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Native American Stories about Adoptive Families
Adoption was a very important part of traditional society in nearly every Native American tribe.
Because of the highly structured clan system in most Native American societies, it was rare for
an orphaned child to be left without a family-- usually there were very clear clan rules about
who inherited the responsibility for a child whose parents had died. It was not even considered
"adoption" in most tribes for a child to be taken in by a maternal uncle or another relative or clan
However, intertribal adoption was an important part of Native American tribal life.
In most North American tribes, prisoners of war (particularly women and children, but sometimes
even defeated warriors) were regularly adopted by their captors, usually by a childless couple
or a couple who had recently lost a child. This custom was so prevalent that honorary ritual
adoptions of youths from other tribes became part of peace treaties and intertribal friendship
ceremonies in many tribes-- a tradition that continued after colonization, to the fascination and
occasional confusion of white recipients of this honor. In some South American tribes, intertribal
adoptions even became an accepted means of exogamy (finding a spouse from outside one's
birth community.) Two families from different tribes would formally trade children, who would
then be able to marry into the extended family of their new parents once they grew up but would
have the advantage of already knowing their language and customs.
In most Native American cultures, it was considered a major moral principle that outsiders adopted
into the tribe must be treated as true kin. For this reason there are many Native American myths and
legends about adoption, particularly about the punishment of people who mistreat their adopted
relatives and about adopted children who become successful leaders of their tribes. The adoption
of humans by animals or supernatural beings is also a common motif of Native American mythology.
Adoption Stories From Different Tribes
Mooin, the Bear's Child:
Micmac legend of a boy adopted by a bear family after his stepfather abandoned him.
Crow Necklace And His Medicine Ceremony:
Interesting story of a warrior's conflicting loyalties between his birth family and his adopted family.
Oral history from a Cree elder about the devotion of an adopted grandchild.
Legend of the Bear Family:
Penobscot Indian legend about a boy adopted by bears, whose descendants became the Bear Clan.
Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends
The Polar Bear Son:
Charming picture book based on an Inuit legend about a woman who adopts a bear cub.
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