Customary adoption, Indian status, and band membership

A friend asked me what type of documentation their child might need to apply for Indian status on the grounds of customary adoption. I’m sharing my response below in case it is of interest to others:

Hey buddy,

Here is that info on customary adoption.

The required documentation may differ if the adoption is grounds for an application for Indian status vs. an application for band membership. Some bands have their own membership codes, which may or may not address adoption in their own ways. On the other hand, some bands’ membership lists are determined by INAC; in those cases having status quite often means having membership. So, if you’re thinking about status only, that’s straight forward (see below). But if you’re thinking about membership as well, you may need to check whether the respective band has its own membership code. Here is a list of all the bands that have their own codes.

For Indian status:

Since 1985, INAC recognizes four different types of adoption as a basis for Indian status (1. private adoption, 2. stepparent adoption, 3. de facto adoption, and 4. custom adoption). In terms of custom adoption specifically, pages 12-13 of the Adoption Officer’s Manual (see here) states:

  • “[The] applicant [should] provide affidavits from the natural parents, adoptive parents, the band council, and elders of the band stating whether they believe that the band has, or had at the time of the event, a custom for adoption and whether the applicant was adopted in accordance with that custom. The affidavit should also indicate when the adoption took place.” 

For band membership:

  • If the band has its own membership code, the adoptee may or may not need to have Indian status to qualify for membership – it depends on how that membership code is written. Also, some bands recognize only “legal” adoptions and not customary adoptions, or vice versa, or both(!). So you’d need to review that band’s membership code to determine what, if any, documentation is required.
  • If a band does not control its membership, then the adoptee will likely be added to that band’s membership list once they have Indian status. So the documentation needed is the same as applying for Indian status.

Finally, I’ve spoken to the odd INAC bureaucrat or two about this stuff, and they tend to have a very, very narrow definition of what counts as “customary.” One even tried to tell me that “customary adoption” only happens when a child is adopted by their grandparent. This is not true, and in fact conflicts with the Adoption Officer’s Manual, which states: “Only the local community is competent to judge whether an adoption has taken place in accordance with the historic customs of that particular community” (see page 12). So, the more support (in writing) you have from elders, band councils, and adoptive/natural family members, the better.

All the best!

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