The act is still in place, with goals of protecting American Indian children and helping to stabilize the culture and tribal nations of American Indian people.

Megan Heutmaker works as Director for American Indian Affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato where she has received bachelor's degrees in Anthropology and American Indian Studies and a Master's degree in College Student Affairs. She has been writing cultural and education articles since 2009.