Available Presentations

Panelists from left to right: Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dr. Kim Park Nelson, Susan Harness, Dr. Indigo Willing. Foto: © Anh Ðào Kolbe/adkfoto.com

The issue of American Indian transracial adoption is beginning to receive a lot of scholarly attention, specifically from the perspective of the adoptee.  I’ve been speaking on this topic since 1993.  Academically, I’ve been presenting this information since 2006, as a panelist, a presenter, a lecturer, a keynote speaker and as a writer.  Most recently, I’ve worked with the Denver Indian Child Welfare Field Office of the Casey Family Foundation informing the people whose jobs determine the n determining American Indian child welfare practices of the importance of Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.  Using my research and my personal story, I discuss the historical policies that have most affected American Indian families, their purpose to undermine Native society and culture, specifically the removal of American Indian children for placement into non-Native families. 



Presentation Titles Available:

American Indian Transracial Adoption

Lifescapes and Landmines of American Indian transracial adoption: A Personal Narrative

Bourdieu and Child Placement: Why the Indian Adoption Project didn’t pan out.

Historical Trauma and Child Adoption: What happens when the fabric rips?



Qualitative Research

Oral Histories: What People Tell Us

2-session workshop: 

How We Got From There to Here: Asking the Right Questions

How We Got From There to Here: Understanding the Conversations

Below are descriptions of presentations that are available.  I am also able to create specific presentations for your group or organization, based on your interests.  Please contact me for information and speaker’s fees.




American Indian transracial adoption, or the placement of an American Indian child into Euro-American families, has been the most recent, and tragically, the most successful, assimilation policy to date.  I examine the collision of history, policies, race and hierarchy in order to understand the social and individual catastrophes left in its wake.  The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 was enacted in order to address the cultural and psychological damage that was a result of this policy.

Although placement outside of the family and community may be required options for adoptees, closed adoptions are not.  Using the words and stories of my birthfamily, I illustrate the importance of sibling and birthfamily contact.  With the assistance of family or tribal liaisons who act as place-savers I also show how those relationships can exist within the framework of adoption.

What happens when a child of one racial group is placed within the boundaries of an entirely different racial group?  This talk reveals the powerful outcomes of the collision between race and identity, as American Indian transracial adoptees navigate the world in which they were raised, and the world to which, many times, they attempt to return.  How do we begin a dialogue about race and membership, not only within the dominant culture, but within our racial and ethnic groups?

Rich data collection requires a mixed methods approach.  I used both qualitative and quantitative research in order to understand how American Indian transracial adoptees perceived themselves in the larger society.   By using word lists to understand categories of being, giving adoptees the space to talk about the ideas and events they felt were important, and then creating a questionnaire, I was able to get a clearer picture of how adoptees understood and talked about themselves, as well as the saliency of these themes within the larger adoption community. 


Although there were many assimilation programs and policies, this presentation considers the four major projects that framed American Indian policy between 1830-1978.  Discussion includes context and policy outcomes.

Indian Removal 1814-1883

Indian Boarding Schools 1850-1930

Indian Termination and Relocation 1950s

Indian Adoption Project 1958-1967. 

American Indian education continues to receive a lot of scrutiny.  It is important to understand the role Indian education has had on tearing apart indigenous families and communities, from Harvard’s Indian college established in 1636 to contemporary boarding schools today.  Particular attention is paid to the Boarding School Era of the mid-1800s to mid-1900s.