U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Practice Brief 3: Tribal Children and Forced Assimilation

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2022
9 pages

This “Practice Brief” from the Native Child Advocacy Resource Center addresses issues in CAC work with Tribal children that may stem from the violent colonization of Indigenous North Americans by settler colonists, the U.S. military, and various local and state forces. This “Brief” outlines the history of forced assimilation that has targeted Tribal children, including the continuation of those policies’ effects into the present day.




The impact on Tribal children of the “Boarding School Era” is discussed. It spanned the years 1819-1969 and involved Tribal children being removed from their homes and communities to attend residential schools, many of which were located far from their families and homeland. Another period discussed is called “The Indian Adoption Project,” which occurred in the 1950s as the Boarding School system was abandoned amid ongoing issues related to its costs, both financial and social. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which still oversees child welfare on many reservations, developed an Indian Adoption Project (IAP) in partnership with the Child Welfare League of America. This project, which continued the process of forced assimilation by other means, involved forcibly removing Native children from their parents and placing them with non-Native adoptive families. The effects of these removals, in addition to the effects of boarding schools, extended the intergenerational damage to Tribal families and communities that had begun with war, colonization, and the boarding school system. The transmission of positive parenting practices and time-tested supportive cultural traditions related to parenting was broken. The pain of fractured family and Tribal connections and the loss of cultures and languages is incalculable. Mental health and trauma experts view the intergenerational effect of these loses in many of the health and well-being disparities that Tribal communities experience today. Only when local Tribes are actively involved in CAC work can CAC professionals promote the best interests of these children.

Date Published: September 1, 2022