"Historically and traditionally, adoption has been practiced in most tribal communities through custom and ceremony. 
In general, tribes did not practice termination of parental rights.  Unfortunately, adoption became a negative thing due
to forced assimilation policies; it was used as a tool to destroy Indian families and culture.  Due to this historical
trauma, many tribes actively abhor adoption as understood by the larger culture's definition."

- From the website of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (


 In October 2009, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 1325, which allows Tribal Customary Adoption for American Indian children in foster care.  This landmark legislation, the first of its kind in the United States, will allow traditional forms of adoption practiced by Tribes to be recognized by California courts.  This is something California Tribes believe is essential to protecting tribes, American Indian families and children.  The bill, championed by Assembly Members Paul Cook (65th Assembly District) and Jim Beall, Jr. (24th Assembly District), was sponsored by the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, located in Riverside County, but supported by over 50 California Tribes and agencies serving American Indians.  "Tribal Customary Adoption is one more step on our path to protecting native children", said Rosemary Morillo, Chairperson of the Soboba Tribe's Tribal Council.  "This new legislation is truly a win-win for the state and for tribes, with no additional financial cost, but huge benefits for tribes and native families.  We are gratified that the legislators and the Governor recognized the importance of protecting the cultural integrity of tribes, without our children the tribes suffer".  Historically tribes have opposed adoption as the legal processes associated with adoption have been part of some of the most oppressive policies used against tribes and American Indians; for example, forced removal of American Indian children and Indian boarding schools.

In California, in order for a child to be adopted there is a two step process.  The child-birth parent relationship must be legally severed or "terminated", the child and parent become legal strangers to each other; the child is a legal orphan, only then can the child be adopted by other adults.  The termination of parental rights is very contentious for tribes, often resulting in long legal battles.

Tribal Customary Adoption adds to existing state law a culturally appropriate option for American Indian children, an option that provides a permanent home for children, but does not require termination of parental rights.  The law harmonizes state law and tribal custom where a tribe has identified that a Tribal Customary Adoption is in the Indian child's best interest.  This bill adds an additional option for these vulnerable and at risk children - providing counties and the State a way to create safety and stability for American Indian children in need, without long legal battles and the negative aspects of adoption.  The law went into effect July 1, 2010.