Custom Adoption

On November 18-19 2011, over eighty participants gathered at the First Peoples’ House at the University of Victoria, to participate in a unique and important event: a forum on Indigenous custom adoptions. Also known as customary, cultural or traditional adoptions, “custom adoption” is an umbrella terms that refers to the traditional cultural practices of adoption and caretaking in Indigenous communities. The purpose of the forum was to document traditions of custom adoption to ensure that adoptions support the cultural safety, continuity and wellbeing of Indigenous children, families, communities and Nations.

The Forum, was hosted by the Siem Smun’eem Indigenous Child Well-Being Research Network ( There is a dearth of research on custom adoptions and ICWRN initiatives assist communities in documenting and implementing custom adoptions frameworks that reflect their unique contexts, traditions and cultural values. This includes supporting adoption plans developed through provincial legislation, informing protocols and cultural plans for permanency planning, reviving custom adoption ceremonies and protocols, and developing community-specific training for families who want custom adoptions.

During the forum, participants including delegated Aboriginal agencies, academics, community members, service providers, policy makers, Elders, and children, youth and families gathered to discuss teachings and lessons learned related to practice, research and policy on custom adoptions.

The forum included many stories, some heartbreaking, some filled with hope and spirit. We cried and laughed together, and shared one important message: Indigenous communities have a right to practice adoptions according to their unique cultural customs and protocols.

Questions we considered related to custom adoption included:

What are ‘custom adoptions’?
How were/are custom adoptions practiced, and how can we incorporate those teachings into current adoption services and policies?
Which aspects of custom adoption fall within and outside of current legal frameworks and practices of adoption?
How do we practice custom adoptions in diverse Indigenous communities, including Northern communities and in diverse urban settings?
How do we support the psycho-social, cultural, physical, cognitive and political wellbeing of our children, youth and families through community-centered custom adoption practices?
We want to extend our appreciation to our funders: the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD), the Lex Reynolds Adoption and Permanency Trust Fund (Victoria Foundation), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Honouring-Our-Caretaking-Traditions [pdf]

For more information about this project, contact:

Dr. Sandrina de Finney, Siem Smun’eem Indigenous Child Well-Being Research Network.

Vancouver Foundation
University of Victoria: Human & Social Development
Univeristy of Victoria